The Seven Deadly Sins: #2 Gluttony

Food is part of my earliest memories.

When, little more than a year old, I would stand on a chair and help my Granny bake cakes or we would go to the large covered market in Huddersfield to buy eggs, always hunting for those with double yokes. Later, I would help my mother with the Sunday roast lunch and was precocious enough to cook my first dinner party when I was 16. Two years later I was asked to run a restaurant, but decided instead to go to university.

Today, and on those rare occasions I feel stressed, cooking is often my release.

How much talent I have others will judge but I don’t need to measure out quantities. I can ‘mentally’ taste the food as it is cooking and make a meal from the ingredients available. I don’t need a recipe book, and this caused Annie a lot of frustration as it meant I could rarely recreate the same meal twice.

Does this make me sound like a foodie? Maybe. I like cooking, but the truth is that I am not too worried about eating!

I have always been offended by a plate overladen and totally covered by food.

That led me, in the 1980s, to the new food trend of ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ which was the alternative to ‘Cuisine Classique’. The food was lighter, delicate, well presented, and not piled on the plate. Then, I felt more comfortable eating out in restaurants but soon the trend was hijacked, and then restaurants served badly cooked food not even presented artistically. They were just small, badly cooked portions.

My own reaction was to read ‘Cuisine Gourmande’ by the French chef Michel Guerard (of course, in translation). This was a more classic French approach to cooking and the recipes, as I remember, always seemed to start with: take a pint of cream and a half pound of butter!! It was not for the cholesterolly challenged.

Eating with a group of friends at a Chinese or Indian restaurant with dishes laid out to help yourself makes me end up eating nothing. It is my worst nightmare. I am intimidated by all those arms and hands reaching out to grab the masala or rice. My strategy is to wait until they are all done and see what is left.

Modern hotels have not helped. I go to dinner and as soon as I see the buffet service, my spirt drops.

This summer Sasha and I went to a 5-star hotel in Turkey and the restaurant was busy and noisy – exactly the opposite of my first preference, but it was also self-service. To collect your food meant you had to take it turns. If we both left our table by the time we got back, there would be a family of four with two high chairs in our place and we were left wandering around, balancing plates but now also with wine glasses, looking for another table.

Surely one of the delights of eating out is to look at the menu together and decide on a meal together? But, in the self service you are left to walk back and forth with a ready, empty, warm plate, searching and scouring the eating options.

It is slightly easier for me because ten years ago I became a vegetarian and so normally ten or more meters of the options are immediately disregarded.

But I do have other peccadillos and there are bigger problems facing me.

Two or three sashimi or sushi as an aperitif, maybe followed by a small piece of plaice or cod with a light dill sauce is a perfectly acceptable prelude to a more substantial hot course. This was the choice I had in Turkey but to collect them all at once was greedy. Anyway, I don’t have enough hands or coordination to juggle all the different plates. To collect them one by one was impolite to Sasha as I would spend more time collecting food than eating it and talking with her.

When I travel to America it is always breakfast that I hate. The thought of steak and chips, early morning, is bad enough but watching other guests in the hotel piling a plate as if this was going to be their last ever meal removed any appetite I had.

I am fully aware of the expression: breakfast like a King, lunch like a Lord and dine like a pauper, but the truth is I rarely feel hungry until around midday. I am a product of my experiences and now I just eat when I am hungry, and I eat the quantity that makes me feel good.

However, these are individual preferences and if others want to eat too much, choose from an array of food larger and longer than anything served at a medieval banquet, it is their choice and nothing to do with me.

But this isn’t the real sin of gluttony.

Isn’t gluttony excessive consumption or waste of food when there are others who don’t have enough food for basic sustenance? Isn’t gluttony wasting resources which could be used to feed the more needy?

This is both a personal and Government problem. Tanzania was once known as the bread basket of Africa and was a net exporter of food to the rest of Africa. Now it is recipient of food aid.

In 2015 a report by Eurostat noted that each year the EU wasted 89.2 million tonnes of food and that the UK was the most wasteful of the EU’s 27-member states, wasting 14.3 million tonnes.

As consumers we have become obsessed by vegetables being just the right shape and if not, they are rejected by the supermarkets and then often thrown away. We grow and produce food and then waste it when there are millions around the world who are hungry and malnourished.

A funny shaped potato or carrot tastes just the same when peeled and cooked.

Tell the supermarkets to stop the ‘buy one, get one free’ offers if you know you will never eat the second and just throw it away.

Shop at supermarkets who don’t throw away food that is slightly past their ‘best by’ date but instead give it to food banks or others who can’t afford to buy to eat.

Teach children the joy of cooking fresh food and not how to assemble a readymade dish.

Support mothers to breast feed. Last week the NHS said thousands of new mothers will be “bribed up to £200 to breastfeed” in an attempt to increase rates across the country. Health experts said the scheme aims to tackle “stubbornly low” rates of breastfeeding in parts of the UK.

As far as I am concerned you can eat as much as you want, at any time of the day, just don’t ask me to be your guest if you pile my plate high and expect me to eat it all.

If you want to do something positive and avoid the sin of gluttony, then make sure that you don’t waste food.