Food surrounds us – we all need to eat and it is something that we all share in terms of need. But Food is more than just a need to eat. Food is the glue that holds us together as a community in the wider sense (of a nation) at work (sharing meals/social occasions with colleagues and at home (where we have the chance to interact with our loved ones). Food is therefore the molecules of energy and micronutrients, but also something more – it’s the soul, something richer than the mere biochemistry.
Is eating together as a family some Utopian dream? For many this ancient art of sharing a meal with loved ones has been consigned to the history books. How did it all go so horribly wrong?
Industrialisation may have been the first nail in the coffin of a shared meal. For many working people in the dawn of the Industrial age, as the connection was lost between who provided your food, where it came from and how it was prepared. Working hours were long and harsh, any pleasure in food was extinguished as food became fuel. For other sections of industrial society who lived in towns, eating was the ultimate pleasure, but still, the connection with who produced the food was increasingly lost, as the great adulteration scandals of the Victorian age illustrate
Any system of providing meals relied on having someone in the house preparing food (either servant or the wife …hmm perhaps the same thing in some cases!) and after the first world war where the idea of service stared evaporating and women were starting to claim a bigger role in the world, to the downtrodden 1950’s housewife, living in austerity dying to escape the drudgery of manual housekeeping and above all, escape the daily grind of cooking with unpromising ingredients.
Gradually in the first half of the last century Women to start to claim their rightful place in the world but left a void in terms of how the meals were going to appear on the table and the structure of when those meals would be eaten. The nice people at the food companies, and advertising dream promising solutions stepped in to fill the pull between increasing income, work and the need to provide a square meal for the family. Trust was established between those providing us with food and the person (often still the women) who were expected to land a meal on the table. Instead of listening to our instincts we increasingly listened to the experts with some potentially devastating effects.
One such story is the battle between Fat and Sugar, played out by two scientists Ancel Keys and the British Scientist John Yudkin. A small study, led by Keys, in Minnesota in the 50’s seemed to link cardiovascular disease with an increase in saturated fat. The theory was presented to a meeting of the World Health organisation in Geneva in 1955 where it was much criticised. Ancel Keys was so passionate about his theory he conducted another study which came to be known as the 7 Countries study which appeared to show that serum cholesterol was strongly related to coronary heart disease at a population and at an individual level. By 1956 television advertising by experts strongly advocated people to stop eating butter, lard, eggs and beef and a low fat diet was advocated. With low fat came high sugar as food with no fat in it is tasteless. John Yudkin disagreed saying that it was sugar not fat that was the problem in critical health. Many years later it was shown that the 7 Countries study had conveniently cut out of the data the countries that did not prove Keys theory about fat.
Handing our power to know to what feed our families has been handed to the food companies by the ad-men who create the story that our dreams are being met by the solutions food companies provide, and the vision that more and more stuff would make us happier. We need to claim back our instinct. We know what is for the good of our families. Food is probably one of the leading instruments we have in influencing our long term health and that of our families. Let’s claim our power back.
What can we do to reclaim our meal-times and make eating together a pressing priority, for our health, and our families?
1. Use the work/life balance concept to prioritise our food rather than just our leisure. Leisure is the short term gain. Eating is the longer game, and longer gain in terms of vitality, health and enjoyment of life.
2. Plan our meals instead of expecting meals to appear in the fridge (I like the handy meal planners).
3. A huge part of my family budget is food. I’d rather eat well than have a flash car (as long as it goes) – I use Abel and Cole recipe boxes (I am not connected with this company) – I find that as I cook everything in the box, food wastage is non-existent. Before A and C I would buy a whole lot of orange stuff and then chuck it out at the end of the week.
4. Eat a proper breakfast together as a family. Yes this is difficult to prioritise with early starts. If you can’t do this, then at least try and eat one meal together as a family. If you can’t do that, at least eat meals together at the week-end. This is where you find out about who your family are, you have a chance to expand your relationship with your loved ones.
5. Remember the food you eat has probably the biggest impact on your eventual health outcome. if you want the energy to play with your kids or to see your grandchildren, then investing in what you feed yourself has to become priority.