The idea of real food really gets food bloggers going, me included… It is a passionate issue for some but for the majority of the population, it is very ho hum.
I can remember years ago arguing with my mate, Colette, that supermarkets don’t sell real food. Now, I accept that is not literally true. If you run around the edges, you will encounter vegetables, meat, eggs and milk, etc, but most items in the centre aisles are not real food but manufactured ‘food’ (nowadays, primarily manufactured for, or on behalf of Woolworths or Coles, as the case may be). Woolworths very smartly advertise themselves as the fresh food people as if by shopping there you will be buying fresh, healthy food. If only…
Processed food is full of dyes, chemicals and preservatives. But on the whole, people don’t seem to care.
It is generally accepted that the current generation of English children can expect to have a shorter life span than their parents (I am guessing it is the same in the States. I don’t know if it is true in Australia – I hope not). It is many hundreds of years since this has been true and it is true despite advancements in the medical profession. The reasons are poor diet and lack of exercise.
You only have to look into the trollies of fellow shoppers to appreciate the problem. If you peek, you are likely to see coke, fruit juice drink, packets of biscuits (made with palm oil), strange stuff that masquerades as butter, frozen hamburgers, pizzas, chips and desserts. You have the idea.
And, of course, worse than that, is the huge amount of bad quality take away and restaurant food people eat. The quality (or lack thereof) of takeaway food is well documented but restaurants are not much better. I ordered a seafood tomato pasta dish last week at a local restaurant and there was a pool of fat on the bottom of the dish when I had finished. Why does a tomato sauce need to be swimming in fat?
All this processed food, takeaways and restaurant meals cost money, a lot of money. Most people have forgotten that in Australia unprocessed food is GST free whereas processed food, takeaway and restaurant food is subject to GST. (This was an amendment the Greens required in order to support the legislation.) So everything else being equal, real food is cheaper than processed and takeaway food. But, as we all know, everything else is not equal. We have to add the food manufacturers’ profit margin into the equation.
Now the question on everyone’s lips is why?
The most palatable answer is the cook of the house invariably works outside the house for, at least, 8 hours a day and then has a long commute home. Time is a scarce resource. If you have a full-time job, a couple of kids and a house to look after, you will be tired most of the time. You want quick and easy meals. Processed, prepared and takeaway food fit the criteria.
Another palatable possibility is people don’t know how to cook (although I find this argument a bit weak – buy a cookbook (there are several million out there) but for argument’s sake, let’s proceed). A lot of people have come from families where cooking was not instilled in them and so they don’t instil it in their children. This is becoming more so, as now we have the third generation of children eating processed food.
The next option is convenience. We live in a convenient world. The truth is most people would prefer to open a packet, rather than cook things from scratch. Cooking is just another chore to add to the mountain of chores they already have. Today, there are so many options on how to spend our time, the majority of the population don’t want to spend it in the kitchen. (This is despite the popularity of TV cooking shows.)
I think all these arguments have merit but I think the real answer is the food industry.
In my mother’s childhood, and certainly in my grandparents’ lives, there was no such thing as a food industry. People bought vegetables, meat, bread, milk and a few supplementary baking goods and condiments. If they wanted biscuits, lollies, cakes, ice-cream, desserts etc, they made them. They were busy, too. My and Maus’ mums each had four children and there were many of that generation who had considerably more. They cleaned houses, they cooked, they sewed and they the tended the garden. Often, they lived hard lives, yet they had time to cook.
Some of you would have read my recent rave on the gluten-free food boom we are having. I strongly believe that the gluten-free market was created by the supermarkets/food manufacturers. Food marketed as gluten-free is highly processed and, therefore, is a high value added item. By contrast, there are no aisles of food for diabetics, notwithstanding there are many more diabetics than celiacs.
Food manufacturers are only interested in profits. There is not much margin to be had on real food. The way to increase their profit was to value add. All they needed was a marketing campaign to get people to buy their value added products, ie, “You are very busy, let us help”; “Don’t you want to spend more time with your kids?”; “Why slave over a hot stove when we can make it for you?”; and “Our food tastes great and is convenient”. Again, you have the picture.
Young families were also sold the dream of a four-bedroom house in a middle class suburb with a four-wheel drive in the garage and two kids at private school. This lifestyle requires two incomes to support it. And, before you know It, we have arrived where we are today. These same young families with no time on their hands, no cooking skills and no inclination to learn, are making food manufacturers very rich indeed and paying much too much for the food they eat.
Maus read, the other day, about an advert for baby food in sachets. We worked out how much money that mother was paying to feed her baby. It was a lot compared to the cost of a few vegetables.
And now processed food had become the norm. Many people have never tasted anything else. I remember an episode of River Cottage where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was with a group of people and offered reheated shop-bought frozen Shepherd’s pie and a Shepherd’s pie he had made. When they’d eaten, Hugh asked them which they preferred. Some preferred the frozen one. Why? That is what they were used to. People think chicken stock tastes like what you get in a carton (which, according to Choice magazine, is chicken stock cubes and water). Tastes have changed. In my humble opinion, it is all very sad… Though I do feel there is hope. I think the pendulum may be beginning to swing the other way. It is not just me who is grumpy about this.
Back to some real food 🙂 …
I was flicking through Indian Cooking for family and friends by Meena Pathak and I came across this recipe. I had written on the side, “10/10 could add a chilli“. That sounded pretty good. Dinner was set.
As a general rule, curries take a long time to cook but they are not labour intensive. If making this recipe for two, you will find that you have enough sauce left over for another meal. Just add some prawns, fish or chicken to it and you will have a home-made curry in minutes. If cooking for 4, keep all the ingredients the same but double the meat.
This curry is very mild. There are no chillies in the original recipe but I have added one and I think it worthwhile. You most certainly can omit it.
- 100g cashew nuts
- 2 tbs* vegetable oil
- 2 cloves
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tsp cummin seeds
- 1 large onion
- 2 large or 3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 150g tomatoes, chopped (I used a bit more as I had a small amount left over which I decided to include)
- 1 green chilli, chopped (optional)
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 350g lamb, cut into one inch cubes (I used some butterflied leg lamb)
- 100mls whipping cream
- 2 tbs* chopped fresh mint
- 1 tbs* chopped fresh coriander
- 1 tsp sugar (Check taste, you may need more. I did because I was using my own preserved tomatoes which have lemon juice added to them. If you are using canned tomatoes, the teaspoon will probably be enough.)
- salt, be generous.
*These are 15 mil tablespoons.
- Chop or, better still, process the cashew nuts as finely as you can. You can add a bit of water if you like. You are wanting a paste if you can get it. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a pan and add the cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves and cummin seeds. When they begin to crackle, add the chopped onions and fry over a medium heat for ages. I cooked my onions for about one hour. Cooking the onions long and slowly is the secret to a good curry. In the old days, very tough meat was used for a curry and so the onions cooked down whilst the meat slowly simmered away all day. Nowadays, the meat is often better quality and so does not need to be cooked as long. Add a little water to your pan periodically to stop the onions sticking and colouring.
- Add the garlic, ginger, chopped tomatoes, chopped chilli (if using), sugar, ground coriander and ground turmeric. Cook, stirring constantly, for another 5 minutes.
- Stir the cashew nut paste into the mixture and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so.
- Remove the bay leaves. Get your stick blender and blend the sauce until it is smooth. (This is a trick I learned from a great book, Curry Bible, by Pat Chapman.)
- Taste the sauce, check the sugar and add the salt.
- Add the diced lamb, reduce the heat, cover and leave until cooked to your liking (about 45 minutes). Be careful the sauce does not stick. Add a bit more water if you need.
- Stir in the cream, chopped mint and coriander. Again, check sugar and salt to taste.
- Serve garnished with a few mint leaves, cashew nuts and plain basmati rice.