Reblogged – as what was supposed to be a frustration at the ready meal industry didn’t seem to come across that way to all of my readers – and I apologise if anyone was offended.
I woke up on Friday morning to a flurry of text messages, social media notifications and emails from friends and blog followers, telling me that there was something I might be interested in.
A woman was sitting on a daytime breakfast show TV sofa, telling the presenters and the nation that her children were obese, because it was cheaper to buy ready meals than to prepare food.
And I groaned inwardly, because how do you even start to tackle an issue so deeply ingrained in today’s society? When home economics is no longer taught in schools, when new kitchens are built teeny tiny with minimum storage space because ‘nobody cooks any more’ and when supermarket shelves are filled with things that just need to be stabbed with a fork and pinged in a microwave – where do you start to tackle this one?
With a Sainsburys Basics lasagne setting you back just 77p , you might be forgiven for thinking that it was a cheap way to eat.
Before I started mashing canned beans into burgers and spicing them into chillies, I would buy three Basic macaroni cheese meals, mix them with a carton of chopped tomatoes and some frozen spinach, and feed them to Small Boy in the evenings.
And then I worked out that I could forgo that 77p macaroni cheese meal, replace it with a handful of pasta at 39p for 500g, and it was an even cheaper way to eat, with less dubious ingredients and just a little more effort.
My food shop costs on average, £10 a week these days.
And to bust a few myths, I do eat meat, I love food, and I don’t spend all day at the oven. I’ve struggled to this point, been referred to a food bank to keep my head above the water, and these days I cook in bulk to make my own ‘ready meals’ for those exhausting days when I really don’t want to cook.
My breakfast consists of cornflakes, or toast with jam, or porridge, or occasionally a home made chick pea and tomato loaf with a poached egg on top. Sometimes a bacon sandwich, if it’s a weekend and there’s some cooking bacon kicking about.
Lunch tends to be pasta, or the night before’s dinner stuffed in a pitta bread, a sandwich or some home made soup.
Dinner can be curry, risotto, pasta dishes, stews, casseroles, tagines, hotpots, gratins – anything that takes my fancy, really. All cooked from scratch, all requiring very basic cooking skills, and all coming in at roughly £10 a week, or £40 a month for one and a half people. For those unfamiliar with my blog, hit the home page and read ‘Hunger Hurts’ – because I’d rather be eating chickpea curry than go back to the days of eating nothing at all.
My son isn’t obese. He’s not underweight either. Neither am I. But I do eat small portions, and do take five minutes in the morning to make some breakfast and lunch, and fifteen minutes in the evening to prepare some dinner. I didn’t always. But I was exhausted, hungry, and knew something had to change.
I know I’m not the only one. But there seems to be an attitude among my generation, and some of the generation before mine, that you can stab some plastic with a fork, put it in the microwave for three minutes, and entrust your health and wellbeing to whatever happens to be in that plastic carton.
Supermarkets do not create their ready meals with your health and wellbeing in mind. They use them as places to harbour all of the trimmings and ugly things that you absolutely wouldn’t buy from a supermarket shelf in their natural state (testicles, eyeballs, horse, chicken pumped with water and bread full of chemicals, and sweeteners that are used as a chemical weapon in some quantities) and put them in a box labelled I Will Save You Time. And, “Look How Easy Dinner Can Be” and “Takes 7 Minutes In The Microwave”.
It’s time we woke up and read the small print. The copper in the mushy peas, the aspartame in everything, the horse meat in the 77p lasagnes…
I might be simple, but maybe if we stopped buying the plastic boxes that you stab and put in the microwave, maybe if we made a commitment to feeding our children good, nutritious food instead of the inedible equivalent of factory floor sweepings, then maybe we wouldn’t have a nation of obese children. Maybe we’d have a generation that knew what to do with a bag of flour, or how to make a meal from store cupboard ingredients, or how to make a chicken last a week.
But until we bring home economics back into schools, or somehow commit to teaching people basic cooking skills, people will go on entrusting their health and nutrition to multinational conglomerate organisations that couldn’t give a flying fig about anything other than their profit margins. And people will pick up those 77p lasagne meals, convinced that they have a bargain.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe