This entry started life as an idea of writing about the cooks, mostly mothers it has to be said, who live their lives sustaining the family, who patiently work at cooking the family meals: breakfasts; packed lunches; dinners; day in and day out . . . but it’s transmogrifying into a little consideration of the way our diets are changing. Maybe I’m writing too with a view to the possibility that a future archive may unearth these notes for bewildered consideration.
Perhaps I can figure out how best to write about family sustenance on the home-maker front, without being either patronising or pedestal-elevating, but for now it’s commiseration time: how can we mutually work together to accommodate our families’ tastes and diet habits into the sort of nutrition that one day the world must share? Well, that’s a big question, all right.
These days, most of us here live on a rich ‘northern hemisphere’ diet of meat, robust vegetables, some roughage in the form of bread and salads. When you’re eating local meat, grown on the fellsides virtually within shouting distance of the cooker, worries about carbon dioxide and methane emissions from cattle farms carved out of newly created pastures on the fire-ravaged Amazon jungle, seem entirely inappropriate. Even chicken is produced in British farms, eaten by British consumers, who also eat plenty of good old British fish taken from the North Sea and Scottish fisheries. I know we’ve got quite a few pig farms in the UK, but it’s also true that much/most of the bacon we consume here comes from Denmark, isn’t it? But the local hog roasts that contribute so much to large parties are local-grown hogs, after all.
Anyway, the traditional Sunday roast is here to stay for a very long time to come, doubtless. But at some point, in the far distant future perhaps, when issues of climate change and the survival of the planet depend on human conscientiousness, it may be that our diet will change drastically to accommodate. We might be living on something rather closer to the so-called World Diet Plan, the recently released diet concept described in The Lancet by a consortium of 37 leading scientists from a variety of disciplines including nutrition and climate research, than we are today. Certainly today’s millenials are already eagerly moving into and beyond ‘vegetarianism’ to pure vegan diets. And so today’s chefs are often required to make new and seemingly exotic dishes to satisfy their returning children and grand-children.
‘So Mum, you know, like, Xxxx is a vegan.’ (gulp) ‘So that’s no meat, no fish, no dairy even?’ ‘That’s right Mum, hey, it’s not actually all that hard!’ ‘Not hard! . . . why don’t you try to make something then?’ These sorts of conversations, or half of them perhaps, are echoing around the community with increasing frequency. So what will these diets of the future actually look like? When they become commonplace, I mean.
Lots of beans, chick peas, kale, home-grown vegetables, fruit and a few oily fish (or perhaps, protein from insects, if vegans can be persuaded that it’s for the best), it looks like, and fresh fruit and nuts for dessert. I guess that would be local fruit in season; it’ll always be pretty hard to grow bananas locally, won’t it. And then there’s always the protein substitutes, the tofu, quinoa and even the possibility of laboratory meat produced in great vats. The World Diet Plan as laid out for a week of meals, and which sounds positively draconian, involves only a bare hundred grams of chicken a week (that’s an equivalent of one skinny leg, imagine that!), or 7g of red meat (that’s less than two teaspoons of mince). And still, how cautionary is this: the plan, which is meant to be sustainable worldwide, offers more food to more people than they currently manage to eat today! Also, on the other hand, when this diet comes into wide-spread use, think how healthy everyone will be: little obesity, dramatically reduced sugar levels, good digestion processes, and still plenty of energy for daily life. Over time, no doubt farming practises will change too, as the demand for meat decreases. But not in our lifetime, I suspect, nor yet that of our children.
We can think of the World Diet Plan as a healthy diet to save the planet, but it’s probably also a healthy sort of diet to save ourselves. Everybody knows how the !rich gourmands of the Middle, Georgian and even the Victorian Ages lived, gorging themselves on an unremitting diet of meat (and how early in life they dropped from heart disease and chronic bowel problems, to say nothing of alcoholism related to gin consumption!). Or, conversely, how healthy war-time diets under rationing restrictions have been found to be, at least insofar as starvation was forestalled. The zeitgeist is changing, slowly and probably inexorably, as meat dishes are gradually reduced in the national menu.
I think this change will be generational, mostly, rather than more quickly, and only by looking back a century hence or so will the change be easily observable. Unless, of course, there’s a cataclysmic apocalypse ahead, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, in which the repressive state Gilead develops in response to pervasive infertility and the possible demise of the human species. Then we’ll be in for it, if a climactic doomsday forces us into a more healthy diet.
Forced to become more healthy — isn’t that a strange anomaly, really. And yet I would not willingly undertake such a stringent World Diet Plan if I had access to convenient and local sources of tasty meat, rich lashings of butter and cream, copious eggs and home-fermented hedgerow wine. Sometimes I wonder if the ‘survivalists,’ with their strategy of growing their own food as surety against an apocalypse/Armageddon (take your choice, ) don’t have some sort of prescient vision of the future.
But that future is not here, not yet. In fact, I’m dreaming of a Sunday roast chicken, with roast potatoes fresh from the garden, lovely smooth gravy, an unctuous stuffing, copious vegetables steamed on the hob, washed down with crisp white wine and followed maybe with two kinds of ice cream for dessert. Really, today though we’re having a pre-shredded chicken curry with rice, a much easier dish to chew, but then that’s another conversation.