Unfortunately, GCSE 'Commonsense' is not on the curriculum in schools.
In our day teachers smoked in class, a well aimed board rubber could take your eye out without legal consequences and 'Home Economics' taught girls how to make an omelette to a shepherds pie and budget the ingredients, make the shopping list and save enough to feed the meter (a few sixpences would do rather than a monthly mini-mortgage to feed a mis-selling multinational).
However, times have changed and today's education is 'Food Technology' e.g. take one frozen pizza base, a jar of topping and make a flow diagram of the steps required to unwrap a packet and open a jar of who-knows-what without a thought to what it contains or how it is made so long as it's 'cheap' and it's 'easy'. I guess the clue is in the name - 'technology' instead of economy, 'convenience' instead of quality and showing we can buy food instead of making food. In short, we're now taught to be consumers not producers.
So what should we be practising ourselves and teaching our children to improve their health and reduce food waste? In our family we say
Don't eat processed food
Poor quality food is usually mass-produced and has a long shelf-life because it is high in salt, high in low
quality fats and often contains artificial additives or is packed to extend it's life. One of the sure fire tests of whether a food is unprocessed is that is has a limited shelf life any will go mouldy without additives, dehyrdating, gas flushing or vacuum packaging. The freshest food is usually that which requires no label since it has not been messed about with so there isn't the need for labels e.g. a box of fresh fish or vegetables you can pick up yourself. Conversely, if a product has been processed will it be usually be packed and carry a brand name. That usually means the food will contain lots of salt and sugar (since both are dehydrators) or be dried so that bacteria and mould cannot reproduce (since they cannot reproduce without water, oxygen or ph) to extend the shelf life. The lowest common denominator (or most profit) is usually a brand name that is the same in any language because it means nothing and can be made anywhere. Cooking takes time and skill whilst 'good' food is best fresh so it's likely to be locally produced and unpacked. So, when you pick up food in any kind of container other than a paper bag which you put the contents in (a good indictor in itself) ask yourself, 'Can I see a farmer or my mum making it?" If not, it's processed food.
Learn to cook and teach your children
Obvious really, but the facts are that unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth and a chef at
your beck and call, you'll be paying someone else's salary on top of your raw ingredients cost. If the average ingredient cost of a ready meal is 15% of the retail price and you eat at least once a day then you will save yourself the price of a house in a lifetime by cooking for yourself. And you'll have a lot more friends and lovers!
Don’t buy because it’s cheap, buy because it’s fresh
The postwar mantra of Governments was 'cheap food' available to everyone after years of war and
rationing. Unfortunately, commercialisation and advertising in the industrialised countries led to a change in behaviour not seen in other centuries. Plentiful and available food was an aspiration Don Draper developed a 'need' for just as much as home ownership and good medicine. However, why would you want 'cheap' wine, a 'cheap' home or 'cheap' medical care? No matter how much your car costs it will never become part of you but food most certainly will. Very rarely will food that has a high nutritional value cost more when it is not fresh - cured and smoked meats and vintage wines excepted. If food is cheap, it's usually because it's got cheap ingredients and is made with cheap labour or machinery. So, ask yourself, "Why is it cheap?" and "Am I really really going to eat that?"
Buy meat you know who reared it and cook more recipes where the vegetable is the key ingredient
Only in recent decades have traditionally high protein foods become cheap relative to vegetables so
consumption of red meats has risen dramatically. The mass production of meats and meat processing lines has reduced the cost and quality so much that overconsumption of meat and underconsumption of fruit and vegetables is considered by many Doctors to be a health risk. The other side of the coin is that our forefathers and people from low tech countries where meat is not mass produced would not recognise our everyday meat as being 'meat' since it does not taste anything like grass fed and the low input slow maturing meats they were or are used to. I remember well a Romanian family friend munching thoughtfully on some roast chicken and commenting "Mmm, chicken that does not taste of chicken(!)" Our diet has changed more in the last 60 years than the last 60,000 years so much so that what we eat can kill us more quickly than smoking! One way of redressing the balance is to eat less but better meat and to buy fresh, seasonal local veg. So break off from reading this, go to your kitchen or office drawer and see if you have three bits of veg and fruit in a bowl. If the answer it 'Yes', we salute you, if the answer is 'No' get on it, and the answer is "It's in the fridge smartypants!", well think about that since a fridge may keep food looking good but if it's out in front of you then you will use it before it loses it's nutritional value. If you eat fruit and veg when it's worth eating you might actually enjoy eating and cooking more vegetable recipes without having to think about it 'Cos it's there stupid!'
Plan to cook and cook with a plan
Instead of watching 'Saturday Kitchen' get off you backside and go to your local farmers market or
independent food producer or shop and get in the kitchen and do a bit of cooking and preparing for a family meal and those next week. It helps to put a deadline on things so invite someone round. Why not set a target of making half a dozen ready meals or ready-to-use-ingredients in the freezer? Why not invest in a pack of Post-It notes or something a bit more rustic like a length of raffia or bailer twine (for those 'must-eat' recipes) and bookmark those recipes you meant to try but never got round to? Have you cleared out those recipe books that never inspired you much and asked your best 'cooking friend' if you can borrow their favourite cookery book (and invite them round to try a recipe and vice versa)? In short, it's good to make a date with your kitchen and your friends but make sure your cooking and your fuel remains varied and spontaneous otherwise the omnivore in you will lose interest. Variety is the spice of life so set a target whether it's a rack full of freshly backed muffins for Saturday afternoon tea or a curry with your mates before the local pub quiz. The facts are that a recipe is a shopping list of ingredients so if you stock the basics you can usually modify a recipe to suit what you have and make interesting variations with a few staples from your cupboard. So, if you make a list of several recipes you fancy with lamb, beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, carrots, onion, celery, tomatoes, rice, beans and potatoes you will have an easily adaptable monthly menu.'
Buy local, buy seasonal and buy independent'
Buying local and buying from independent shops is the surest way of reducing the length of the food
chain and food miles to your table. You will probably get a much better deal and genuine 'special offer'
from someone you know by first name. Buying local also means buying seasonal which will help reconnect your stomach with a fresh and varied diet whilst reducing CO2 emissions and the loss of biodiversity in your local environment and local economy. For example, buying local apples of different sizes and varieties helps save local varieties of fruit and veg and helps keep those farmers who have propagated those varieties. By contrast, if you buy strawberries from a supermarket (usually Elsanta) you will ensure that in a few more years all strawberries will taste the same because none of the old varieties, flavours and producers exist anymore. Every time you enter the doors of a big supermarket, burger chain or clothing store you are effectively voting for who produces your food, where it is produced, what breeds and varieties are produced and what the human and environmental cost is to those countries and ours. Biodiversity is the rampart of human safety just as much as it your health and your local economy's so 'Vote local.'
Don't shop for food when you're hungry and keep a red card with your bank card as a reminder
The worst thing you can do in a supermarket is shop when hungry and pay by debit or credit card.
Remember, if you buy food someone has to grow it, rear it or make it so they are making a living out of what becomes part of you. It should be intuitive then that the bigger the shop the more money the seller has and most often 'brands' do not make or grow what you eat so you are eating several steps down the food chain and at risk of becoming a 'bottom feeder'. Obviously, if your stomach is rumbling or you're on the way home from the pub that 'Two-for-one' or 'Burger with extra fries and a brown sugar water' might be tempting but is it actual real food? Whether you are a smoker, gambler or credit card junky one way of countering the primitive urge to pick the low hanging fruit (more often eye-level in a supermarket) is to cut out a piece of red card the same size as your credit card and pack it in your wallet to get your unconscious food referee involved and buy food only for cash wherever possible to restore the link between brain and stomach! To download our red card for your wallet click here or get you crayons out and make your own.
Buy food you can eat raw or buy to cook a recipe
Good food - that's food that is good to eat because it tastes nice, good because it's good for the body and
the mind, and good for the environment and economy because it replaces and does not exploit - does not
usually have to explain itself with labels and claims because it is what it is and more often fresh and local so it has a short food chain that does not extend over countries and balance sheets. In other words, food that claims it is healthy or 'finest' is probably the opposite since 'good' food is rarely 'processed' by man or accountant. That is obvious at the point of sale where there is nothing to say apart from the fact it is what it is e.g. an orange or a lemon, a pork chop or a cod fillet. In other words, if you get the urge to buy the blurb and buy a pack of crisps or that multipack of 'energy' drinks, ask yourself whether it would appeal to a 5 year old, whether it looks like something your Gran would not keep in the cupboard and work out what the cost per kilo is of the base ingredient is per kilo compared to the selling price. If the answer is 'Yes' to the first two and the third requires a calculator then it's almost certainly you are buying hype not food.
Clear out your cupboard, shop just for what food you need and shop more than once a week for
Every New Year people make resolutions to assuage their guilt or in the hope of a better year to come.
But if you really want a new 'you' what better place is there to start than with your stomach? So, a good place to start is by clearing out you cupboard or freezer of food that you haven't touched for 3 months or more then go to your new recipe list and clear out those ingredients that don't appear in them. At the end of 3 months you can make a new seasonal menu and start all over again with new eyes and tastebuds. In the meanwhile cut out some food pictures and make a scrapbook of meals you fancy then tack them inside your food cupboard to remind you and replace them with new images as you cook them. As you become proficient at cooking things you fancy from a limited but fresh basket of nutritionally rich ingredients you should cut your waste and your waistline.
Don't eat ingredients your cat or dog doesn't see as food
One of our best 'food testers' was our cat called 'Tufty.' What made Tufty such a discerning eater was
that he couldn't read the hype but concentrated on whether it tasted good - especially cooked ham and mortadella which was his specialist subject. Homemade sausages always got a 'paws up', milk within limits was okay but water was the best accompaniment to his dinner whilst fresh game an offal (the leanest meat) needed a chair against the door if we were to enjoy 'his' lunch. I've yet to meet a dog that prefers a high energy drink in a technicolor can to water although I've met more than a few dogs that like a pork scratching. We've even had a flock of chickens that liked nothing more than leftover curry or Spaghetti Bolognaise so the maybe lesson is that nature knows best. If your cat or dog doesn't see it as food, why should you?
SAVE MONEY, EAT BETTER - OUR '10 COMMANDMENTS'