Food for Thought

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Food For Thought

It’s a gloomy November morning. Sideways rain has forced plans for a bike ride to be replaced with watching cookery shows.

Indian chef Asma Khan is centre stage on Saturday Kitchen. She is straight talking, funny and her passion is infectious. She pleads with the audience to avoid low fat yogurt. ‘If you want to lose weight, find another way’.

I am compelled to know more about this formidable chef, so I look her up online, follow her social media. She employs an all -female team in her kitchen. People are valued above profit. She seems strong and driven yet kind and caring.

I come across a brief interview, where Asma tells us that she didn’t learn to cook until she came to live in England. It was a way of connecting. It provided a link to her cultural roots, and to the community of her new home.

I am inspired. 

I think about my own relationship with food, and realised that for a long time, it wasn’t good.

Like so many women, I have struggled with body image. My mum battled with her weight and as a consequence I can’t remember a time I wasn’t aware of the size of my thighs and shape of my bum.

As a competitive swimmer I was taller and broader than most of my peers, and so was often called ‘fat’ at school. In my swimming life, it was thought that my times were suffering because of a few extra pounds. At the tender age of 14, I was taken to Weight Watchers.

Food became the enemy. While I didn’t suffer from a ‘disorder’, eating for me certainly became disordered, attached to guilt and shame. Paradoxically it also became my comfort. Times of loneliness, rejection or simply boredom, eating was my solace. Moving into adulthood, being single, meals were usually a solitary affair. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, I felt disconnected, a void I tried to fill with food.  

My experience was set against a cultural backdrop that itself seems to struggle with a healthy identity. In the UK there is more of a preoccupation with what we eat, rather than how or where we eat it. There is much talk about low fat, low carbs, sugar free. We are dry in January, gluten free in May and vegan in November. But how healthy is a meal when it’s eaten at a desk, in front of the TV or with the company of our phone?

Is nourishment simply about nutritional content?

Over the years my attitude and understanding of what healthy eating means has changed, and it has nothing to do with calories.

Whilst travelling I have not just eaten but experienced a country’s cuisine.

In Spain, Tapas is a sharing of plates, bringing together families and friends. In France, lunch demands more time than it takes to ‘grab’ a sandwich, and in Italy food is as much a part of the cultural landscape as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Working with the military, I lived in mess accommodation. Meals were taken sat around large tables, where company was valued as much as the dinner. Conversations continued long after the last plates had been cleared away.

I met a man who enjoyed cooking from scratch. He took great delight in learning a recipe then adding his own creative twist. Meals were a labour of love, shared and savoured with a bottle of wine and dialogue about our respective days. 

Asma was right to warn us off the low -fat yogurt. Healthy is less about calories and more about companions. It’s not about being fried, boiled or baked, but the satisfaction of  creating something delicious. It’s about culture and community, family and tradition.

To nourish the body, we must also nourish the soul.

At the end of Saturday Kitchen, I sent out a Whatsapp message. ‘Once lockdown allows, let’s start a supper club’. The response was positive. I think the Darjeeling Express would be perfect for our inaugural meeting.

Disclaimer

Girls who Climb Trees isn’t sponsored or paid for. It is about championing people who we think provide great role models for young women. 

Any recommendations or references to commercial concerns are purely personal

Liz Prokopowicz

Straight-talking and kind, and here to help young women find themselves.

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