This week I’ve been taken away from my usual world as I had to accompany my class on their residential trip. It was only 2 nights away, but those days are extremely long and you’re never off duty.
Last Monday I started Step One, which I will explain in more detail later. But of course, once away, I had no control over my food options and the fare was as cheap as possible. In other words, beige.
I didn’t plan on counting any calories as I had no idea of the content of my food. Nor did I attempt to portion control or say no to chocolate, sweets and doughnuts. But the experience made me realise a couple of things. I’ve done quite a few of these trips, once a year. This time, after trying to get on a healthy path for nearly 5 years now – it was the first time that it felt effortless and normal to top up my plate with vegetables. It wasn’t a deliberate thought. I just reached for the salad bowl to chuck on the side and took the fruit that was on offer. I did manage to get some nutrients in the three days. Not that many though and that brings me to the other thing that we could not help but notice.
Cheap food is shit food. I know that’s not going to win any awards for realisations. But bear in mind, in England (and maybe Wales?) children are fed for free at school from the canteen up to aged 7-8 depending on their birthday. I am grateful for the free lunch for my child as it saves me something to think about in the morning. The budget for each meal per head is just pence. So, the cheaper the food, the better the business. Portions are also very tiny. This is the governments idea of helping out the children in poverty and giving them a better start.
Back to my musings on 3 days of 3 meals in a canteen. It was mainly bread and pasta – cheap, right? Whatever was left from breakfast appeared again in the next meal as part of a pasta or rice dish. The evening dessert on day one was a doughnut. It was delicious. The uneaten ones were dessert for lunch the next day, while the evening dessert was a dense waffle coated in sugar and jam. It tasted like a doughnut that had been put in a waffle press. Day 3, dessert was – a doughnut. By this time however, the children and myself included, noticed that there was no one-doughnut-limit and took 2 each.
I came home and felt well and truly over-carbed. I felt groggy but also, I know I could have probably continued eating that way if I didn’t decide that I wouldn’t quite deliberately. However, at least I had a choice. Eating cheap beige carb-based food is the only way many people can get by. Not only is it cheap, but it is also filling and quick to cook. If you are down to your last few minutes of electricity, the time the oven is on matters. Mothers cannot bear to see their children genuinely hungry, so filling food is essential. While there may well be ways to eat cheaply but healthily, it is out of reach for so many as the alternative is much more affordable. The bear minimum of 5 a day is laughably out of reach when a bag of apples is more expensive than a bag of chips. In the Victorian slums, bread was doctored with chalk and other materials, to make the flour go further, the poorest ate the shittest then too.
I do not have any answers. I just know that there is not a simple one. Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food is a great start if you are interested in eating better for less money.