Someone I was talking to the other day was telling me about how she cooks everything herself. During the course of our conversation, I realised that cooking it yourself included using a jar of Dolmio sauce. She suddenly stopped talking, looked at me and said, ‘Oh. I suppose you would never even use a tin of tomatoes!’
This whole conversation made me deeply sad. We get further and further away from real food, it seems to me. So even if we do ‘cook it ourselves’ this often relies on pre-prepared foods like Dolmio Sauce or stock cubes. As a nation we slide inexorably to greater and greater fatness. Eat Less Do More. Avoid Saturated Fats and Red Meat or death will ensue. Eat bacon and eggs for breakfast and walk the road to cardiac arrest. Go Vegan and live forever – as an increasingly daft old bint. None of us are thick; we hear these messages and do our best to obey. Yet still maintaining a grip on the waistline seems to be a sliding battle. The reasons are many, but our reliance on pre-prepared foods play a major part.
Yes, a jar of Dolmio Bolognese sauce has no preservatives, artificial flavours or additives. But in order to have a nice long shelf life it has been heated, presumably pasteurised. Yes, a jar of Dolmio Sauce is in glass, infinitely preferable to a can. But it still cannot beat chopped up fresh tomatoes, onions, herbs, olive oil and ourselves in control of the sugar and salt. Not to mention being in control of the quality of the ingredients.
The best nutrition comes from food. The most nutritious food is the freshest and, I would argue, organic. Pesticides do us and the planet no good at all. And eating them leads to fat bottoms and moobs.
Nearly every week I publish a recipe which normally takes minutes to prepare. Personally, I do not have time to spend hours chopping, stirring and pot watching. And these recipes use fresh, raw ingredients. Admittedly if I’m being posh, I will buy a pot of liquid stock rather than make my own. But apart from that, its chop, chop, chop, hurl into pan.
As a result of becoming dependant upon pre-prepared food, our taste buds change. My friend Sam Ramdenee conducted an experiment with her family, comparing high quality Laverstoke Park sausages with a bog standard variety. She and her children much preferred the Laverstoke Park sausages, whereas her husband, an inveterate lover of pasta and pizza, much preferred the others.
And so we get sucked into the food company’s profit margins. Our taste buds get used to all things processed, our nutritional levels inexorably sink, leading us to feeling tired all the time and not realising it. Then we are really trapped, since even the thought of cooking it yourself is exhausting. We start to reach for the pick me up coffee, fizzy drinks, biscuits. And get fatter, more depressed and more tired.
Cooking it yourself means exactly that. To ease in, we can buy pre-chopped vegetables. Not as nutritious as ones you chop yourself, but a good step in the right direction. A jar of passata is better than Dolmio sauce whilst moving towards tomato chopping. Cooking a big stew on a day off and freezing it in portions also moves us away from all things pre-prepared. So with time, our taste buds will change and processed food tastes as awful as it really is. And we will be getting a more nutritious diet. The other important thing to help is gathering together a good spice rack which is easily accessible. My daughter, Sally, says Cinnamon is a good place to start since it goes with everything – and is extremely good for you. Cumin is another very useful spice. So adding a sprinkle of this or that powder will excite the tastebuds and help us on the road to independance. If still dubious, there is a book called The Flavour Thesaurus that is a guide as to what goes with what, so helping the time pressed cook who has no time for recipe following, but can peer in the fridge to see what needs eating up, whip open the spice rack and get cheffing.