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.
Looks very much the same as a Meena Pathak recipe to me.
It is, and I say so in my post …. 😄
Excellent! My mother stayed at home and when we got home from school there was someone there to greet us. She cooked ALL our food. I remember eating at a restaurant only a handful of times in my life up til the age of 18. When my kids came along, I wanted to do the same thing but single mothers don’t have that luxury. No junk food.
We did go out to eat occasionally and my rule was they could choose where to go but the restaurant had to use cloth napkins. Now that doesn’t mean the food was perfect but it wasn’t fast food. I worked full time, raised two kids who were in almost all social and athletic clubs and I made most of our food. It wasn’t easy but I felt better knowing what they were eating. I love your point that the brands have convinced women that it’s all too hard and let them do it.
Those were the good old days Maureen.
Glenda, so many things I could comment on here! But one of them is about the popularity of TV cooking shows. If aliens landed and observed all the people watching cooking shows in the US, they’d assume humans were interested in preparing good whole foods for themselves, family and friends. But I think there are a lot of viewers who rarely cook much at all and for whom watching others cook fills that need–cooking vicariously!
Hi Jean it is a pity cooking vicariously does not result in a healthy diet 🙂 I think people watch these shows for the drama, the personalities of the contestants and the competition. The competitors could be doing anything.
oh..i love this post glenda..and your curry recipe..x
An excellent article, Glenda… you and I are singing from the same page in the hymn book!
Oh my God, Liz if you heard my singing voice you would be sorry 🙂
You’ve made me feel so much better but stoked to fire of ire I feel about people’s attitude to junk food… after an encounter we had over the festive season. I may indulge in a blog post about it. However, that you and the commenters feel as I do soothes me greatly. It is possible to eat good food and live in the real world. We need to bang our drums loudly so this message gets through because all the other profit driven messengers are banging theirs…
Hi Ella, I have been thinking I should rave a bit more on this blog, at least it gives my friends’ ears a rest and if one lone person is converted I have done well.
You echo my thoughts exactly. In fact real food without the fuss is the entire premise of my blog I feel that strongly about it 🙂 . Australian children are well on track to live shorter lives than their parents and grandparents, well in line with American and British children.
A long time ago my quick meal was to open a box of fish fillets from the freezer section of the supermarket and slip it into the oven. 25 minutes later I would have dinner. Then I learnt to cook fish. A fresh fillet is my go to quick meal. Now I can have dinner in 5 minutes. It is the mindset we have been sold, and we all bought it. But I think you are right and the tide is turning, slowly but surely. The more of us speaking out about it the better.
Great rant and fabulous recipe. Well done Glenda!
Thanks Tania, Yes the message was sold very well now we must sell the alternative message.
Excellent post Glenda. You are correct about the lifespan of American children – for the first time in our history, children will live shorter lives than their parents. What I find amazing & sad is the pushback from people choosing to eat too much & unhealthy foods. I’m not sure about Australia, but in restaurants here – I’m talking about those middle of the road family restaurants that aren’t fast food nor high end, gourmet type restaurants, places that are usually chains catering to lower middle class families – the portions served are gross. They seem to be catering to people who think quantity over quality is better and sometimes, yes we might go there for a so-so meal if we’re just looking to grab something when we’ve been out, I almost get queasy looking at the amount of food on my plate. There is no way that a healthy person needs that much food yet I see people shoveling it in as if it’s the last meal they’ll ever get.
It seems like everyone here is dieting & they’ll go about it by using things like artificial substitutes – fake sugar (which is thousands times sweeter than real sugar & creates sugar cravings), fake butter, you name it. I know of a woman who is constantly struggling with her weight & will go through the trouble of dumping those fake sugars in her coffee, then proceed to eat a 5 egg omelette, pile of home fries, and 2 slices of toast, then start garabbing food off my plate. It seems to me that using a little packet of sugar substitute isn’t going to help much.
In the states, and I believe they are worldwide, one of my biggest peeves is Monsanto. They have pretty much taken over agriculture here in the States & their seeds are GMO. I’ve read both sides to that discussion & frankly don’t feel comfortable with everything I’ve read. The fact that small farms here are being driven out of business by Monsanto disturbs me greatly as well as the fact that cross contamination means that there are fewer & fewer non-modified plants out there. Monsanto has spent billions to fight initiatives to just LABEL GMO foods & they have prevailed. They claim that people – because we are all ignorant of course – wouldn’t by their products is they had to label them as GMO. Well if you can prove that you haven’t crossed your wheat with an organism that might not be something in my body (such as weed killer), then of course people wouldn’t have a problem buying your food. However, the fact that I don’t know what I’m eating anymore – and this is not just a cross that happens naturally but a totally different organism that’s been created – well, I guess I have a problem with that.
Oh dear…Glenda, I am so sorry – I’ve taken over your lovely blog. I guess you were right – some people are passionate about what they put in their mouths. and I will be the first to admit that on occasion I eat a bowl of fake as can be cheese curls. Difference being though that it’s not a staple in my diet.
Oh Diane your concerns about Monsanto are spot on. In Australia Woolworths and Coles (the two big supermarkets) are bullying all the suppliers. They pay them very little and if they kick up a stink about something they are out. Our ACCC has just prosecuted Coles for unconscionable conduct with regard to a supplier. Oooh I get so mad that people still frequent these shops. When you go in them most of the products are home brands. That is because they have screwed out all the little suppliers.
I thought as much as to American children but I wasn’t certain. In the UK a significant number of children will die before their parents. How sad is that?
We don’t have the huge proportions in Australia as you do in the states. We always tell the story of how I once ordered nachos in NY. Maus and I ate until we burst and we only ate about one third of it. It is a disgrace in more ways than one. Firstly, nobody should eat that much and secondly what a waste of the world’s limited resources. If the States didn’t waste so much food maybe it wouldn’t need the Monsantos and so much GMO product. See now you have me raving again. I love it!!!
You know I was always confused when you talked about Woolworths, which was a huge department store chain here back in the 50’s until maybe the 60’s. They’d have clothes, household items, and a food counter but they weren’t ever a food store. I wonder if your Woolworths from the same family chain, just rebranded with food. Coles here is also a clothing/department store but I don’t think they’re associated with yours. I just get so frustrated with the huge conglomerates that put the little guys out of business. Here in the States, the right wing politicians are very much in favor of bigger is better & they allow them to actually write the legislation which they rubber stamp their approval on.
I can only imagine what people from other countries think when they eat at some of our restaurants. Not only are the portions more than what most people should eat, but so much goes to waste. And, if you can believe this, with all of our homeless & hungry people, there are laws that the restaurants can’t donate the excess food. I get the point that you don’t want to feed anyone food after it’s been picked over by someone else, but they throw the food in their dumpsters & the homeless go dumpsters diving for it after it’s been thrown away – how crazy is that. And, even with that some cities have banned, jailed & fined homeless people if they’re caught taking food out of dumpsters! As if a homeless person could afford a fine for picking food out of the garbage. Too much inequality & senseless things like that really get me going. We should have a rant party.
Oh Diane. You must do a post on the subject. You might get some discussion going.
Oh what a glorious rant Glenda and I agree with every word. Well said. Don’t forget also that (certainly in England) practical skills were written off by successive govermnents who placed all emphasis on university degrees. Anyone who worked with their hands rather than sat a desk was seen as a failure when in fact we need a good balance. I say bring back good practical training for plumbers, nurses and the like and teach the next generation that skills such as cooking and woodworking have equal value to using a computer.
PS Sometimes I’d like to add a little sign to my supermarket trolley that reads “there’s no vegetables in my trolley because I grow my own”.
Hi Anne, What a wonderful sign that would be! You are so right about the trades. They have been so devalued. They call it progress but I am not so sure.
Staples like pasta and rice, porridge for the kids, herbs, spices, and household products are the main things that make their way into our shopping trolley at the supermarket. We get the rest from the markets. We cook most things completely from scratch. When I know I’m going to need a quick meal I batch cook and freeze – even raw meat frozen in marinades. So much nicer than anything store-bought and reheated.
Oh Ruth, that sounds wonderful.
I’ve got your curry in the oven now 🙂
Fantastic, hope you like it.
You have the most interesting raves! I also peek into other shoppers’ trolleys and am generally appalled. Cooking does not have to be labour intensive and as you point out, your curry sauce actually provides you with two meals – the second one done in minutes. Also, soups, stews and various casseroles can be made in bulk and portions frozen for future (quick) meals.
Of course, you are right Deb, where did it all go so wrong?