Once upon a time Stomach lived by itself in the bush, eating small insects roasted in brush fire, for Man was created apart from Stomach. Then one day Man was walking in the bush and came across Stomach. Man put Stomach in its present place that it might feed there. When it lived by itself, Stomach was satisfied with small morsels of food, but now that Stomach is part of man, it craves more no matter how much it eats. That is why Stomach is the enemy of Man.
Nuer fable, Sudan.
One of the hardest things about living in The Gambia is food. Getting enough of it, ensuring you have a healthy variety and preparation, are all much more difficult than people in developed countries are used to. If you read back some of my earlier posts from when I first got to The Gambia, I was constantly complaining about food; the monotony of it, the unhygienic preparations, the sparsity.
It is with some trepidation therefore, and a little irony, that I am now going to complain about food in the developed world. I’m in London and I thought my stomach was going to be excited about this. But it can’t handle it. I thought the wealth of delicious options would excite and delight it. But it rebels. It can’t cope with the variety of weird and wonderful food products I have thrown down it. It can’t understand the lack of portion control that is present in so many meals. The things I initially hated about Gambian food – the monotony, the small portions, the communal food bowl – my mind and body crave.
The surfeit of choice that confronts you when returning brings stresses and anxieties that I hadn’t dreamed of. Don’t get the wrong idea; I have not been having panic attacks in the supermarket aisle, ranting at the the amount of varieties of cereal, nor have I tried to track down any millet to pound and steam. But I have been quietly annoyed at the excessive choice development provides us with. There are some forty-five thousand items in the average supermarket. Is it necessary? Does it make us better off? By having so much choice do we destroy the social glue that food provides for us? Isn’t it better to do a few things well than a huge amount of things badly?
It seems bizarre to me that people wax lyrical about local, seasonal, organic produce as though it is some new fangled way of living. Everyone does it in The Gambia. And it shouldn’t be that hard, or that expensive for people to do it here. People now have an expectation of choice and this kills our ability to cheaply provide the ingredients that your area can grow seasonally and cheaply. As with most things I have written on here, I have no solutions, I just wanted to get it off my chest.
Now I’m going to go and annoy my stomach and eat a huge chunk of cheese but I will leave you with a couple of dietary recommendations from one of the best food writers and author of the book The Omnivores Dilemma, which I would highly recommend for any one wanting to get to grips with eating in the modern world.
“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”