What is it about this recession that is making us obsessed with food? Half of the country wants to dig its way out of misery, preferably on allotments from the National Trust. The other half is flocking to McDonald's, Greggs and Domino's Pizza, which are reporting surging sales. Kentucky Fried Chicken is planning to create 9,000 jobs.
The junk-food boom is being portrayed as evidence of hard times. Maybe. But I can pick up a pizza in Tesco for half what I pay at Domino's. I can make my family dinner for less than the £10 family bucket that KFC is so proud of. Joanna Blythman, in her wonderful book Bad Food Britain, points out that poverty has spawned some of the world's greatest cuisines, like that of southern Italy. But these are based on fresh, local ingredients. We Brits seem addicted to our comforting, effortless jumbles of water, fat, sugar and additives. We consume half of all the crisps and ready meals in Europe.
Most of us are confused. We bleat about animal welfare, but shun the pricey local butcher in favour of meat that may or may not have ever seen a daisy. We balk at paying for raw ingredients, but readily cough up for extortionate ready meals. We spend hours watching TV chefs but apparently only 13 minutes on average making a meal - down from one hour in 1980. Thirteen minutes is about the time it takes to unwrap an overpackaged pie, wait for it to cook and boil up some frozen veg. (I know this because I retain a deep childhood nostalgia for Fray Bentos).
Different country, same idea.
In the US, I'd be willing to bet that McDonald's and all the other fast-food places are doing very well. The reason for that? Well, these are tough times, why not spend $7 or so for a meal instead of spending the time to cook it? Most families are two-income now, so when times get tough, it's not just about the money, it's about the time investment in cooking and preparing vs. buying ready-made meals.
This causes health problems down the line, and we seem to be ignoring that as a culture. Health food as snobbery is nothing new; that goes back to the 1960s, and its most recent and familiar incarnation was in the 1980s - yogurt, jogging, salads, etc. We've replaced that in the new millenium with organic products, which has now spurned an industry of "green" products - that still come in plastic bottles or have mercury, like those "green" light bulbs everyone loves so much, and do more damage to the environment than before.
Even two bags of groceries at a place that sells mostly organic products, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, will yield a bill of $40-$50 for two people. Most of that food - hopefully - is fresh, so it has to be consumed within a week, and then it's back to the grocery store for more staples.
Where's the benefit in this, besides the obvious health benefits?
The benefit is that if $40-$50 feeds two people with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and maybe even some dried but unsalted and unprocessed snacks for the better part of a week (think a $5.00 bag of dry, raw almonds), you're only spending about $5 a day EACH to eat. Throw in some meat and, okay, you might be talking $7 a day each. If you go to McDonald's, you get a crappy meal for $7, and you're left wanting more because the food is designed to make you more thirsty and even more hungry for the same type of junk.
Do your body a favor and stick to as many fresh greens, carrots, peppers, and fruits like mango, orange, pears, and bananas as possible. Make fruit smoothies, boil instead of fry unless using extra virgin olive oil. The one-time hit to your wallet each week will seem like a lot, but if you're going to a discount grocery store for processed crap AND eating out at places like McDonald's, you're spending more money to put more chemicals into your body than it can handle.
Don't believe me? Have fun with that diabetes.