Over the years, I’ve reached the conclusion that I’m a bit of an emotional weather vane. And sure enough, as I sat indoors yesterday watching the constant drizzle fall from a depressingly-grey sky, I found myself reaching for a little comfort and cheer.
Having allotted yesterday as my first sport- and exercise-free day of the week, I was kicking my heels, not least because of the rain. And I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Then I hit upon an idea which would enable me to kill these two particular birds with one stone: I’d cook myself a Sunday dinner – quinoa-coated roast potatoes and all – but without the meat, obv.
And it got me thinking some more about a subject I’ve touched on before: the inextricable link between food and emotion.
Why do we seek emotional comfort from food?
Apart from the most dedicated raw vegans on the planet, we are ALL emotional eaters. And we all look to recipes and styles of cooking that were served up to us in our younger years to satisfy that.
Remember the time when your mum or gran slaved over the proverbial hot stove, and someone else did the washing up afterwards? Happy days!
Life was relatively care-free and hopefully, you felt nurtured, protected and loved. And a large part of that was the food that was being put in front of you every day.
So to me, it makes total sense that when things aren’t going great in adulthood, one of the easiest things we can reach for to paper over the emotional cracks is a meal or a snack, just like mamma used to make. It’s so much easier than dealing with what is actually eating you, so to speak.
It’s a common adage that NO ONE comes through childhood unscathed, as Philip Larkin so succinctly declares in one of his best-quoted poems.
But we’re not just talking teenage angst here; what about food?
The food I was brought up on
Like most children of my generation, I was brought up on traditional meat and two veg, not to mention dairy. I was seldom ill, and, from as early as I can remember, I ate exactly the same as my mum and dad; no turkey dinosaurs or fishy whales for me. And I’m glad.
Saturday was shopping day, just me and my mum, from 10 in the morning until around 2pm. Why did it take so long? Because we used to go to various places for different things: the local butcher (sometimes more than one if my mother didn’t think the produce was up to scratch), the greengrocers (again, maybe several), and then, reluctantly, the supermarket, for household cleaning stuff and tinned things. And yes, we had a milkman, daily.
Even though I know what I know now, I still feel that I was fed well, and, although none of the foods we ate were officially classified as organic, to all intents and purposes they probably were, having come from small-scale, local producers.
Packaged foods were a rarity in our house (apart from my dad’s daily dessert of Mr Kipling pies with evaporated milk!), and pasta was a huge treat, probably because my mum wasn’t a confident cook and thought that because it was foreign, it must be complicated. And there was no such thing as a Dolmio day then, either.
Just like everyone who has ever become a parent, no one gave my mother a crash course in nutrition beforehand. All anyone knows is how their parents fed them. And, so long as you feel healthy and well, there’s little reason to divert from that, right?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they saying goes.
But now I shudder to think about the fact that we had meat EVERY day of the week, not to mention buttery mash with lashings of full-fat milk. Plus yoghurt for dessert. And school milk? Every day. Ditto cooked food, apart from salad in the summer months every now and then.
But worse than that was my mum’s microwave fetish. Not many people had them then, but my mum quickly became committed to the concept. Nothing fancy, just for reheating stuff, which came in particularly handy when I went to a school too far away to come home at lunchtime.
Every day, a portion of my parents’ lunch (cold roast and veg from the weekend, for example) would be plated up for me for my tea later in the day. Only trouble was, it was covered in cling film, and then nuked, cling film still clinging, when I arrived home. Nightmare. But microwaves were the new black then, and no one knew how bad they were (most people still don’t!).
You live and learn, as they say.
Is it ever too late to change how you eat?
I was talking to someone at a party on Saturday night, and they trotted out the same argument that most people do: “I’ve eaten it all my life, and I’m fine”. (for “it” think meat, fish, dairy, eggs).
But how do you really know that? That’s why illnesses like cancer are not easy to whittle down to a definite cause; often it grows undetected in the body for years until a major trigger sends that progress into overdrive. And because of the general lack of nutritional knowledge in the conventional medical profession, there are VERY few doctors who will tell you that you got “x” because you’ve been eating animal products all your life and your body just couldn’t cope anymore.
One such exception to that rule is Dr John McDougall, based in the USA. In the documentary “Eating”, a cancer survivor called Ruth Heidlich explains how she went to see Dr McDougall because she wanted to know how she had got cancer. She ate only skimmed milk, and only fish and white meat. Because of this, she felt that her body had betrayed her. But Dr McDougall was adamant and unfaltering in his view:
“Your diet did this to you”.
For the full post on this, click here.
A lot of people think: “I’ve been doing this all my life; it’s too late to change now.” But it isn’t. Get yourself on a bona fide detox and cleanse program, such as Hippocrates’ Life Transformation Program and start again from scratch.
People have beaten serious disease by ditching the animal stuff and switching to a high-raw diet. So why not take charge before you’re even at that stage?
I often have to smile to myself when I see mothers doing their supermarket shopping, loading up their trolleys with organic baby food. As new parents, they are acutely aware that they are 100% responsible for everything that goes into their babies’ mouths, and also that they are essentially starting with a perfect, blank sheet.
But when does that allegiance to organic food fall away? And when does it start to matter less? In most cases, it inevitably does at some point, usually when solids come into play, and often going hand in hand with the slow but sure introduction of “fun” (processed) foods. But we all deserve the very best food we can afford – and that includes every adult on the planet too.
Can vegan food ever be as comforting as the animal stuff?
Like the majority of the human race, I will probably always be an emotional eater. But instead of lamenting the fact that I will never again tuck into a plate of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, home-made raspberry vinegar and horseradish, I take the key things I look to when I want a little culinary TLC and adapt them: I make my mash half white potato and half sweet potato, with olive oil instead of butter, and almond milk/cream instead of cow’s milk. I don’t notice the difference now.
And when I make a roast dinner minus the meat, I take the time to make a decent gravy and to drizzle a little mint sauce over everything before I tuck in. And with that first mouthful – just like yesterday afternoon – I am transported back to my place at the old Formica kitchen table in the bungalow I grew up in, swinging my legs contentedly because they’re still too short to reach the ground, while watching Mr Ben.
There’s always a way to find comfort in your food when the need strikes. And even though you’ve been programmed from an early age to seek it largely from animal products, you’ll soon find yourself gaining the same sense of satisfaction and solace from a plant-based version.