Ten? We are all Doomed-

Smug about your diet? Getting your five-a-day in? Well don’t be, because now you are advised that this is not, has never been enough and you should be cramming ten…yes ten helpings of fruit and/or vegetables down your gullet each and every day.

Great. Actually I’ve been quite smug myself. We’ve never been ones to load the trolley with ready meals and have tended [especially since the heady, time-rich days of retirement] towards cooking from scratch-not going as far as making our own pasta or blending our own garam masala, but we don’t buy sauce mixes or shop soup and we’re fond of vegetable-rich meals and salads and we’ll snack on fruit rather than cakes or biscuits.

Now, however it transpires that we haven’t done enough on the vegetable front. What sort of time though, is this to tell us, when we’re never going to see the front of sixty again and all the damage, the degeneration and the eroding of protection has been wrought throughout our only five portioned/meat-and-two-veg/subsistence diet? Presuming that it is now too late to undo the shocking abuse of more than sixty years that neglecting to have ten veg and fruit things has done, should we continue to follow the subsistence, ‘five-a-day’ regime? Or can we mitigate the ominous, brewing health catastrophes by swallowing fifteen or twenty helpings of cabbage, kale and tomatoes each day?

And take care, reader not to simply gollup piles of fruit down or swig ten smoothies every day, because fruit, my friends is sugary and calorific, leading to an expanding girth before you can say ‘Jabotacaba’. We are advised to ration our fruit intake and turn instead to sober lettuce and sprouts.

Wait, though. A glut of helpful news columns has emerged, explaining how to insert the extra portions into our daily trough. We can add spinach to our spaghetti, have another veg on our plate [we’ll need bigger plates] and snack on fruit. It all begins to seem exhausting.

On a more serious note, all these fresh fruit and vegetables do not come cheap. Here is yet another few miles plugged into the rich-poor divide. How many fresh items are there in the food bank basket at the supermarket? For those whose main issue is how to prevent their children from going to bed hungry, plying them with ten fruits and veggies must come a long way down the list of worries. Keeping healthy, then is a preserve of the comfortably-off, as are most things.

What on earth will happen to fast food outlets? The kebab houses will be alright-there is always a lettuce leaf and some shredded cabbage in the pitta pocket; but fish and chip shops will need to double up their mushy pea portions and MacDonalds will have to sneak mustard and cress into the Big Macs-or whatever it is they serve.

Watch the space. In a few months’ time we’ll either be told that eating too much cabbage is killing us [well the noxious gases produced may well do] or that ten portions are not enough. In the meantime, I’m off to the greengrocers…

Lower Your Expectations still Further

So now all that Christmas malarkey, with its mountains of sprouts, wrapping up, decking the halls, washing the pots, preparing yet another meal, watching tedious re-runs of ancient ‘Christmas specials’ on TV, picking up sweet wrappers, smiling while you unwrap Aunty Mabel’s hand-knitted tea-cosy, being endlessly nice, hoovering up pine needles, opening yet another bottle of fizz, putting on your indulgent face while some teeny tot trashes your tasteful decorations, discovering the dog has eaten your hand-cooked ham with its special glaze you saw on Nigella, clearing up said dog’s vomited up ham….is now done.

You can relax. But what will you be doing to see 2016 through the year’s portals? Set off to sunny climes, smug in the satisfaction of having booked it months ago? Get scrubbed up and enjoy a swish hotel dinner that you cunningly arranged last January? Drink yourself into a post-Christmas trauma-mitigating stupor in front of TV’s Hogmanay offerings? Or will you retire early with a cup of cocoa and any literary offering that was not a] a biography of last year’s winner of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here’ b] the latest ‘must-have’ cookery book or c] some lame attempt at humour?

Or will you, perhaps settle for drinks in the convivial, comfortable company of old friends, those who you’ve chosen to be a part of your life, rather than your relatives, who, whilst having ‘blood thicker than water’ may nevertheless be hard work over a prolonged period. So-friends then. But which friends? Your childhood bosom buddies from the village where you were born? Your uni friends whose lives you’ve followed on Facebook and met at reunions? Those who you met at the ante-natal classes, parent-first-timers like you? Your fellow five-a-side footballers? The blokes down the pub? The neighbours?

Maybe the answer is to host your own New Year’s bash and invite them all. Then the dilemma is solved; or is it? In my experience any kind of celebratory party that includes everyone you’ve ever known is never an unmitigated success. This is because these polarised factions are likely to have very little in common with the exception of YOU. I’d follow the example of Husband’s friend who recently had his 60th bash. He held a different event for each group of friends or relations [a restaurant, drinks at home etc], negating the need to attempt to get strangers to talk to each other-always a soul destroying task.

Perhaps, however you will do what Husband and I have done on occasions, go to your local pub/bar/café and throw yourself into any New Year’s do that’s going, the more 60s hits, karaoke and chronic DJ jokes the more riotous and cheesier the better. Leap about with anyone and everyone. They may not be ‘auld acquaintances’ or even new ones, but who cares? It’s all ‘best forgot’ anyway…

A Restaurant Digest

Once upon a time in a previous life I dreamed of luxuries. These luxuries included such things as unaccompanied expeditions to shoe shops and/or clothes shops, attending the cinema and the theatre, stopping for coffee in cafés, having holidays, spending nights in hotels, visiting salons and, above all, eating out. [This was a life in which any journey must be prepared for by making sandwiches to eat in a lay-by].

In subsequent lives of course I have done all of these luxurious things. The clothes shopping is commonplace as is the coffee stopping. A salon visit is a regular part of life. Hotel stays are occasionally taken.

Despite all this, dining in a good restaurant remains the Holy Grail of luxuries to me.

I’ve posted my feelings about the fare in fast food chains before [Muckdonalds and Yucky Fried Chicken]. Macdonalds does at the least provide free internet and their coffee is acceptable, but their dining experience has to be one of the most impoverished and unsatisfying that exists.

Restaurant meals are about more than the food. Plastic trays with pouches of nasty, salty, fatty little chip sticks and polystyrene boxes containing polystyrene buns sandwiching rubbery, chewy little circles of something grey and burger-ish, the remains of which are to be taken by the consumer and dumped in a bin themselves; to view this activity in a place designed for ‘eating’ presents a vision of Hell. And yet Macdonalds is crammed with customers every day-in Gothenburg, where we stopped to get internet and a coffee, the place was thrusting with hordes of punters of every nationality-those who prefer this ghastly encounter to eating a sandwich on a park bench.

Some of the most enjoyable meals you can have are in modest, unknown, unadvertised cafes, cooked by untrained heros of the culinary world; like the meals we’ve eaten in Portugal, where you are plied with gorgeous nibbly things like olives and dips to sustain you while you peruse the menu and then a big box of fish is brought to the table for you to select your fancy. It will be simply cooked and presented with home-made chips, a salad and some bread.

Or a beach café in Thailand which serves up Tempura vegetables as a starter and the freshest, most appetising vegetables and seafood you can imagine, besides producing an addictive mango smoothie from nothing more than mango and ice.

So don’t serve me anything in a poly-box, or on a shovel, or on a dirty piece of wood or in a tangle of barbed wire [all of these methods of serving meals are being used as I write-including pork loin chops in a urinal]. Give me a plain, clean china plate and simple, beautifully cooked food served in a friendly, un-smarmy, unobtrusive way. OK?

What’s Cooking on the TV?

In its wisdom, the BBC has opted to schedule on Channel 2 a big, blockbuster ‘food season’. This is much heralded and promises to inform in ways we have never before been informed about-food. Yawn. Really? How many more programmes about food can we take? And how many more times must we be told that refined foods, salt, fat, fast food, takeaways, sweets, chocolate and the demon sugar will be the undoing of us?

Let me see. ‘Masterchef’, ‘Hairy Bikers’, ‘Nigella’, ‘Saturday Kitchen’ and on and on-the programmes exhort us to produce more, varied and extravagant meals using more, varied and exotic, unheard-of ingredients. We sit and watch, munching our takeaways or our toasted cheese sandwiches and nodding-‘mm, yes, that looks nice’. How many viewers rush out to the supermarket next day for Tahini paste, syrup of nasturtium seed or essence of wild boars’ scrotum? How many search online for a high temperature vacuum bath or a freeze-drying machine? Heston Blumenthal has much to answer for.

It was all vastly simple decades ago. My childhood diet followed a weekly timetable that varied little beyond which meat to cook for a Sunday roast or what was available in the back garden vegetable plot. Mondays would yield up something with the remains of Sunday’s roast, the remaining days repasts would revolve around Spam-with mashed potatoes, with chips, with beetroot or eggs from the hens at the end of the garden-omelettes, fried eggs and mash or chips. We children never questioned or grumbled. We had no dislikes and would clamour only for an orange or a banana since these were prized items [rationing was not yet a distant memory], although as I’ve mentioned before we were only permitted a banana if it was accompanied by a slice of bread.

If the first course was a little sparse there would be a vast rice pudding or a suet sponge for the purposes of filling us up. Meals always consisted of two courses. Not only did we survive on this regime, but we were relatively healthy and never became in the slightest bit overweight, still less obese, even though the occasional day out to the seaside would conclude with fish and chips wrapped in newspaper.

How ironic that the more elaborate and fiddly TV chef meals become, the more the population capitulates to fast food and fry-ups, snacks and sweet treats.

Here in Portugal, where we have fled to escape the UK’s wintery temperatures we de-camped on our first evening-after five days of driving- to the village restaurant where we were shown a box containing assorted, gargantuan fresh fish, from which we selected our favourites. They were taken away and grilled with a little salt and served with a salad, crusty rolls and a plate of fried potatoes. No sauces, ‘beds’ of anything, snotty-looking foam or those stupid drips and smears dotted around the plates. The result? Completely delicious.

To Eat Meat or not to Eat Meat, that is today’s question.

                Whilst the news that beefburgers are to be grown for our consumption is not really a surprise I was unable to suppress a grimace at the thought of such comestibles. Since developing countries are now demanding the quantities of meat that we are used to, supply will not be able to keep up with demand. Presumably folk in the developing countries that are craving this meat will then become prey to the diseases that scoffing big lumps of meat on a frequent basis allegedly causes the rest of us, the time honoured over-consumers of flesh.

                If I sound like a rampant vegetarian I confess that I am not. Meat is something I do not want to give up. I like nothing more than tender steak, fragrant roast lamb and crispy pork. But I also like fish and I am happy with vegetarian fare, provided-and this is the crux of the matter-it is not some nebulous, bland substance masquerading as meat. The vegetarian sections of supermarkets are crammed full of such fabrications; veggie burgers, vegetarian sausages, hot dogs, chicken-style pies, cottage pie, schnitzels, chicken-style nuggets. Why?

                If you would be a vegetarian, why do you want meat-style products?

                In our house we do a fair amount of cooking from scratch-probably more than most. I believe that to eat healthily as a vegetarian a great deal of culinary expertise is required. You have to ensure the protein elements of the meal-not easy if there is to be variety. You have to concoct tasty, nutritious items from nuts, beans or pulses. If you do not undertake these time-consuming practises you will be stuck on an escalator of cheese pizza, cheese pasta, cheese nachos, jacket potato with cheese and veggie burgers-not especially healthy fare, but there are limits to fast food options of the veggie kind.

                I suppose it all comes down to the reasons for vegetarianism. For some it may be a simple aversion to the taste or texture of meat. Fair enough! For others it may be a protest against the horrors perpetrated against cute, furry animals. And for a third group, it is the fact that the world could be fed adequately if the land taken to raise beef, lamb, pork, chicken etc were used to grow crops. This, to me is the most powerful reason for vegetarianism.

                But surely we would all fare better if we took a third way. We humans are omnivores.

noun

  • an animal or person that eats a variety of food of both plant and animal origin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                The clue is in the word variety. I’m not prepared to conjure cunning treats from ‘tofu’ or make mouthwatering meals from pretend mince, OR eat meat made in a petri dish. If you’re going to make a vegetarian meal-use vegetables!

                That’s all. I’m off to the supermarket.