Food glorious food

This is not one of my normal posts. 
In a fit of contemplation on Saturday night I wrote this essay and after a few days in the drafts folder I think it’s ok to bring it out. My ‘serious’ writing always goes against the grain of my regular stuff, but it’s the only forum I have to publish my work. Skip it you want, I won’t hold it against you. Come back tomorrow – I’ve got driving updates and a treatise on mittens for you. 
(If that’s not enticing, I don’t know what is!!) 
Food (noun): any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb to maintain life and growth.

One word. Four letters.
Our need for it fuels our ealiest instincts.

The lack of it kills over 20,000 people per day.
The over-consumption of it contributes to the death of 300,000 people per year.

We love to talk about food – to share recipes, recommend restaurants, offer a taste of something new, different, exciting… But for so many people, food – whether it’s the lack of it or the over abundance of it – is a major issue.

If food is essentially about nutrition – about ‘maintaining life and growth’ – then it should be a fairly simple equation. Calories consumed should roughly equal those used in activity. The major food groups should be accounted for, plus those providing vitamins, anti-oxidents and other nutrients.

But, because food (usually) tastes good, it becomes so much more than simple nutrition. It’s about taste and texture, sensation, subtleties, sweetness, spice – even endorphins.

Food is something I find it hard to talk about. I realised some time ago that I’m quite categorically not a foodie. I very rarely find myself in ecstasies over a particular product or taste. Quite honestly, when I look at a menu I’m looking for the things that fall into both the ‘food I will eat’ category, and are preferably fairly low-fat.

Fussy eaters aren’t uncommon. Everyone has their particular foibles when it comes to food. My father won’t eat brocolli or cucumber; my sister wouldn’t eat eggs for a very long time; I don’t eat raw tomato… It’s perfectly normal. But what about when fussiness gets out of control?

I’m a massive fan of the BBC3 show Freaky Eaters – where individuals who only eat cheese, or chips or who are scared of salad, are treated by a nutritionist and psychologist to find the root of their food issues. It makes total sense and raises awareness that idiosyncracies regarding food are actually a more serious issue than they first appear.

Not that I’m at that level, but I’ve been afraid of food. One of the main motivations for my mostly vegetarian diet was that I didn’t trust myself to cook meat safely. Even now, I am incredibly suspicious of any meat that doesn’t look ‘quite right’. I don’t eat fish, mostly owing to its taste, but also partly out of genuine fear regarding the bones. I’m generally not adventurous because I don’t want to run the risk of not liking it, or feeling ill.

The other day I had my first ever mussels. (Well, I managed precisely three – at which point my dinner companion said I could stop as he could see my grimaces and knew I wasn’t enjoying it!) But it put a dampner on the whole meal. I was so nervous about them – in terms of taste & horror stories I’ve heard of food poisoning from them – that I could barely eat my main course, which is a bit of a sad state of affairs.

In actual fact, I’m on a journey as far as food is concerned. After many years of abusing it, whether it was for comfort or simply a lack of understanding, I’ve gradually been altering my attitude towards it. I understand the nutritional element of it, but I’m still a way off reaching ‘foodie’ status. It’s difficult to glory in food when you need to keep track of its calorific content in order to lose weight. Low-fat food doesn’t taste that great either. (Chilli flakes are a great way of making low-fat pizza palatable.) But I’m improving and taking the time to experiment with cooking styles and flavours; embracing food rather than let it intimidate me.

Would I like to become a foodie? Maybe. In the mean time, foodie friends should have patience with me, perhaps introducing me slowly to this world they inhabit. And, maybe we should all think more carefully about the food we shove into our mouths…is it the best we could consume? Would something else taste better or be better for us? What are we eating for – basic nutrition or a pleasurable experience, or both?

When it comes down to it, surely it needs to be about so much more than ‘maintaining life and growth’, or else we’re no better than animals…?

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