Sunday, 22 August 2010

day 12: food

one of the joys of ramadan is not having to cook. and i don't mean it's because we don't eat during the day - we still have to cook dinner after all. no, it's because people are busy inviting each other for dinner. last time i had dinner at home was thursday night, and won't be eating at home til tuesday. i love it.

you may have guessed, the topic for today is food, that basic necessity of life. given that i hate cooking, it's a topic that's difficult for me to wax lyrical about. i see food as more of a utility than anything else ie necessary fuel for the body. i used to sometimes amuse myself by imagining a world where human beings didn't have stomachs, and therefore no hunger. the benefits would be immense - no need to use land for farming, so less fighting over land, no need to farm animals, no need to work as long because we would need much less of an income, much less sanitation and hygiene problems etc etc.

but unfortunately we do have stomachs that required constant feeding. so, i'm extremely lucky to live in a land where food is plentiful and there is a wide variety available. we can have a varied diet in all seasons. there are food stores close by - big chain supermarkets, dairies & small grocery stores, fruit & vege shops, bakeries and butchers. now that we have the internet, we can shop on line & have our food delivered.

not only that, but we have a wide range of restaurants, takeaways, and fast food places. we can sample cuisine from most places around the world - mongolian seems to have become a big thing in hamilton lately for some unknown reason.

the range of food is definitely a modern phenomena. i remember back in the early 70s, living in hamilton, when a "curry" was some gloopy yellow mess that was an insult to any authentic indian dish ever produced. we used to have to travel up to auckland just to get basics like turmeric, coriander powder, cumin seeds, cardamom etc. none of these exotic spices could be seen in our city. even in auckland, there were only two shops where you could get them. and try finding basmati rice anywhere. sheesh.

yup, it's all so much better now. you can visit the asian supermarkets, but you can even get a wider range of basic spices at the supermarket. and fresh dates, yum. at the fruit & vege shops, you can get okra, fresh chilli, mangoes, papaya and other fruits. nowhere near as nice as they are in asia, of course, but they are available. this was one of the things i loved most in kuala lumpur: the stalls that sold pieces of cut up fresh fruit in a plastic bag with a toothpick. you could have your choice of watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew melon, papaya, pineapple & mango - delicious and healthy.

but still, here we can have cherries & apricots, peaches & nectarines, kiwifruit & range of apples and pears. nothing to complain about, not at all. the issue in new zealand is not about the availability of food, but the affordability of healthy food. healthy eating still remains a class issue, because the healthiest choices turn out to be the most expensive ones. this seems silly in a country with an agriculture base, with plenty of food grown locally. but that's how it is.

when we first came to nz, the price of basic foods were controlled by the government (if i remember correctly). it used to be a huge deal if the price of butter went up a cent or if bread went up. food was incredibly cheap compared to what people earned. the whole milk-in-schools deal was before my time, but it's a pity that policy was cut, just like the healthy eating programme in schools put in place by the last government has been cut by this one.

not only do we have a variety of food, but also the ability to cook because of a wide range of applicances and a constant supply of energy - be it electricity or gas. almost every kitchen has a stove, oven, microwave oven, kettle, toaster. most will also have a decent food processor, sandwich maker. many will have crockpots, rice cookers and breadmakers. all to make food preparation easier and faster.

i compare this to life in an indian village, many years back. spices would have to be ground by hand, food cooked on a wood-fired stove. it all took longer, involved a lot more physical work, but somehow also tasted a lot better. probably was a lot healthier too.

i'm lucky that i can pretty much eat what i like. i don't have any major food allergies that i'm aware of. i don't have to avoid nuts, or dairy products, or eggs, or gluten. i know people who have to deal with these things, and what a struggle preparing a simple meal can be. even trying to buy bread can be a hassle.

i'm lucky that i've never had an eating disorder. i already know what it's like to feel guilty about making bad food choices, about eating too much of the wrong types of food , and about struggling with my weight. i think almost everyone living in the west has those experiences. but i'm thankful that all those negatives that are associated with food, particularly for women, haven't translated into something worse for me.

food builds community. so much of our socialising revolves around food - whether we invite people to our homes and cook for them, or we go out for a meal or even just a cup of coffee. food is the thing that brings us together, and that we all have in common. food helps to break down racial and ethnic barriers, as people become keen to learn about another culture because of a positive food experience. food can be the only reason a family sits in the same room at the same time, to share their experiences of the day.

here we live in the land of plenty, and i'm incredibly thankful for it. i think today of all the people who don't have enough to eat, who are dying because of a lack of food. i think of the people who have a very limited diet, with little or no variety simply because of the geography or the fact that they can't afford anything else. i think of those who don't have fuel to cook their food. i think of those for whom food provides negative and guilty experiences, and who struggle constantly with a thing so simple as eating - at least, it should be simple but often isn't. i think of those who don't have the ability to socialise by sharing food, because they just don't have enough to share.

because issues of food are related to issues of poverty, i'd recommend the same action points as i did back on
day 4. if you are a person who has any issues related to food or to the lack of it, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

No comments: