For The Love of Food

Food is a wonderful thing.

It is life-giving, nourishing and comforting. It is a welcome and a homecoming. It is a source of health, and, no less importantly, it is a source of pleasure — in both, preparation of it (well, for some of us, anyway), and — simply put, in the eating (for most rather than some, this). In all its forms, from simple satisfaction of hunger, to comfort food on a cold winter night, or an exquisitely prepared gastronomic delight of your choice, food is a central theme of social interaction and one’s day structure.

Or, it should be.

But, again, for many (entirely too many for my taste) of us, it isn’t. It is, instead, something which many a modern consumer approaches with dread, fearing it in ways too numerous to count — and feeling guilty about wanting/having/eating it in many more on top of that. The things which drive the guilt and fear campaign are many – fear of gaining weight (sadly more prevalent than fear of malnutrition), fear of poisons or contaminants in food (something which is a reality – but in reality happens far less than it does in people’s minds, no thanks to the food scaremongering media), and so on and so forth ad nauseum.

Yesterday it was the [very well off] Jamie Oliver graphically describing to us the hellish horrors of battery chicken life and implying we are awful human beings if we do not *cough* advocating buying organic and free range. Today it is the evils that the azo colours in combination with sorbate in soft drinks will do to our children. Tomorrow it is to be yet another issue, which horrifies millions and makes tabloids rub their hands gleefully. And all this against the backdrop of never ending stream of guilt being poured on the heads of anyone who does not resemble a chop stick in profile about feeling hungry or looking forward to a meal, or *gasp* liking to eat (imagine the horror of it!) meat of all things. Fat free dairy, soy milk (don’t even get me started on that today), meat so lean it squeaks when you touch it — all combined with beauty magazines featuring models which look like they never had a square meal in their lives – conspire to tell us that when we come into a supermarket, we should feel guilty about ourselves if we have purchased anything more indulgent than a bottle of sparkling mineral water, a bag of rocket, and a packet of tiger prawns.

As an aside, I actually really do like sparkling mineral water, prawns and various overpriced-but-yummy crispy and peppery baby greens, so all of the above often features in my eclectic choices lined up on the supermarket checkout belt. Neither do I hate beauty magazines as such – for all their blatant commercialism, they do often have good advice about skincare, and are useful, if nothing else, as a showcase of the new offerings on the “today I spoil myself and buy…” market.

But, when I go shopping for food, I do not look at the beauty magazines, nor do I consider their advice of eating half a rye crispbread slice with a dollop of fat-free cottage cheese as breakfast. When I go to select what I will eat, it is not the media and fashion industry that go shopping, but myself and my judgement (I suppose I have some advantage over the average consumer here, being that I work with food and the industrial production thereof), my large, comfy grocery bag (the Waitrose one that has nice long handles so I can use it over the shoulder if it’s heavy – I tend to walk to the shop), and a list of things I want to eat (what I want to eat and why I want to eat those things varies, but I will leave that for another day). But, I digress. In my favourite direction, but still.

Now, before you get your unmentionables in a bunch about it, I wholeheartedly agree that children should not drink sugary coloured soft drinks, that dyes migrating through food contact packaging into it are an awful industrial oversight (which should be corrected by the relevant industry with all haste), and that battery chickens’ life is pretty sad — and I can and do buy free range whenever I can. Not because Jamie Oliver told me so, but because chickens that spent their lives outdoors pecking at green things just taste better, and because my butcher will truss or chop the bird for me any way I like. But, I do get annoyed that the tone of these messages to the public at large are geared to make all those who perhaps cannot afford the higher-priced free range chicken and eggs feel guilty about buying and eating chicken. Or, for example, worried about feeding their children anything and everything (and driving people into the free-from food fads — not to be confused with people who eat so for legitimate medical reasons), or thinking that the food industry is the very devil in disguise. And this brings me to my pet peeve about food in modern society – guilt.

We are made to feel guilty about our weight, about buying things which are not the politically correct ones — be it their unfashionable above-zero fat content, their lack of flashy “functional food” tags, or their frugality and less than perfectly ethical source. As a result, people often feel unhappy about food, or regard it as a necessary evil rather than the joyful thing it is supposed to be – whether you are eating for health, for emotional comfort, for entertaining or for any combination of the above.

With all that anti-food propaganda screaming at us from every corner, I am surprised any food gets eaten at all — though, I suppose, nature has a way of persuading a person to do what it wants him or her to do. At some point you get hungry and stop thinking about those politically correct issues, and just eat (or get an eating disorder).

Life happens. Food happens. What happens to food after it’s eaten, happens as well. And I suppose I touched on too many things in this post to expand on them all here. I will have to do that on other days in the near future. In the meantime, I simply wish that people would forget/pay less heed to the mostly (not entirely, there are exceptions to that as well) pointless media food hype, and try to remember that food is not the soul-and-body destroying enemy that lurks in the supermarket jungle ready to afflict us with obesity, cancer, ADHD and two dozen other horrible things.

Food is something to love and enjoy. Not least for the sake of your own (mental and otherwise) health.

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