According to the Guardian's 'Breadline Britain' article on Sunday, large swathes of the country are feeling the pinch and have swapped their traditional 'meat and two veg' for ready meals and frozen food in a bid to save money. According to their findings, the worst affected are the elderly and "people on the lowest incomes". Essentially, those sections of society whose circumstances mean they have very little choice what food they eat.
What I find equally concerning though, are the moneyed middle classes, whose expanding waistlines and diet related illnesses are costing the country just as much time and money, and yet they do have a choice. It is not because they can't afford to buy and cook their five a day, they simply choose not to. Why go to the effort of shopping for ingredients when you can get a take away, eat out or grab a burger on the way home?
When they do decide to cook, pasta, white bread, pizza and other nutritionally devoid foods are high on the list, again because they are fast and easy to prepare. High salt and high sugar cereals, soft drinks and snacks tide them over between meals and I am not just talking about kiddie junk food either. Some of those posh, supposedly healthy granolas and smoothies can often hide a ferocious amount of sugar and saturated fats.
Having asked around friends and family of varying ages and backgrounds, the general consensus seems to be they don't feel confident enough in the kitchen to cook more adventurously and after three nights in a row cooking the usual 'fling it in the pot' pesto pasta, they out of boredom if nothing else, opt for the take away or ready meal. When I probed further, most of them owned enough cookbooks to wipe out several rainforests, and while they enjoyed flicking through them and ogling at the photos, they rarely, if ever, picked out a recipe and cooked along with it.
Is it any wonder then that we are in the grip of an obesity epidemic? Of course our grandparents were slimmer and healthier with less incidences of coronary heart disease, diabetes and everything else. Back then restaurants were a rare treat, take aways and ready meals were few and far between and so the only option left was cooking. Regardless of how good or bad you were, you suffered through it and ate the end result or you went hungry. That was that.
So without wanting to go on a Jamie Oliver rampage, (in fact he has been a very positive influence on the young and trendy crowd), I think we as a nation really need to get back in the kitchen. No one is expecting you to be the next masterchef winner, forget the soufflé's and veloute's, not even chefs cook those at home. All it takes is the smallest bit of imagination. Easier still, try reading that recipe beside the photo you love so much and follow through with it one day, what's the worst that can happen? (Well burning down your kitchen, according to one person I surveyed, but that is really not very likely!)
For some healthy and easy to follow recipes have a look at The Guilt Free Gourmet.
If you would like a more hands on course, I will be holding a deliciously healthy food demo, together with Tara Wigley (development chef at Ottolenghi), on Friday 7th December and in January also. You will be guided through a range of 'guilt free' recipes that you can easily try out at home, then afterwards sit down for a leisurely lunch and glass of wine.
For full details and to book a place go to: www.JordanBourke.com