I lived off UPFs in my 20s

I lived off UPFs in my 20s

In the acres of newsprint devoted to eliminating the causes of the obesity crisis – is it a lack of ethics? Lack of education; Is it big food? – what I rarely see mentioned is lack of time.

When asked what I do for a living, I say I’m a journalist. But if they asked me what I spend most of my time in reality doing – like what I do mostly with my hands and mind – I wouldn’t say ‘typing’ or ‘making calls’. I would say that most of my time is spent planning, shopping and cooking meals.

I cook dinner for my family, from scratch, most nights and have done so for 10 years. And it’s an incredibly time-consuming task. Seconds, minutes and hours fly by in big clouds as I write lists, shop for ingredients, do all the chopping, frying, baking and then clean up.

Some days I run out of dishes that everyone will agree to eat and I end up making separate things for each of my two kids and then something different for me and my husband. (The most annoying thing about all of this is, of course, that my kids would happily eat packet ramen seven nights a week.)

Given how time-consuming this undertaking is then, why does no one ever bring it up in discussions of modern nutrition? Around obesity and over-consumption of over-processed foods?

Why doesn’t anyone talk about how incredibly time-consuming it is to provide healthy food for a family? A woman I know who recently landed a job—now earning a high six-figure salary—told me that the first thing she did with her huge paycheck was hire a cook for her family. It’s literally a full-time job.

So I find the platitudes spouted by campaigners about how quick and easy it is to rustle up healthy midweek meals for the whole family absolutely infuriating. It implies that there’s some kind of crazy, unfathomable mystery about why families look to ready meals or takeaways and don’t cook every meal from fresh ingredients.

Workers, parents or not, are looking for cooked foods and other products with UPF, not because they don’t understand that you should eat fresh food that you’ve cooked yourself, but because cooking at home is a huge, endless time-suck. Because it takes hours and hours and creates a lot of mess and washout.

Decades of here-I-made-one-before TV cooking shows didn’t help. We are never shown the list-making, the shopping (getting to the supermarket, queuing, bringing the bags home, unpacking, putting away) or the washing behind the cooking on screen and so we believe that the home cooking should be equally frictionless. When we attempt it, and it’s a messy mess, we feel like we’ve failed.

Of the women I know who have given up full-time work, every single one has cited wanting more time to properly cook as a contributing factor. So I feel like one of the lucky ones, who can afford the time to shoulder the responsibility of cooking for my family.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining: I’m totally at peace with the fact that I live in my kitchen. I’ve been a parent for almost 13 years now and I know there are no shortcuts.

Although, obviously, there are shortcuts – and therein lies the problem. If I worked full time or had to go to an office, we’d all be eating a lot of prepackaged and convenient food and we’d all get fat.

Not because we suddenly became greedy bastards with no self-control, but because food is full of things that make you fat. In my twenties when I worked in an office all day, I ate Marks & Spencer mac and cheese for dinner every night I was home. Only my raging metabolism means I’m still alive.

I don’t know how other working families can possibly consistently prepare healthy meals. Do they cook batches on the weekend? Are they too strict about everyone eating the same thing? The plain fact is that many working families cannot find the time to do so.

I don’t know exactly what series of economic events happened to make life so expensive that in most families both parents have to work full time, but here we are. If the government wants to tackle obesity, admitting that dinner isn’t made would be a good start.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *