Nick and I really enjoy watching food programs from around the world partly because we enjoy cooking and eating but also because of the stories that are woven through them. What does food mean to you?
Some may enjoy and look forward to it as we do, others may prefer to take a tablet with all of the vital ingredients and get on with life, At times we may eat too much or too little or experience an eating disorder which distorts our view of food and we may see it as the enemy.
I’ve always seen it as an adventure and still love exploring and enjoying different ingredients, flavours and cuisines. A lot of this comes from early family holidays which were spent camping, (never in the UK, my mother was adamant about that!) which started out in Norway and then continued most frequently in France but also Italy, Germany and Spain. For me food was part of the overall experience of the culture. It wasn’t the main focus but part of what made every area and region within the one country fascinating. We visited lots of regional markets with a vibrant array of local produce and met wonderful people along the way.
Fast forward a few decades and my interest in different cultures and their cuisine in particular has grown and developed. I have come to understand and appreciate the importance and value of using local ingredients and seasonally available produce in been intrigued by recipes that have been passed down over generations and adapted over time. Shared meals and conversation can create lasting connections and unite friends and families, yet I realise that this is probably a somewhat romantic, possibly rare and idealistic view in modern times.
It’s a bit of a ritual for Nick and I, deciding what to eat each day, selecting the best, fresh, local produce we can and then cooking together and I do the same when on my own.; it feels supportive and nourishing on many levels and I recognise that not everyone has the time or desire to do that.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that many people get caught up in the busyness of life and choose the ready availability of fast foods, take-aways and ready meals on the run – they’re called convenience foods for a reason! We are all entitled to our choices and our budgets vary but it’s important to remember that it is our choices about where and what to buy that impact local businesses and producers, our health and the health of others. What, when, how and why we eat are all important considerations too that often get overlooked.
So it was interesting to see what happened when lock-down started and individual choice was taken away. What I noticed in our region was that, once the majority of frozen ready meals, dried goods, tinned goods, sauces, bread and flour supplies were diminished, we all had to get a little more creative and with more time on our hands we looked for other opportunities. While there was limited availability at the usual supermarkets for a while, other smaller businesses, locally-owned still had some supplies coming in, particularly the fruit and vegetable providers and bulk food stores who source so many items from around our region, and their business picked up substantially which was great to see.
What the last three months have offered is the opportunity to reflect on many of our choices and habits that’s included food and eating habits. Has that happened for you? Have your habits changed? In my case, we were still eating in a balanced and healthy way overall with whatever we could find but, if I’m honest, eating more than we needed, and finding ourselves in front of the fridge more often! And yes, I may have indulged in a bit more chocolate (extra dark) than usual and Nick enjoyed his baking creations!
What I loved most though was feeling that people were re-connecting with and appreciating our local suppliers more via our farmers markets and smaller businesses around town; it was a bit like exploring your own backyard. Of course it’s easier (but not always cheaper or as fresh) to get everything from one place yet there is so much to enjoy about taking time to find what else is available and experimenting with different ingredients and creating your own favourite recipes to pass on and share with others.
While food is nourishment in itself, it actually goes further than that. It nourishes the community when we shop locally. It nourishes creativity, connection and general well-being and allows us to weave our own stories into the dishes we create, expressing our cultural lineage in the way we choose. When we plan, shop, prepare, serve, eat and connect with the food from a place of love, we deliver love on a plate and others feel the nourishment of that.