Having spent all day yesterday in bed (and over the toilet, not that you wanted to know that) with the dreaded stomach lurgy, it is as exciting as life on a planet with three moons to wake up this morning with a renewed interest in food.
What with all the eating and weight-gaining that goes on these days, food has begun to acquire something of a bad name. In this part of the world it’s been a long time since most of us have had to wake up concerned with how the day’s foraging will go. For many, the battle has become the opposite—how NOT to eat all we’d like. Food has become associated with degeneracy and wilful bad health. Guilt is the new order of the day. The message in this photo is now the accepted wisdom.
How did that happen?
I’m sitting here at the Waterbird Café in Manning Point, one of my first outings since my surgery almost three weeks ago. I am on the deck over the river, with my new fibreglass cast sparkling on the seat of a chair in front of me and a fine cappuccino on the table at my side. Rick and Eve have gone for a walk on the beach, and I am left to enjoy the sun-dappled river which has been serving up dozens of dolphins cresting their way upstream. It’s a sublime environment, but I must admit that nearly all that’s on my mind is…lunch. I drift to thoughts of a big slice of chicken—those roast chicken smells that were making me nauseous last night are now tormenting me in a very different way.
On this post-flu day, I can’t help but think what a waste it is to fret about food. My daughter Jenn has become my new role model in this regard. She’s always had a passionate interest in food, inherited mostly from her father’s side of the family, and has over the years morphed that into a talent for cooking. She’s accumulated dozens of cookbooks; as a librarian, she’s always had an eye out for an old cookbook no longer wanted in the collection. Each is carefully selected for its attention to ingredients, detail of spices and seasonings, and appeal of flavours. She’s also acquired an enviable collection of pots and utensils.
And when she cooks! – well, she made dinner for the five of us all summer while we stayed at Mum’s, and I must say, one time in three the meal was delicious and the other two times a banquet for the gods. Her coq au vin, where an old hen is transmuted into a merlot-soaked feast (a strong and sweetish Merlot works best, she tells me)….well, your mouth should be watering just thinking about it. Even on fast days (she and her partner joined Rick and me on the 5:2 diet) she employed her limitless imagination, with 300 calorie serves of ceviche, Thai salad and spicy soup. I make a good gravy, I must modestly admit, and taught Jenn how one evening this summer. But by the time she finished throwing in specially-prepared onions and handfuls of carefully considered spices, it was the best gravy I’ve ever tasted. She leap-frogged me in one go.
She keeps an eye on economy, calorie count and serving volumes, but mostly if it’s superb food, she’s unabashedly serving it up.
So with Jenn as a role model, I’ve had an exquisite example about how not to throw the baby (great food) out with the bathwater (evil habits). What a great shame it is that it’s become so popular to bemoan our eating, that we will say, after a fine restaurant meal, “I shouldn’t have done that,” that pecking away at our calorie counters dominates our meal choices, that we feel we must refrain from even a taste of a dessert lovingly prepared by a great chef.
No one is spared, that I can see, but I think my female friends and I are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. It’s almost a game we play, about who can make the most self-deprecating diet-related comment the fastest. There are worthy things in the world, and food is not one. It’s at best a cheerful self-indulgence, at worst an evil spawn.
What a mess we’ve created.
Do you ever wonder what the world will be like in a certain regard in a hundred years?This morning I’m thinking about a time in the universe when there will no longer be guilt associated with food, when we’ve learned whatever it is that’s going to take us to the next stage of nutritional transformation. There’s no doubt we’re in an uncomfortable transition from a time of scarcity to a time of abundance. The world will change again; something will trigger a new approach. Perhaps life-sustaining food habits will somehow become automatic, perhaps we’ll develop a new frame of mind, perhaps there’ll be an abundance of nothing but the right kind of food.
First we have to surrender to this predicament we’ve got ourselves into, then we’ll figure it out.
It’s now a couple of hours later, and I’ve just polished off a toasted chicken, avocado and lettuce sandwich served up by Rick. I ate it slowly, and it’s the best thing I’ve tasted for weeks.
So with the memory of that sandwich (not to mention Jenn’s coq au vin) still on my palate, I can honestly think of no more worthy purpose in life than to eat a great meal. Count me in with the live-to-eaters.
For you foodies, I’ve watched two enjoyable movies recently: Chef and The 100 Foot Journey. It’s unusual that there would be two movies glorifying food in such close proximity. Maybe they represent the beginning of the transformation.