One thing I readily appreciated about living at home, is the food. I mean home cooked food, which is full of fresh vegetables and healthy grains. Most of all the expensive things that I couldn’t afford as a student. I have been feeling a lot healthier for eating so well over the past six or seven weeks, and I just love all the tastes of home.
I have been having a bit of a debate, though, with my darling Mother. She does much (but not by any means all) of the cooking, and she’s also the reason the household is vegetarian. That’s not a recent development mind, Mum has been vegetarian for thirty years or more, and we three kids have always been vegetarians (at least, whilst living at home). Although I can’t say I don’t miss meat, I do feel like I have returned to much more of a balanced diet recently. I digress.
What I really want to share is our debate about ‘hippie food’ – this is my label for the kind of food we eat at home. A lot of it is homegrown, particularly during the late summer months and early autumn. My parents grow garlic, onions, beans, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, figs, quinces, greengages, apples, grapes, rocket, spinach, lettuce… the list goes on. So there’s always something that’s almost overripe, waiting to be made into something delicious.
Other foods we eat include a lot of brown rice, wholewheat pasta, and other interesting grains. My parents bake their own bread, and my Dad’s latest obsession is Sourdough bread, which doesn’t contain any added yeast. Recently we made chickpea bread for the first time, garnished with our own rosemary. We make our own humous from scratch, all our own italian-style spaghetti sauces, our own curries. We drink gallons of tea, most of which is herbal tea, brewed from dried leaves. You get the picture (this one’s of our Chickpea bread).
What my parents don’t seem to understand, is that this is not ‘normal’ everyday food. The majority of families in the UK almost certainly do not eat like this. The discussion arose when a friend of my brother’s came for supper, and Mum was worried about serving the right thing. I tried to explain that it is not my brother’s friend that has picky eating habits, that it’s actually our household that eat peculiar things, often quite unlike the standard dishes of the UK.
The main counter argument she came back with was that eating organic, home-grown, home-cooked food is actually very normal for Guardian readers. The lunch at which these pictures were taken was resident Guardian food writer Yotam Ottolenghi eat your heart out (pun only slightly intended), who adores Chickpeas among other things. Needless to say, my Mother is possibly a bit deluded about the proportion of people outside London and/or middle class families that actually read the Guardian. I am sure the majority of Norwich residents read little other than the Daily Mail, The Times and the local newspapers; the Guardian NEVER sells out in Norwich shops on a Saturday. I was surprised when realising, at university, that my eating habits (other than vegetarianism) were considered unusual. And even more so, when I discovered the predominant newspaper-reading habits (and therefore the political views) of my peers were quite unlike mine.
I must admit I do know various people who eat a small proportion of similar foods to our family. But they are mainly middle class, arty, and family friends. Two things I think are important to realise here; the food itself doesn’t mean all that much, but a person or family must have a certain background to eat like this. Firstly, financial security: even if it’s not necessarily more expensive in the long-run, it takes a lot of investment to set up this kind of lifestyle. Secondly, social status (and, to an extent, political background): a particular attitude towards health and natural produce that probably stems from left-ist politics and being comfortably middle-class.