Saturday, 7 April 2012

Food, glorious food

Yesterday evening, I watched several episodes of Human Planet. I wish I'd watched it first time around on BBC, because there were commercial breaks every 15 minutes on the channel.
It was almost surreal, watching people put their lives at risk to find food, then sitting on the  ground to eat it - cut to advertisements for chocolate cream cheese spread and oversized sofas.

Easter has become much more like Christmas, the supermarkets are plugging the ideal family get together for a gigantic roast dinner - "our three bird roast with ready made gravy, washed down with fizzy wine, followed by a cheesecake will be perfect" (a side of  Pepto Bismol advisable).
Back to the programme, and some Inuits are in a handmade kayak trying to throw poisoned spears at a Narwhal (their skin, ounce for ounce, contains as much vitamin C as an orange, apparently).

On the Ethiopian desert, it's the Hamar women who have the desired navigational skills to trek for 12 hours to get water from the well. That is something I really cannot imagine. I get lost wherever I go, I get lost on the way back from the toilets at a pub, I have THE worst sense of direction imaginable. Navigating a vast expanse of sand? - unthinkable."After the 7th sand dune ridge there's a bush - turn left there" amazing.
Turn the tap on, fill a glass.
"I don't like the taste of water" I have heard countless children and adults say that - the ultimate first world problem.

In my kitchen cupboards, I have 1kg of rice, 4 different bags of flour, 8 tins of chopped tomatoes, vanilla extract, enough porridge oats to feed us all for a month, turmeric, cumin, Asefotida, chilli powder, garam masala, paprika, peppercorns, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, olive oil....the list goes on.

Yet, do we really have it so easy? Since giving up work to look after the children, we've slipped further and further into debt. Rob leaves the house just after 7am,  gets home at 6pm. In the winter, he doesn't see daylight because his office has no windows. Our monthly shopping bill is more than our mortgage, and that's with me cooking nearly everything from scratch and buying cheaper cuts of meat for stews and casseroles. The supermarket is full of food from every corner of the planet, most of it ends up being processed and laden with salt and or sugar. The packaging ensures a weekly shop fills a huge metal trolley, but if the food was stripped down to it's actual value, in protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and so forth, it would probably only fill a kitchen sink.

I know you can have organic meat and vegetable boxes delivered, grow your own, you can shop daily  for locally produced food. A friend of mine makes her own washing powder, maybe I should try that. I have gone through phases of avoiding the supermarket, but inevitably there will be something I need to buy in bulk in order to 'save money' (though I don't ever feel I'm saving money).

Toilet rolls, we roll out between 4 and 5 per week in this house. I don't buy kitchen roll, I got sick of buying things which go straight in the bin after use. You know what? Kitchen roll is not a kitchen essential. I chop up old white towels and use them instead - washable, rinse-able and can be re-used for years. Liquid hand soap is another very wasteful product, all that plastic.
Still, we spend far too much money on grocery and non-grocery items for this house.

I suppose my point is, no matter how much man has progressed in the last few thousand years, his day is still taken up with a gruelling 'hunt' for food.
When you've had to wait for the tide to go out under a few metres of ice to quickly source fresh mussels (they had half an hour to dig and collect) and that only happens for a brief period during one season,  surely, those mussels will taste much better than that stale tuna sandwich you had half an hour to pop to the Co-Op for during your lunch break?

Nobody had rotten teeth on these programmes, nobody was obese. I'm not going to suggest they're all happy and healthy, BUT are we really all that different?


  1. Hello Lucy:
    We did not, of course, being without a television, see the programmes but we can totally emphasise with all that you say here. Supermarkets are places, rather as you, that we avoid as far as is possible with most of our food, certainly all the time we are in Budapest, coming from the local market, the street market, the state run grocery store - very limited - and a shop which principally sells washing powder and similar products. To be supplied with bags is almost unheard of - take your own - and wrapping in the markets is minimal.

    On our increasingly rare visits to the UK we are constantly amazed, and frightened, at the cost of living and cannot understand how a cup of coffee in an ordinary coffee shop is close to £2-50. Bringing up a family, as you are doing, cannot be easy.

    For now we send our warmest wishes for much joy and happiness this Eastertide.

  2. Good thing I'm not a Hamar Woman. My navigational skills totally suck! Dehydration would be a huge problem if I were in charge of looking for water! I am always having huge fights with my husband when I'm giving directions and turning the map book around so that I can work out wether we go left or right.

    Forgive my shallow response. I know what you mean. You should've seen the crowds today. Stocking up because most of the shops here won't be open till Tuesday. And all those Easter eggs I saw a day or two ago, gone. Not a Humptey Dumptey in sight! Incredible. (I buy my girls one egg and a pair of Winter p.js.)

    Warm wishes to you and yours too Lucy x

  3. We cook from scratch always and grow lots of stuff but still cant get our food bill below a 1000 dollars a month. Weve just put in another raised bed so now about 50 percent of the gardn is productive were aiming for a 100 percent growing from seed. This is my food mission! About 6 weeks ago many of shops here were closed due to earthquake damage so now we only go to the supermarket and the opshop (phew for small mercies) and we have money left over always now from other parts of our budget...howver we usually spend it on food!

  4. Lucy, you sound as though you are doing a brilliant job with your family. It’s always difficult, when watching TV programmes like this, not to compare your own lifestyle with those of the indigenous peoples who are its subjects, and make yourself feel slightly uncomfortable in the process. Children who are fussy eaters in the western world will always be told to remember that there are ‘children starving in Africa’, and that they should be grateful for what they have. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that; licking our own plates clean is not going to help the child with the swollen belly on the other side of the world (and children’s logic prevents them from making the connection anyway). I haven’t seen the programmes but I’m sure, from what you say, that they celebrate the human spirit of endurance, and demonstrate that people, even in difficult circumstances can be content with their lot. In an article in this morning’s paper,about the slums in Mumbai, I was struck by the smiling faces of the children playing together, and it made me realise that abject poverty doesn’t always mean continuous misery. If you have never known the over-stuffed sofas and gigantic roast dinners how can you crave them?

    You are quite right, of course, to be resourceful with your own household management. I don’t mean to sound patronising here, instead I applaud your principles. It’s because we are continually bombarded with images such as those in your commercial break that the default position is to want more and more. All we can do is try to live within our means and teach our children the small pleasures to be gained by being thrifty, whilst still enjoying all the wonderful things the world has to offer. Keep up the good work!

  5. It does make you wonder I have to admit - I'm with you on the lack of navigation, I'm actually shocking and frequently forget where I'm going, I'd be very little use on sand dunes where everything looks mostly the same!

    Jem xXx

  6. We have become very detached from the foods in our refrigerators and cabinets with no thought of what is being done to produce what we have.
    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  7. I hate food shopping and not just because I would, essentially, prefer to be doing something else (although, I would). It just seems such a dispiriting, soul-destroying process even though it's so bloody easy. I grant you, however, that is becoming ridiculously expensive, even if you don't count the thing we could possibly live without. In the western world, we are probably being destroyed by our shameful laziness. I speak for myself, as much as anyone. Having said that, who'd choose a 12 hour walk to get water over a quick trip to Morrisons? I suppose we should be more grateful for the leisure hours that our lives afford us in comparison with other people. Does it make us better people for it? I doubt it. What's the answer? I don't know.

  8. I do wonder what would happen if, say, there was a fuel strike and none of the supermarkets can be restocked. I suspect we would see some pretty ugly sides of people. Everything might seem abundant but operating it all on a Just-In-Time principle means that by definition there is very little slack in the system. This time of plenty is sustained by a web of rather fragile infrastructure.
    Anyway, not to be too much of a doom mongerer, I am sure our government has contingency...
    Boys eat a lot, don't they! I sympathise with you there. They take a lot of filling up and then they are hungry again before you know it. When we had friends round who only had girls, they were astonished by how much my son ate. We got round it by buying bags of spuds and getting a breadmaker(45p a loaf and takes 80 seconds to make. You come back 4 hours later: Voila! Bread!). But even so, I note the food bill is half what it was before he went away to university.
    It is estimated that the average hunter-gatherer in Neolithic times needed 25 hours (and a large extended family group) to feed themselves. I do concur that perhaps we have not progressed that far in that respect. However, I don't think they often ate stilton or drank beer.

  9. Oh crap, don't meet up with me then, we'll be lost in seconds. I have terrible spacial awareness and an appalling sense of direction.

    But seriously, an interesting post. I try really hard to make sure we eat healthily, but this isn't always the same as cheaply and it's been really noticeable how much more expensive even basic staples have become in the last year. Mothers like us seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what to feed the family - thank goodness it hasn't yet reached 'how to feed the family' as for many in the world. I know my boys' constant claims of hunger aren't real.

  10. You always make me think Lucy and its my favorite thing about reading your blog! I have a killer sense of direction stick with me and I'll get us there eventually:)

    I think the job of feeding a family is probably one of the most challenging! Money aside, everyone has different taste and it's hard being creative with food day in day out, three meals a day can be a daunting task. I live for Farmers market when it starts up in May and takes me to November. It's easier for me to just see what looks good and buy it and try and figure out what to make. I have very little sugary treats in the cupboard I have no will power so I just don't buy it. Most days for lunch I eat a bowl of edamame and some almonds,maybe a granola bar before dinner. I try and look at food as fuel for my body and eat pretty lean and mean until the weekend, then I can add some fried treats or whatever else I fancy.

  11. Oh you are so right - what we fret about is nothing compared to challenges many families face to stay alive, never mind healthy, in many parts of the world. Makes me a bit ashamed of maoning about shopping and cooking - though I do, often - when we have so much choice readily at hand... However, the shopping bill in this house is shocking too, and I find it very hard to limit it.
    An outing with you, me , Lakota and Kylie would be disastrous (I'm in the no directional sense at all camp too) so we NEED Krista to guide us safely to our destination - which would surely be the pub, yes?!
    I'm sure you do a great job feeding your family, Lucy, you work hard and think about it and should be proud of yourself. xxxxx

  12. This is such an interesting post! I must admit to being very guilty of kitchen roll misuse in my home - im totally liking your towel idea, going to pinch that one. Scarlett x

  13. I looked at people in Aldi last Thursday, stocking up for Easter and was shocked at how much food was being bought - it's insane - bet a lot of it will end up in the bin - I mean how much can you actually eat? It was almost like the insanity that grips people at Christmas.

    But oh dear me yes, I do like a bit of paper towel in the kitchen. :(

  14. I feel guilty about many things that I buy - I think that so many of us in the first world are always in such a rush that we just do as well as we can in terms of shopping and cooking. I use kitchen towel but I do cut up worn sheets as cleaning cloths and re-use old toothbrushes for cleaning too - does that get me a gold star?

  15. After rent, food shopping is my greatest expense per week. I just go to the shops once a week and then manage to eat for the rest of the week. It helps keep runaway spending down, not nipping out for extra etc.

    One natural tip for clothes washing is to use soap nuts. We can buy a box of half a kilo here for €10 and they last for 6 months. I use white vinegar instead of conditioner.

  16. I'd like to think the "primitive" people of this world are much happier than those of us cursed with civilization. We have too much time on our hands, always seeking distractions, youtube, American Idol, Britain's Got Talent, iPods, smart phones, and tasty treats spat from an uncaring metal box, treats created without love by a juggernaut with an On/Off switch.

    We have too much time to dwell on what's wrong instead of loving our lives enough to fight for them. We have too much time to bicker about the National Party or the Progressive Democrats turning the world into a welfare-dependent slave society or how Republicans hate black people.

    We NEED the struggle. It's the struggle that gives us purpose. It's the struggle that makes us stronger. It's the struggle that makes us happy.

    G-d bless those Inuits. Let's just hope some government official or misguided humanitarian doesn't try to improve their lifestyle.

  17. We shop once a week and fruit and veg is free from Buddy's job.
    I'm going to steal your towel idea.. I tent to use lots of paper towels.
    Hope thing get better for you amor.
    keep your chin up.;)

  18. It's a tough call. I always assumed a more simplistic life would make me happier and I envy friends who can afford to stay at home with their children, while they've said they envy my career and that, even though we're by no means well off, we can afford days out on a weekend, a holiday once a year etc. I'm not sure there is an easy answer although I'm deeply grateful for the medical care we have in the developing world.Rx

  19. Great post Lucy!
    I really enjoy reading your blog!It makes me realize something. How lucky I am for having all this foods and sometimes waste it without even realizing that there are some people who are starving for food. Thank you so much for sharing this blog. Hoping for more posts of yours. God bless you.


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