The Trouble with Food

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August 5, 2013 by lucieromarin

I interrupt Priestfest 2013 to bring you some opining about food. The trouble with food is that if you don’t eat it, you get hungry, which means it must be eaten, which means it must be paid for, or prepared, or some combination of the two. Well, while I’ll grant you that stealing would be wrong and cookery can be oddly soothing, it remains true that food can be a vexed issue for certain persons.

1) Those on a tight budget. I don’t mean ‘tight’ as in, “If I eat at my favourite wagyu beef restaurant this week the mortgage on our five-bedroom home will suffer.” I mean ‘tight’ as in “If I go out for a coffee after work more than once a month I won’t be able to afford new work shoes in summer.” Of course, one could eat well for almost nothing by making one’s own bread, pasta/dumplings, baked goods, pesto, sauces and yoghurt, while buying fish and cheese in large, unlabelled quantities from nameless vendors in seedy markets, but this will cost you your time. I used to be violently opposed to supermarkets, until I realised that a $4 microwave meal saved you money, time, and washing up. The only costs? – your health, the food industry, and the planet.

Vegetable gardens are touted as the glory of thrift, but I have my doubts about this. I used to envy a friend’s vegetable garden, until I realised something: it cost her not only the price of the seeds, the trays, the seedling-food, the compost, and the water; it also cost her months of physical labour in digging, raking, preparing the beds, planting, feeding, weeding and hosing. The crop had to survive blistering heat and the attentions of bugs, slugs, birds, possums and cats. The result was several bowls of cherry tomatoes, some large zucchini, and seven butternut pumpkins – which then had to be cooked. So, all this labour produced a tray of zucchini patties and a container or two of pumpkin soup, which would have cost her seven dollars and five minutes if she’d bought it from a shop. I’m sure the soup was delicious and I’m sure the industry was very praiseworthy – but it wasn’t thrifty.

2) Cholerics. It’s easy for the unsettled choleric to settle upon food as the cause which will satisfy his need to be given over to world-saving activity. Well, there’s plenty of unhealthy food in the world and plenty of wrongdoing in the food industry, so I’m not suggesting that we do as a sanguine suggested to me once, when she said, “I don’t think about these things; I just enjoy life.” However, once a choleric starts joining the dots, he can’t stop, and he can also become very annoying, so I find that a few ground rules are necessary:

2a) You’re not going to solve any problems with food unless you’re eating something that’s hurting you. If you are eating something harmful, then quitting it will be good for you, but that’s as far as it goes. And I don’t mean ‘harmful’ in the sense of, “Oh my goodness, this book told me that this food is killing me!” but harmful in the sense of “I get a migraine when I eat this and I don’t get it when I don’t eat it.” Remember that gluttony doesn’t just consist of eating to much – it consists of obsessing about food, in any way. Too much thinking about it is just as bad for you as too much eating it.

2b) Diets. There are plenty around. You, O Choleric, with your instinct for commitment and your appetite for universal and enforceable rules, are at your most vulnerable (and gullible) when other people are telling you that This is How Humans Were Meant to Eat. So, you need some rules for yourself. 2bi) No diet which requires the use of a device only invented in the past twenty years or so. If people want to tell you that raw/juicing/whatever made them feel happy and healthy, that’s fine. If, however, the diet requires a dehydrator, or a juicer, or a blender, or, basically, anything other than a fire, a pot, and a spoon, then it is not the True and Ancient Way, because, guess what? The ancients didn’t have this stuff. Ditto for 2bii) Any diet which requires scarce ingredients to be shipped internationally. If you want to tell me that Chia Seed is Awesome, that’s fine. But guess what? The Vikings didn’t get much chia in their diet, the Huns didn’t get any tofu, and the Ostrogoths were real short on goji berries. We all need water, proteins, carboydrates and vitamins. We don’t all have to get them from the same source. 2biii) Any diet which says that ancient people didn’t have cancer because they followed it. Sorry, but if you’ve found a stone tablet which tracks and identifies the diseases of Neolithic man, then not only have you saved the world with your diet, you’ve also rewritten history – because, guess what? Last I heard, prehistoric man didn’t write. That’s why he’s called prehistoric. So how on earth do you know what diseases he had?

Hmmm. I appear to be getting into an aggressive argument with an absent third party. What I wanted to do was share a recipe! I find that this recipe solves the problem of a) needing to eat, b) without spending much, and c) without too much effort in the preparation. (It does take time, but not attention, if that makes sense. You can ignore while it bakes.) I realise that the recipe has sugar in it and that sugar is evil, but I really think that, if you, like me, have breakfast at 6 a.m and lunch at 2:30 p.m, and you’re on your feet the entire time in between, a teaspoon of sugar isn’t going to kill you. Furthermore, it will save you from a much worse fate, which is that of being so hungry in the ten minutes before your bus arrives that you dart into the shop alongside the bus stop and squander six dollars on something processed, chemical and barely digestible. Avoid this problem with a delicious slice of Irish Barmbrack! Half-bread, half-cake, it will keep you going until that happy moment arrives when you can, at least, eat the second meal of the day. N.B: I’ve never soaked the fruit overnight, and often get too impatient to wait for the tea to cool. It turns out tasty anyway.

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