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23 February 2012

How poverty made my diet better…

Everyone nowadays has an opinion on the state of the nation’s diet. The government are worried that people are getting obese and that the generation from the 70s & 80s are feeding their kids too much processed food.

Let me take you back to the 60s when I was a kid and my mammy had to feed her, dad and four kids on a low income. People talk about how poor I was back then when they have read my book Handstand in the Dark, which charts my childhood in the East End of Glasgow, and it was tough- no denying.

Seven days a week, we ate a full plate of potatoes, cabbage, carrots and a tiny bit of meat (which was more expensive) and our puddings were fruit or tinned custard and bananas. We regularly dined on fish, fried lightly in porridge oats or cheap cuts of liver braised in onions with big potatoes and pots of tripe with milky sauce or plates of chunky cheap homemade soup. We ate leeks, mushrooms, turnip and a whole range of whatever vegetables were in season and didn’t really know any different. Sweets and eating between meals wasn’t possible as we didn’t have the money for that kind of luxury.

Back then kids didn’t have food allergies, and I didn’t know anyone who refused to eat greens!

I have just realised that how we ate is now the diet of the middle classes, the very diet we moaned about and vowed to change the minute we were old enough to earn our own money and buy our own food. We ached for deep fried fish and chips, which was a very expensive treat, usually only allowed if someone had died and there was no time to cook! It was pure emergency food NEVER every day consumed convenience food as it is now.

I recently discussed this with the US documentary maker Morgan Spurlock (he of Supersize Me film) who was really interested to hear this as he is making another food based documentary. It seems the poverty diet of the 60s was so healthy and yet we kids couldn’t wait to escape it!

Who here who reached young adult hood in the late 70s immediately started gobbling down Indian take aways and fried crispy pancakes with their own hard earned wages? Anything to escape the dire situation of ‘potted heid’ (cheap meat cuts in jelly) and horrible plates of corned beef and mash! I know I did- and that’s when I started gaining the weight that I would fight for the rest of my life to lose.

I didn’t know then that cheap cuts of meat braised with seasonal vegetables was the best diet in the world for me.

It stuns me when I meet people whose kids won’t eat a vegetable or even try fresh fish- Ashley my daughter has always had a great varied range of fish and vegetables in her diet and is also amazed when friends of hers have never eaten asparagus or savoy cabbage!

There has been medical evidence that kids today eat way too much white pasta as parents know kids love something basically tasteless and squishy will go down well, yet too much white pasta isn’t good for the colon and has links to bowel cancer as lack of fibre is something we all know about. White pasta has no fibre, we can swap it occasionally for potato skins or brown wholemeal pasta!

Unfortunately the previous generation of men and women who passed down hearty food recipes, like homemade soup and liver and onion casseroles are no longer with us or have gave up trying- and we now have millions of children who have never tasted oatcakes or lentil soup or turnip mash and broad beans and thats a shame.

I do understand that for the poorer people in our society that it’s cheaper to buy a big bag of frozen burgers and sausage rolls from Iceland than to start chopping and peeling turnip or getting a pot of soup full of split peas and barley on the go, as some of them have never tasted it, so why should they cook it?  Yet it is actually cheaper to eat vegetables than frozen convenience food, it just takes a bit of know how.

I wish that the older people in our community’s could get together with the younger generation at community halls and have cooking lessons and share the knowledge of people who knew how to cook good healthy food on a tight budget.

I know it’s a utopian idea but if pensioner Mary Berry can get the UK baking again with her TV show surely and older person on TV can get generations of people learning how to use pulses and cheap cuts of meat? We need to teach kids today that a meal doesn’t come in a box and maybe bring the heart disease and obese levels down?

I am now back to my old diet of bits of meat, fish, heaps of vegetables and no sweet treats or eating between meals and am losing weight and feeling good. Who knew my poverty diet was the one thing that would crack my overweight issues?

If you have any diet, help and advice or like me pretending to be a life coach occasionally follow me on Twitter @janeygodley


2 Responses

  1. Janey,
    I totally agree with all your comments. I am almost your age and have been brought up on the same sort of healthy foods you had been brought up on.
    I never got a choice at dinner like kids today do, if we didn't eat what was on our plate we went without. There was no "separate" meals for any of us. I didn't and still don't like bones in meat ie: lamb or pork chops, ribs etc so as a kid, I would pass my chop onto my Dad's plate and just have vegetables and gravy with mint sauce. No vegetarian equivalent for me!
    We didn't ever get given choices, but what we ate was always nutritious.
    Kids today have way too much choice. My hubby spoils and panders to our eldest sometimes as she doesn't like foods touching on her plate (she is 23 for Christ's sake) He fusses around her as he knows she will refuse to eat it if it isn't just how she likes it.
    I never ever took my kids to Mc Donalds etc when they were younger A) because we could not afford it and B) It's totally shite food.
    There were no bloody food allergies in the 60's and 70's because many kids did not have enough to eat&went to bed hungry.

  2. When I was really poorly with ME and Fibro I couldn't cook and depended a lot on ready meals and foods that my OH could just slam into the oven. And I also relied on supermarket home delivery.
    Since last Spring (once my over-active thyroid was being managed), I have got into the habit of making up my menu for the week and doing one big shop at Lidl and Asda. My £80-90 shop has gone down to around £40-50ish for 3 adults and a dog. We eat well with lots of variety, having soup once a week plus pasta, curries, Mexican, homemade pizza, stir fries etc. all vegetarian and rarely any Quorn or meat-free burgers or sausages. Even this week with my having a flare-up we have still managed.
    Eating togteher as a family is important – we sit down for a meal at "the big table" every night.
    I have been trying to combine this with going to the gym (hard as Tollcross pool is now closed til 2013) and walking the dog.
    Wishing you all success Janey ,ove xxx