"the sense of frustration due to Delta is palpable. Our slow cooking and scratch baking adventures from last year have turned into meal shortcuts, and we’re seeing growth in chilled and frozen food categories that make life a little easier." Brad Banducci, CEO Woolworths
I was somewhat appalled to see the above words in one of those occasional emails we all get from the supermarket CEOs telling us what a good job they are doing in helping us through COVID. It's mostly PR speak, but there is often some interesting information in there. Like the above.
I have to say that, here in Victoria we seem to have finally given up - Premier Dan, Chief Health Officer, Brett and the rest of the crew, who have previously been determined to overcome and get us back to zero have said that zero is no longer possible. Now they just want us all to get vaccinated and stay in lockdown until that happens, or the numbers will rise to a point that will put too much load on hospitals. All bad news but then compared to the rest of the world it could be a whole lot worse.
For myself the whole thing has not affected me too much - Zoom book groups, family cooking classes and Italian classes; wearing a mask whenever I go out; and not seeing my grandchildren in person or meeting with friends over a wonderful meal - either in someone's home or a great restaurant - have been the worst that has happened, and those things have actually been possible every now and then in the breaks in lockdown.
The other worst thing for me is the delay - possibly until late next year, but hopefully until November - of our week's holiday in Port Douglas, but this is a rich person's misery. Oh dear. I can sit in my lovely house set in acres, in a leafy and so far untouched outer suburb, and sort of pretend that life goes on as usual. Not so for the majority. The poor are doing it really hard - but even they are not doing it as hard as the poor in India say or any other country in the world where COVID is rampant and medical services are unable to cope.
During the first lockdown there were all manner of positive things going on - remember the Italians all singing from their balconies, the clapping for the doctors and nurses, the number of rainbows chalked on the pavements when you went for a walk. The hopeful, amusing and uplifting messages you saw in people's windows, the teddy bears ...
These days when I walk I do not see as many of these things. Just the odd one here and there. And the news does not mention these sort of happenings, just the despair that is real, and the news of people breaking the rules. Mothers are being driven mad by their kids (and their husbands too probably); people are really losing their jobs now and businesses are going out of business. Things are tough. Although one can always go for a walk - or cook dinner.
Enough about COVID in general. What about food? Lockdown number one - the big one - we have had a couple of smaller ones in between - had all manner of positive outcomes. People began cooking at home - so much that the supermarket shelves were denuded of flour and pasta and rice. Jamie and his wife took to the home kitchen cooking meals based on what was available that day. We all had a go. Or at least that's what was the impression, and the supermarket data seemed to bear it out. If there are shortages on the supermarket shelves at the moment it is not because of demand, but because they have staff shortages in their distribution centres.
So it was very depressing to read Brad Banducci's words about chilled and frozen food. And honestly I just don't understand why people think it is easier to shove something in the microwave than cook a bit of pasta, and heat up some vegetables and meat together to go on top. Tonight, for example, I'm going to try one of those cherry tomatoes and pasta recipes I talked about recently. Not the simplest one, but not the most difficult one either and it won't take me very long to do. Last night I cooked a pork steak recipe - Lemon and caper pork steaks - from the current Coles Magazine that took around half an hour from start to finish. It was not quite as good as it could have been, but that was because I burnt the lemons a bit, and there were a few too many lemon slices. Worth trying again though.
Of course it's alright to bomb out and eat a frozen meal or a takeaway every now and then. I've done it myself when working.
"In an ideal world, there’s always time and mental energy to cook a meal; in a shitty world, cooking that meal creates a sense of accomplishment and meaning otherwise unavailable; but in all worlds, there is hunger, and a body needing to be fed. Now, on some exhausted Fridays, I microwave a perfectly fine chicken tikka masala for my girlfriend, and then a soft and comforting mac and cheese for myself, and we eat them together on the couch while playing video games, and I feel satisfied." Meghan McCarron - Eater
I'm not sure I agree. Takeaway perhaps, but then I have never actually succumbed to the frozen meal, just the takeaway. My reasoning was that the takeaway was at least real food, and was also cheaper. Frozen food is expensive. A frozen butter chicken - one serve I think because of the weight - will cost you anywhere from $4.00 to $8.00. Not to mention the vast array of chemicals involved. And some of them have to be reheated in the oven, not the microwave - which can only do one portion at a time anyway - which might take as long as throwing some cherry tomatoes on top of some pasta.
I found a blog online in which a lady tried out various frozen meals against her own versions and then did a taste test on her husband and young son. Alas the little boy often chose the frozen one, and the husband too sometimes. But then maybe she wasn't such a great cook - she seemed to imply that she wasn't and seemed very unfamiliar with some of the cooking processes. Here is the fish pie version, for which you would have to say that her version looks a whole lot better than the frozen version. I bet there was a huge difference in price and additives too. She went on about the chemical additives quite a bit. I have to say that the few pictures I found of so-called frozen dinners looked pretty revolting.
So have we not learnt that home cooking is not only thrifty, and healthier, but that it's also more fun? "We have to stop seeing cooking as a problem when it's actually a solution" said Adam Liaw. It's definitely a solution to saving money, to feeding our family in a healthy way, to entertaining our children and also to soothing our soul, giving us a sense of achievement and most importantly a way to have fun - yes fun. "Whack the hell out of a chicken" said Julia Child. You can get rid of a whole lot of frustration doing that. Those pork steaks needed a good bash too.
The Spanish flu was far more deadly than COVID but eventually it came to an end. It killed anywhere between 20 and 50 million worldwide in a just over a year. COVID has only killed just over 4.5 million so far - around the same as the Asian flu of the 50s, which most people don't even remember. I do because I caught it and was really ill, although not hospitalised. Why did Spanish flu end?
"By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity." History
Which is a bit grim but I guess this is what Dan and Brett are banking on. All things do eventually come to an end. And maybe this is just the Gaia principle at work. Let's hope the increasing sunshine will lift our spirits.