We all need food to survive, but in an age where you can shop for it 24/7, heat and eat it and get it without leaving your car, have we lost our understanding of food?
Having a basic understanding of the components of food and knowing what to expect when specific foods are prepared in different ways shouldn’t just be the realm of food technologists. There was a time when most household cooks understood the food they purchased and cooked. One view is that now we don’t really have household cooks, we have household shoppers and household “food assemblers”. According to Richard Dennis of the Australian Institute on Checkpoint, most of us don’t have a meal plan in mind when we visit the supermarket. He describes convenience as “the enemy of good planning”.
How have we ended up like this? Food was once plentiful and, in most cases, cheap, we were fit and healthy, there was no such thing as global warming, and we just got busy doing other things.
But the halcyon days are no more. Food is expensive, it takes a lot of resource to produce in the quantities we need, and our population has an obesity and diabetes problem. For all these reasons we simply cannot afford to carry on in the same fashion. Throwing away food is hurting us more than just by leaving us with feelings of guilt. Fresh fruit and vegetables have risen more than 12% in price over the last year, and are, apparently, the items most often thrown out. According to Dennis this is partly because we don’t plan our meals well, but also because what we think is fresh often isn’t, so starts to deteriorate sooner than expected.
This lack of connection with food is causing some authorities to question having “best before” dates on labels. But surely the answer is to just engage a bit more with the foods we choose to buy?
Examples include: knowing that yoghurt or cottage cheese that’s past its best before date is going to be OK as long as it tastes and smells OK; knowing how to cook something to preserve it for a bit longer; and storing foods appropriately to help extend their life (eg, apples in the fridge, potatoes in the dark, etc).
Another key thing is to learn how to plan meals ahead, so that we go to the supermarket prepared and just buy what we need. It won’t only save money but it will be good for our waistlines and ultimately, the planet.