I’ve been thinking about food and cooking recently. I’ve been watching, Back in Time for Dinner and it’s been really interesting. Basically, a family has committed to spending 10 days in a decade from the 50’s onwards, eating, cooking and living as they would have in that decade. I’ve found it really interesting, especially, from the 70’s onwards. As I remember that food (there’s a chopping board in the 70’s programme that I remember from home!)Watching the changes of a decade over 10 days really highlighted how much drudgery was involved in cooking but also why ready meals and convenience foods were and have been so readily accepted. Ma’s has also been watching this and she lived through all of the decades featured. She remembers (just) rationing and the other changes. I remember my childhood, Ma would pick us up from playcentre and as soon as we got home she’d start peeling potatoes for Dad’s dinner, making our dinner and doing anything else that needed doing, probably mending and washing and checking homework and getting us ready for bed. It was hard work and took lots of planning. So the idea of being able to take something out of the fridge, put it in the oven and not have to do anything else must have been like manna from heaven.
It’s been a running joke in my family how much my mother hates to cook and how she was the queen of ‘pierce and ping’ cookery although that really didn’t take hold until we were teenagers and after we left home. Which highlights the other thing that I noticed watching the programme, how much of our cooking and eating style is determined by the food and cooking choices of our parents.Lots has been said and will continue to be said about how and why we all eat the way we do, but thinking about it, I eat an awful lot like I did when I was 10. There is some adaptation, I make bread more than my mother did (in fact I don’t think she ever did!) but I have more time than she did and I like to cook. However, I cook most days and I don’t eat much processed food, ok all food in the supermarket is processed to some extent, yoghurt doesn’t come out of the cow like that but what I mean by processed food is convenience food.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the ease of convenience food or even that I hate the taste, it’s that for the money I can do better. I make pizza a couple of times a month and it’s cheaper, tastes better than most ready made ones and I know exactly what’s in it. It takes a little bit more work but that’s a trade off I’m happy to make. (Of course, I could go to Santa Maria and have a pizza that was 100 times better than both the home-made and bought from supermarket options)It’s the thing that works best for me but what really helped is realising that cooking dinner is work. Like all the other housework it can be boring and tiring and feel never-ending and some days, if I had the money, I’d just rather order in. I’ve had to learn to accommodate that and work with it, which means that I do have to menu plan and food prep and that I try to have stuff in the freezer that I can ‘cook’ with minimum fuss for days when I’m busy. It also means that I don’t beat myself up if dinner is scrambled eggs on toast with a side of cut up carrots and peppers.
One of the ways I do that is harness my natural inability to cook for one person. I take the leftovers and put them in the freezer. The containers come from Wilkinsons and are 10 for £1. Dinner becomes really easy on hard days.
Basically, what I’ve learnt about cooking is that food doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to look perfect, you’re just making something to eat, it’s not rocket science and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.I know there are lots of barriers to eating well; money, time, energy bills, education. I’m not going to lecture anyone on how they eat because I’m not living their circumstances, but I do think that if your circumstances allow, cooking almost every day is a good habit to get into, precisely because it’s a chore, the more you do it the easier it becomes. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it just has to feed you.