Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Food for life

On Good Friday we ate fish landed at North Shields, a ten minute walk from our house. On Easter Sunday we feasted with good friends on lamb reared in Northumberland, just a few miles to the north. Yes, I am a foodie anorak but there is something special about local food and also about food that is traditional for particular times of the year and that is shared with friends and family. We also enjoyed home-made hot cross buns on Friday morning and later on during the weekend we cut the simnel cake that has been maturing during lent, with its twelve little balls of marzipan representing Jesus and his disciples (minus Judas!). Our household customs are, it has to be said, based on culinary rather than religious principles. But they mark the passing of the seasons in a way that has a reassuring familiarity and I think they feel more important with each year. I understand why most people buy their hot cross buns in cellophane packs, along with the rest of the weekly supermarket shop. Convenience rules in many spheres of our lives. But it seems a pity that we are, in so many respects, distanced from both food production and preparation. I think it is our loss. The Food Programme on Radio 4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01fhnt6/Food_Programme_The_Therapy_of_Food/over the weekend featured two projects about breadmaking: one for soldiers recovering from terrible physical and psychological injuries received while on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one for people suffering the effects of torture. Both initiatives seem to be benefiting the participants in a way that goes beyond what we normally classify as "occupational therapy". The soldiers and the victims of torture were regaining a sense of themselves by producing bread - a basic food that is common to so many food cultures. The process was therapeutic providing an unthreatening opportunity for informal chat, while the results were delicious and gave both sustenance and pleasure. Food isn't just fuel, it is something to be shared and enjoyed, both in the preparation and the eating. You can't pick that up off the shelf with a ready meal.

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