IT is rare to come across an item on a cafe menu that is impossible to identify but ‘‘upcycled Greek yoghurt’’ recently had me stumped. And I am not alone. I asked friends if they knew what it was, but no one was able to help. I get the Greek yoghurt bit but ‘‘upcycled’’ is mystifying.
The experience once again proved to me that food has become as fickle and confusing as fashion. Remember focaccia? Sun-dried tomatoes? Couscous? Now it is all about kale, green shakes, cacao, quinoa, chia and kombucha.
Forget a luxury car, if you want to make an impression in 2015 it is all about the exotic grains you have displayed in mason jars on your kitchen bench and the contents of your shopping trolley. The well-worn saying, ‘‘You are what you eat’’, refers not only to your weight but now also signifies your social status.
I can imagine the judgment that will be levelled at me after revealing that I allow my children to eat high-fibre white bread. In certain circles, white bread is condemned with the same intensity as heroin.
Food shaming is all the rage. Go on, admit it, when you spot someone in the supermarket queue with a basket of frozen pies, tomato sauce, white bread and a couple of bottles of soft drink, you pass judgment about far more than their dietary choices. We all know large amounts of processed food is a recipe for disaster, but all the condemnation in the world won’t change people’s behaviour.
When did what we eat become so divisive? Celebrity chefs can shoulder part of the blame. A practice that was once enjoyed in the privacy of the home, or at an appropriate establishment, is now everywhere we look. The secrets of the kitchen are regularly revealed on prime-time TV and cooking has became a sport. Nigella, Jamie, Heston, Gordon and Poh, I’m looking at you!
Televised cooking competitions haven’t helped either. Jane Smith from Kahibah can now gain national stardom for her flavoursome cassoulet toulousain. She will also likely end up with her own cooking show and range of condiments. Home cooks are hot property.
Social media feeds the beast with its endless food porn. Celebrities ‘‘check in’’ at Michelin star restaurants and snap photos of gourmet meals which are presented as art. Closer to home, friends boast about their holier-than-thou eating habits and upload photos of dairy, sugar- and wheat-free dishes in an effort to emulate the latest diet guru, including Pete ‘‘activated almonds’’ Evans and Sarah ‘‘sugar-free’’ Wilson.
This is where it gets tricky and lines are blurred. Personally, I only want dietary advice from a suitably qualified professional. Time spent in the kitchen isn’t the same as time spent at university, but a popular profile and good looks brush over this.
There are big bucks available if you can capture the ever-increasing number of food-confused people hungry for guidance. Each year, food and diet-related books dominate bestseller lists. It is easy to see why celebrity chefs and elevated home cooks want a piece of the pie.
What has been lost is simplicity and common sense. The obesity epidemic has whipped up fear and misunderstanding, giving rise to half-baked commentators who claim to have all the answers. Don’t get me started on the shysters flogging magic pills and weight-loss teas.
It is time to stop the fetishisation of food and get back to basics. I sense that change is coming. There is a subtle move to strip away the hype with a renewed focus on whole foods, or food that grandma used to make. If you can’t grow your own food, eat the sort of food you would grow if you could.
I recently set myself the challenge of only eating meals I made from scratch and they were inevitably healthy. It isn’t hard or time-consuming to fry an egg and a couple of pieces of middle bacon for breakfast – I am not afraid of good fats – or chop up a salad and add a tin of tuna for lunch. It was almost a relief to strip away the absurd pressure to produce magazine-ready meals. Nothing was too fancy, but it didn’t matter because it was flavoursome – and I saved money, too.
Give me Greek yoghurt, but there is no need to upcycle it. I don’t need the added confusion.