I had a true 21st century encounter last week. I was in a supermarket, late one evening, with a trolley full of baking equipment and supplies. I’m no domestic goddess, but just lately all I’ve been able to think about is baking. Cupcakes, brownies, banana nut bread, chocolate chip cookies, custard slices, macaroons, marble cake. I’ve been splurging on recipe books, and deliberating over muffin cases. And so there I was, with some cake tins, and baking trays, and a silicon whisk, and a pastry brush, and several types of flours, and vanilla essence, and lots more, piling it all onto the conveyor belt at the checkout. A young girl was serving me, probably 17, 18 years old. She started putting it all through, and then a look of curiosity came over her face. “What are you going to make?” she asked me. I shrugged and said I wasn’t sure yet, cakes of some kind. “Is it for a special occasion?” she wanted to know. I said, no, I was just feeling a bit crummy with a summer cold, and fancied doing some baking. There was a pause, in which she stared at me, eyes wide, and then she said, with incredulity in her voice, “You’re spending all this money to make a cake? Why don’t you just buy one?”
Sigh. I laughed at the time, but also felt a little sad for her. What kind of a world to grow up in, where you only make cakes for special occasions, and even then would be far better to buy one readymade from the supermarket. What a lot of fun and satisfaction people are missing out on.
Have you ever noticed the contents of other people’s trolleys at supermarkets? I confess, I’m terribly nosy, and always have a good look at what the people around me are buying. Now I’ll freely admit that we don’t eat as healthily as I would like, and I certainly don’t make all of our meals from scratch, but I do try to make sure that the majority of our food is fresh and wholesome. Processed food tastes so appalling, and leaves you feeling dreadful, and yet it’s all some families eat. It makes me wince when I see a young mum buying white bread, and sugary cereal, and instant noodles, and fizzy pop, and very little else. It didn’t surprise me at all to read on the news that 1 in 10 children entering primary school in the UK is classed as obese. The sad thing is that so many children are growing up completely unaware of the joy that good food can bring, and of the joys of cooking too. On the same supermarket visit, I was near enough to overhear two young men, puzzling over a packet of mozzarella. First of all, they didn’t know how to pronounce the word. Then they couldn’t figure out what it was. One of them spotted on the back of the packet that it was used on pizzas. “But how?” he said in some perplexity to his friend, who shrugged and tossed the packet aside.
I’m reading Gluten-Free Girl at the moment (from the writer of this blog). Shauna was brought up knowing only highly processed convenience foods, and yet she managed to discover for herself the world of good food, and a passion for cooking. So there is hope for our younger generation, even though so many of them are brought up on Sugar Puffs, and fishfingers and oven chips, and Pot Noodles, and have their taste buds deadened by too much salt and sugar and MSG. We need to encourage them to become passionate about real food, to talk about it, blog about it, prepare it, cook it. We need to set the example ourselves, by choosing homemade over shop bought, by taking time and care over the selection and preparation of the food that we eat.
And I know, not everyone has the time to make meals from scratch, or seek out local produce from markets, or grow their own veg, and not everyone has the money to afford the more expensive wholefoods (and what kind of a topsy turvy world this is, where over processed gluey white sliced bread is many times cheaper than simple rustic wholemeal bread). It’s easy for me to get on my soapbox about it, when I don’t have children to feed and all the demands of motherhood to juggle. But still, it’s something that we can all aspire to, don’t you think? Life may be too short to stuff a mushroom, but it’s too long not to enjoy – really passionately enjoy, with heart and mind and body and soul – our food.
(And for the enquiring minds, I ended up making Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread – it was pretty nice, but next time I’ll add another banana, and use a slightly less bitter chocolate, as the dark chocolate taste rather dominated everything.)