Sunday, 16 October 2011
The waste of plenty is the resource of scarcity (Thomas Love Peacock)
It is estimated that the food wastage in America every year could feed 49 million people per year. Around a third of all food bought in the UK is thrown away. In a world where convenience food is relatively cheap and widely available, people are growing up thinking that our resources are infinite. Unfortunately this is not the case. But we are also bringing up a population who simply do not know how to cook. Children are leaving home without knowing how to make themselves even some simple meals and so are living on processed meals and takeaways. This is not good for them or the environment in general.
As the mother of two girls I am conscious that they need to learn from an early age that food is something to enjoy (and not to fear- having grown up surrounded by friends with eating disorders this is something I am acutely aware of). Unfortunately eating disorders is becoming fairly commonplace in young girls and it is important that they learn from an early age that a healthy balanced diet will keep you at a healthy weight rather than binging and then crash dieting. The 18th century French author, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said "Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are" showing how important your diet is to forming who you are. It doesn't just affect you but with diminishing world resources, what you eat affects everyone.
It breaks my heart to see toddlers drinking fizzy drinks from baby bottles while gobbling their way through packets of crisps and biscuits. An NHS report stated that 1 in 5 children leaving primary school are now clinically obese. They are not only suffering from the associated health implications but also are getting into bad habits that will be so difficult for them to break.
Don't get me wrong- my children eat their fair share of treats. I don't believe in forbidding them from eating anything (within reason!) Forbidden fruit is very tempting. Think of alcohol use in different cultures- in countries such as France and Italy drinking is part of the family meal and children don't grow up seeing binge drinking as something that they should be doing as teenagers. We talk to the girls about drinking alcohol and when they are older they will be allowed some wine for example at family meals, so hopefully making the associations with alcohol more positive.
It's the same with treats. My children are allowed chocolate and sweets and other treats - but in moderation. If they have been to a birthday party and stuffed themselves full of sugar they know that if there are more treats in their party bag they will need to be left until another day. And actually already at only 3 and 5 my girls are starting to self-regulate. My eldest refuses to eat any crisps these days since she doesn't like the fact they have a high salt content (though my youngest loves them!) They also have a high proportion of fruit in their diet out of choice and will now actually ask for fruit at snack time as frequently as things such as biscuits.
Our children literally learn from how they see us eat. If we never eat fresh fruit and vegetables, never sit down to a proper meal, always eat in front of the tv, only eat processed ready meals then how can we expect them to grow up having a balanced diet. A lot of children leave home these days unable to make themselves any basic meals. Other than blasting something in the microwave they are pretty stuck.
As parents we need to be educating them so they are able to cook at least basic meals for themselves but also to consider what they are eating for the sake of themselves as well as for the sake of society as a whole. Many parents argue they don't have time to cook family meals and rely on processed food to feed their families. These are not only far less economical in the long run but are not nearly as good for you as meals that you have made yourself. A roast chicken cooked in the same pan as seasonal vegetables takes very little cooking on your part (most is done by the oven) but can produce a family meal as well as left overs for another day. And actually a healthy homecooked meal can usually be made in under 30 minutes. A very simple spaghetti bolognese is a great family meal and you can make a large batch so that you can freeze half for a quick family meal on another day.
I am not saying you have to cook every meal from scratch- but instead make a few changes to meals each week- change the kids cereals for porridge or scrambled eggs on toast a few times a week, have a proper family lunch at the weekend where you all sit round the table (with the tv off), let the kids make their own pizzas one evening (really quick and doesn't have to be unhealthy- you can even buy ready made good quality pastry so you don't have to even make your own dough). If your kids want some chips then make your own - cut up a few potatoes, toss in just a tablespoon of oil and a slight shaking of salt and bake at 220 degrees- much better for you than buying them deep fried from the chip shop.
The other thing that children need to learn about is actually respecting their food. We are not vegetarians but I do feel that animals that become our food should be respected. I would prefer to get less free range chicken and bulk a meal out with vegetables and some carbohdrates than get battery chicken that costs less. I also don't believe in hiding where meat comes from from children- we often visit farms and we'll talk about where various animal products come from and that meat is derived from animals.
We have also grown our own fruit and vegetables which again helps them to see where their food comes from (and is a great incentive to those picky eaters that don't like their fruit and veg!) It also means that this food that you have grown from home hasn't travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to make it to your plate, so again is much better for the environment. I also like including fruit and vegetables into baking - courgette muffins, beetroot chocolate cake, banana cake.
Children need to learn about food wastage and that our world's resources are not finite. Today's society is used to food whenever they want. People don't need to cook since processed food is readily available and relatively cheap (and also use much more packaging than unprocessed food which means they are using up even more resources). Our grandparents generation who lived through the war learned "waste not, want not". Our children need to learn that for the sake of their children and their children's children not to waste food. And this leads onto other resources- water is also really wasted- don't boil a full kettle for just one cup of tea, clean vegetables in pot of water rather than under a running tap etc.
Serve small portions and let people help themselves to more as they finish rather than having lots of food left over. That way any food left over has not been contaminated and can be stored (correctly) and reused at another meal time. Try and use as much of your food as possible rather than throwing certain parts away- for example a chicken carcass and the tops of leeks that are normally just thrown can be boiled up with a few other vegetables to make a lovely chicken stock to use in soups, rissottos, stews etc. We are lucky that our council collects kitchen and garden waste so we have a kitchen caddy for any scraps. Check if your council does the same otherwise consider doing your own composting which is great for the garden.
None of this is rocket science. It is making small changes so that your family are eating well balanced meals but also taking into account the animals that have provided us with the food, and that resources are finite.
Eliza Acton said in her book "Modern Cookery for Private Families" in 1845 that "it cannot be denied that an improved system of practical domestic cookery, and a better knowledge of its first principles, are still much needed in this country; where, from ignorance, or from mismanagement in their preparation, the daily waste of excellent provisions almost exceeds belief.” Over 150 years on and this is still very relevant today.