Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Today's harvest and choices.

This morning,  as usual,  I have been out to collect whatever is ready in the garden....
...  zucchinis are producing huge amounts at the moment.  I've heard complaints about having to eat this or that (zucchinis included) when they are "in season".... more on that later.  This morning I listened to an interview on the radio with someone who has investigated how choice has changed us and our society...  and I am convinced that the lack of the vast array of (mostly) imported foodstuffs in the supermarket don't necessarily make people better off, happier or more content.  You'll notice that I have quite a good pile of zucchinis, a small onion (I also have some garlic that I dug up a few weeks ago) some frozen broad beans and three jalapenos... these last two items have been in the freezer since the last time that they were plentiful.   This will make a very good zucchini soup.

The last zucchini meal that I had was two days ago....
... another version of "pasta primavera,"  I suppose....  garden vegetables with pasta and "parmesan style"  cheese from Mil lel.

Last night I had a salad, all from the garden...
...  made from green beans, onion, bandicooted potatoes and one sweet Roma tomato.  the egg is one of  the last from the chickens that were killed by the fox in December.  (Using "old" eggs that are so good makes me wonder how old some of the eggs in the supermarket must be.)  My salad dressing was not one of the supposed 175 varieties available in Barry Schwartz's supermarket mentioned in the TED talk linked above, I used local olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and some chopped garlic cloves... sometimes I add a jalapeno or two, depending on my preference.  I happen to like my salad dressing more "oily" than "vinegary" and these are the proportions that I combine.....
 This is in a "salsa" jar and sits on the kitchen bench a lot of the time.   I shake it before using (no thickeners required)....
.... and so I don't need to make salad dressing choices either.

My point here is that the huge choice of foodstuffs in the supermarket has not made life any easier or any more contented.  I have stood in front of the produce or meat section in my local shop and discussed with other people what a "pain in the neck" it is to have to decide for the whole family just what they will be eating that evening.  No one ever seems to want to help with THAT decision.  The actual cooking, once underway, is not so terribly difficult, though some meals do take more effort than others.   It is the decision  making part of the process that is particularly annoying, especially when it is a decision on behalf of others...  especially when one asks other members of the household what they would like and the answer is so often a vague "whatever" in various disguises.

It is the decision making that is quite troublesome.

When food was mostly produced by the household,  the decision was based on what was available at the time...  and if it was zucchinis,  then the choice was limited, and creativity took over in order to find new and wonderful ways to combine and prepare whatever was available.  When shops were more limited and foodstuffs were not flown around the world or manufactured into ever more wierd and wonderful products to be marketed, the choice of what to have for dinner may well have depended upon what day it was.  Many people will remember the "Sunday roast" and "Tuesday shepherd's pie" and so on....  and this lessened the choices, decisions and the annoyance that went with it.

In past times, cooks were skilled in making good food from relatively limited ingredients and, as I have mentioned previously, traditional recipes include ingredients that mature at the same time or that are easy to grow together.   The other benefit of eating in season,  as I have said before,  is the enjoyment of anticipation and thrill of the new season's produce, a joy that is almost lost now that we can have summer fruits in winter and winter crops flown from colder climates in summer...  such a pity to lose that joy.

As Barry Schwartz described in the TED talk referenced above (The paradox of Choice)  a peculiar problem of modern affluent industrial societies is that the excess of choice does not make us happy,  but stressed and dissatisfied.  Stress, depression and dissatifaction seem to be endemic.  In his example, buying a pair of jeans used to be simple... there was only one kind and, even if one didn't like them, there was no expectation that one could have made a better decision.  Nowadays, choosing from so many different kinds,  expectations are raised and any dissatisfaction is perceived as a mistake on the part of the decision maker.  The responsibility for making a "wrong" decision is now placed on the decision maker,  contributing to the stress and dissatisfaction described by Barry Schwartz.

So,  back to my zucchinis....   I will eat zucchinis for dinner,  zucchini soup!  And who knows,  eventually I might even resort to a zucchini cake....  if you "google" it you will find dozens of them.... flavoured with chocolate or cinnamon or a number of other spices.  Inventiveness and creativity are better for mental health than annoyance and dissatisfaction.

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