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It is very interesting to look back and realize how our needs have changed when it comes to food consumption and preparation. It seems that very gradually we have shifted our way of thinking and taste preferences throughout history. But the big question is: “What has changed?” The answer depends on how far we want to journey back in time and of course on the part of the world. I will just mention very briefly that in Europe during Middle Ages breakfast was not something that people would practise and it was not because they were poor and could not afford it but even monarchs just simply did not eat breakfast. They would typically have only two meals a day. The first meal would be around 11 am and the second one about five hours later. Eating breakfast was considered medicinal therefore only ill people and children would typically have it. The rise of a working class around the 16th century has slowly changed the habits and breakfast was introduced for those working long hours. Nowadays we continue to eat breakfast in the morning and it has become a part of our daily routine.
The real change did not come until the19th and 20th centuries. That period of time has revolutionized the food industry and changed our habits so cooking has slowly been replaced with convenient options. I will list some of the diverse ideas that were introduced back then and implemented into our lives as innocent discoveries.
- Fish and chips – appeared as early as the 19th century and the first fish and chips shop was open in 1860 in Oldham!
- Vending machine restaurant – the first one opened in 1896 in Berlin and then in 1902 in New York which started the fast food industry in the US.
- First hamburger chain – first restaurant serving hamburgers was open in 1916 selling large numbers of cheap hamburgers was soon franchised in 1921.
- McDonald’s – opened in 1948 by McDonald brothers, now holds around 31000 restaurants in 21 countries around the world.
- Crisps – invented accidentally in a restaurant in 1853 and manufactured in 1895. It is a bit of a funny story about how they were invented. George Crum was a restaurant owner and served French fries to a customer, who complained they were too thick. He made them again, but a lot thinner but the customer was still not happy. To annoy the fussy diner Crum made them very thin and crunchy, but the effect was quite opposite – the customer loved them.
- Carbonated soft drink – invented in 1767
- Cola flavoured drink – 1881 and then 1885 “Dr.Pepper” and just a year later “Coca-cola”.
Nowadays having a pack of crisps, biscuits, chocolate bar, a variety of burgers and fizzy drinks is the cheapest and easiest option for many leading busy lives. Junk food is everywhere and many people might not even be aware of what they are consuming at all. I think that all of us tried most of the foods listed, not to mention pizza, kebabs, sandwiches etc. They might even seem like good food, because what else can you grab on the go when you are hungry?
The way people shop today is very different too and it is nothing to do with what they want to buy, but with what is being sold to them. Looking around the supermarket there are not many fresh, unprocessed products that we can buy. Instead, we have canned food, frozen microwave meals, endless shelves of sweet and savoury snacks, fizzy drinks, puffy bread and pastries empty in calories and full of additives to preserve it for longer.
What happens when we eat that way?
• we are constantly hungry eating food that has no nourishment but is high in calories
• we end up eating more often than three times a day
• we choose processed food that is very unhealthy due to a busy lifestyle or inability to cook
• we waste time and money and do not benefit from it
• we have weight problems or are already obese
• we have health problems like diabetes, anaemia, a variety of food allergies etc.
So what is the solution when we are surrounded by junk food and we think we have no time or skill to prepare meals at home?
Firstly we think that everybody can cook. Cooking that we survived through generations is not high-end restaurant cooking that we think of when we say “I will never be able to cook that good”. Well, you do not have to be that good. You have to be enthusiastic, open to new challenges and make the first step. Nowadays we have all these cooking utensils, we have internet, YouTube channels… We have endless resources that people didn’t have 50 years ago but they still managed. If they could cook we can too.
Secondly, start small. If you never cooked before and you do not have much time, start from one meal a week. Surprise yourselves with a delicious omelette for breakfast. You deserve it.
After all, it is all about changing habits!