I remember the 1970s for margarine. Of all things, right? My food recollection starts at margarine because I could never figure out why it was considered better than butter. It looked more or less the same, did the same job (on sandwiches, at least) and frankly didn’t taste as good.
So why did we use this stuff anyway? And what was it made from?
Understanding butter is easy. Take some milk and churn until something recognizable appears. Then use it in cooking or on bread. “Marj”, as it was known had an altogether different lineage. Some said it was petroleum based, but I doubted that even as a child. Maybe it is, I don’t know.
The fad at the time was for anything low in fat. Precisely as now, diets and new ways of eating consumed people to varying degrees, with the usual over-reactive results. My mother made skim milk from powder rather than use real milk. It tasted, by the way, atrocious. There was no cheese, no olive oil and nothing that tasted of anything much in the house. Fat is, after all, where flavour lives.
Which is no way to bring up a child. Food was seen as a mildly decadent thing, which naturally leads to off-centre attitudes. Finding out how to eat and cook and consume food well isn’t as simple as you’d think. The damage caused by dopey fads remembered from formative years can take a long time to overcome.
Eating, as much as anything else, requires the deliberate choice of quality. And any time is a good time to start. Sorry mum.
My current commute-mate has a problem. His is a big problem, in that he has no money.
As is often the case, that statement isn’t technically true. He does have money because he has the same job as me. What he doesn’t have is money remaining after all his expenses. The money runs out before the month.
Dickens’ famous quote about this, from the mouth of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield:
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
Our instinct, when faced with the awful fact of a money shortage, is to look for more money. Luis does this. He figures overtime – meaning weekend work – and perhaps an extra job will fix his budget hole. (Even calling it a “budget hole” is a joke: what budget?)
Better to look at the other side of the equation, the income side. Last week he was talking about buying take-out pizza. His wife likes Little Ceasar’s. Really? My thought was, wow, imagine how many nutricious meals (including h/m pizza BTW she might have made with the money wasted on that junk.
Making the money fit our needs is actually something we can act upon. Living in a dream-world of magically found extra money feeds the misery, because the focus is on what we don’t have, not what IS available to us. And when we succeed at slimming down the body so it fits in the clothes, we take control. Lower stress, thinking properly and opening up our (budget) horizon are but three of the benefits.
This is the battle. We tend not to examine all sides of our income and expenses ledger. And we tend not to face anything when we know it will cause discomfort. And we especially tend not to want to cut fast-food pizza out of our lives.
Sardines are on my dinner menu tonight. Sardines with broccoli and brown rice. Sometimes I spice the plate up with some coriander, or cumin or some chili flakes. But basically, it’s pretty bland. The whole enchilada (!) takes around fifteen minutes to prepare, and is about as nutricious a meal as you could make for the money.
Important to saving time is the fact that I pre-cook the rice. Every four days or so I make enough for, well, four meals and store it in the fridge. As you probably know, cooking brown rice is a forty-five minute project, so for day-to-day expedience I cheat. Just a little. Then I can roll out of bed, start heating my food and do some exercise while I wait. Efficiency, baby.
In a small way, this meal is part of extending my Budget Horizon. The direct cost is in the area of three dollars. Importantly, I am rarely hungry again until morning, so I can get through my night – currently my work “day” – without the need for buying more food. My 4:00 am coffee is then all I need to feel satisfied until I make breakfast after work.
And in a big way, this meal holds back the chaos in my life. Chaos sneaks in when I spend more than my budget (or more that I have!). Chaos bites me when I consistently eat poorly. Chaos wafts into the room when I lose consistency of behaviour…good behaviour of course.
Chaos, I observe, fills many lives. It did mine for a few years there, but gradually I am closing it down. In my opinion, chaos thrives and grows on disorganization. Avoidance of the truth. Masking stuff. Failing to address problems. Ignoring the value of long-term planning. Excusing yourself from the sensible habits you have developed. There are all sightlines to a chaotic present and therefore a chaotic future.
One small, quality meal at a time, one donut un-eaten, one dollar not spent, one quarter saved; these are the talismen of a low-stress life. This is the script for success.
If you want to drain some of the optimism from your day, observe the carts of your fellow shoppers at the supermarket. Is it any wonder we’re rocketing toward obesity? Is reliance upon our friends in the pharmaceutical industry really the way to fix the systemic ills of a poor diet?
Try this next time: consider buying food as close to its original state as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables are clearly good choices, and if you want high quality protein, a can of sardines is both delicious and nutricious.
No, they don’t taste like corn chips or donuts. But you do have only one heart.