Food insecurities - the complex role of food in our society
The day I turned 21 is etched in my mind, not because of the wonderful dinner party with friends, but for the fact I spent an hour of the day at a psychiatric appointment. Dinner was an ironic choice for a 21st celebration given that every meal for the past five years had caused me intense angst.
After struggling every day, every hour, every minute in that time with an eating disorder I was finally seeing a professional who could probably help. For anyone who has not experienced or known someone who suffered a problematic relationship with food, I can attest to the fact it is an unrelenting living hell.
The hour with the shrink felt frustratingly unproductive. He didn’t answer why I had the same level of guilt for eating either a whole lettuce or a whole pizza. I couldn’t seem to convey the pain of the nonstop destructive chatter in my head and I left only hearing his comment that I was dressed in black and white and I should strive for more grey.
It was another year before I climbed out of that emotional hole. In the meantime, wearing grey trackpants didn’t solve my issue with food.
I am grateful that I survived and also because I am now so well educated about food quality, nutrition, kilojoule counts, fat contents, sugar levels, labeling tricks, cooking, fitness and every other aspect of physical and mental health that body image problems and eating obsession provides.
Sadly, I know many others who, without this knowledge, struggle daily with food choices and the challenge of maintaining a healthy weight and a fit mind. Across all generations, there are people for whom every mouthful of food is a challenge in some way.
The temptation of all the rich and sweet fare on offer is as much of a minefield for our aging parents as it is for our growing children.
We live in a golden age and a land of plenty. The fact our value system is based around money, where the wealthy are automatically deemed ‘successful’, means that most information related to food, cooking, wellbeing, health and fitness is ultimately tainted by someone, somewhere making money.
So where there should be simplicity and basic education, there is confusion and mixed messages. The food industry is obfuscated by advertising and entertainment (think cooking shows focusing on desserts and how much the biggest loser can eat) and corporate greed (‘junk’ sold as food in the blatant knowledge it is bad for health).
At the other end of the spectrum are those without access to food. To better understand local food security issues, I spent a day as a volunteer passenger in the SecondBite van. I learned about their system of ‘rescuing’ fresh food and distributing it to people in need. Possibly the bigger lesson was the insight into the role individuals play in controlling access to food for those in need.
It is deeply incongruous that there are people who struggle to get nutritious food in our bountiful and generous-spirited region.
‘Food security’ has become a bit of a nonsense phrase that is easy to ignore. Here are some reasons why there are people in our community who cannot eat properly:
In some areas, there is no local greengrocer or the supermarket range is limited.
Many people don’t know how to cook healthy meals as they have not been taught or the food is unfamiliar.
There are sometimes no transport options to decent food outlets unless you have a car.
Access to food is ultimately controlled by individuals. Whether that is a parent, a schoolteacher, a produce manager, or a charity worker, the power is not in the hands of the hungry.
People don’t always have money to buy food, often combined with the lack of cooking knowledge or skills to shop efficiently and create nutritious meals. It may seem obvious that McBurgers three times a day is just not right – but does everyone know that?
On the one hand our abundance of tasty treats causes crippling psychological issues, while the money and power associated with food distribution creates a contrary and equally devastating picture of malnutrition and illhealth.
Both scenarios can be helped with education, but we really need to make sure we push through the determination of the powerful advertisers who can keep us captive through ignorance.
As a starting point, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food is ready and waiting in Geelong. An online search revealed that it costs $5-$10 per class for five or ten-class sessions. What a great gift idea!
And an important reminder that a happy birthday doesn’t need to be about cake.