Buying, storing and eating food

We have had it drummed into us that we need our five a day. And butter is bad – no, its good – oh, it might be bad if you eat too much – but definitely margarine is bad. Whatever. The media sound bites from those that are paid with our money, and think it is their job to tell us what to do, get irritating, and foolish sometimes.

Just to annoy you, I’m going to do it too! The food you eat is possibly the most important factor in defining your health and happiness, so it is worth a few words. I’ll try and put it in perspective.

Back before 1960, most people – men and women – achieved most of their work using their muscles. They travelled on horseback or shank’s pony. They needed calories. So the food they ate had to be high in calories, and the highest calorific value was found in fats. Suet Puddings, pastries, cakes and fries. If you are breaking rocks in the hot sun, or just getting your washing done (without the aid of a washing machine) you needed fuel, so they ate the fried breakfast, lunch and tea. Supper. They needed it. They still had room for their greens, and their apples.

Now most of us just push buttons to control machines, and get only optional recreational exercise. The diet that is healthy for this kind of lifestyle you know. It’s the one they bang us over the head with. Compared to former times, the calories need to be much reduced, but we still need the micro-nutrients, the good fats and the protein. We need the roughage even more because in our sedentary life the gut does not get the same physical stimulation.

You’ve heard of ‘good fats’ I expect. The stone age diet had a balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 of 1:2. Our diet now, of factory meat and bakery goods, gives a ratio of less than 1:20. This is why people go on about fish oil and oily fish, the best source of long-chain omega 3’s: the repair blocks for the brain. There are vegetable sources which provide the short chain version, which may be converted by the body, but in compromised health there is doubt as to how efficient this process is.

Omega 3 Oily fish, marine algae, linseed and other seeds, walnuts, egg yolks

Omega 6 Olive oil

Omega 9 Sunflower oil

Simple. Use olive and sunflower oil in your cooking (you would, anyway) and have some serious omega 3 foods two or three times a week. The Spanish drizzle olive oil on their bread, in the same way that we use butter.

Get a little freshness

As a full-time mum, I had a vegetable garden. For a few years I grew nearly all the fruit and veg that we ate, as a family of four. Maincrop spuds, oranges and bananas were a bridge too far, but onions were plaited together in late summer, and hung in the shed. Carrots were put into sandboxes (ditto) Parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli, curly kale, perpetual spinach – the kids ate the lot. The peas that I would grow the occasional short row of, just for stealing, were popular too.

When my life got busier, I had to bit by bit grass over the plot. Soon my girls were just like their little friends, only eating frozen peas and raw carrot sticks. They would not enjoy curly kale and spinach again until their early twenties.

I’m not saying that you have to grow your own. I just want you to know that local seasonal food is important for quality nutrition, as well as for environmental reasons, taste and price.

Anyone can grow a few herbs on a windowsill, and that is all I can do, these days.  Boy, do they make a difference, and they look pretty too.  See Growing Gems later in this site.

Vegetables die if they get too cold. Most supermarkets chill all their fruit and veg, and because of that fact they rot quickly if not kept in the fridge. This is an important fact to remember if you are provisioning for a long sea voyage and have limited refrigeration, or just would rather have better tasting stuff. Buy from greengrocers and markets for the real deal. It’s cheaper that way too. I’m not saying that unchilled stuff lasts forever, but it lasts longer out of the fridge than the pre-chilled stuff by a long way. Exceptions are mushrooms, carrots, and cucumbers. Contrariwise, avocados and bananas go woody and nasty if kept in the fridge, and if you buy an avocado that refuses to ripen, then it’s probably been over-chilled.

So much of our food is nutritionally compromised. Instead of picking a salad from the vegetable garden outside the kitchen door, food comes thousands of miles before we eat it, loosing vitamins and flavour all the way. The cheap pork joint comes from an animal that was even more sedentary than us, having lived in a cage too small to turn around in. The cheap chicken is fed, like the caged pig, as economically as possible. I find it hard to justify eating these poor creatures. I would rather eat beans for my protein, but I will certainly make full use of any free-range animal I buy. You can get eight meal portions from a 3.5 kilo chicken, and a lot of stock to improve stir-fries and soups.

Lamb is always free-range. Beef, however is often intensively reared, and there is some rubbish beef about. Beef needs to hang for several days before being cut for sale, and this is rarely done these days. Bright red beef is fresh (i.e. not tender) beef.

On a mixed farm, animals are necessary to the whole ecosystem. Sheep grazed steep, poor land, no good for growing crops, and provided us with wool and meat. Pigs root out weeds, fertilising as they go, and eat up waste food from the kitchen, giving us meat, bacon, black pudding and sausages. Free range chickens eat up insect pests, weeds and scraps, clean and improve the land. Their eggs taste so good, rich in omega 3 unlike their poor cousins from the concentration camp. Bring back the chicken tractor, but watch out for Mr Fox.

But most of us can’t grow and raise our own, so it’s off to the shops for us. Some people do recipe-led shopping. They will work out what to make, and then source the ingredients. I prefer to see what’s good in the shops, then devise a recipe to use it. Having said that, there is usually a piece of paper floating round my kitchen to note down when we’re running out of olive oil or loo roll, tea or tobacco… cheese or chutney. A rough framework to build the next few day’s food on. I guess I’m not too keen on planning exactly what is on the menu, preferring to see how we feel, what’s good in the shops, and what the weather’s like. But I would be lost without the list of basics that has been created over the past few days.