Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Creatures of Habit

Since reading the book about our eating habits, realise now how the supermarkets are fully aware of our 'genetic' needs, and really work hard to keep us 'hunting and gathering'. But apart from 'the shopping', it's been interesting to find out about the other reasons why we do things.
As we've been a human animal on this earth for around 10,000,000 years, and its only since the Victorian times we have had any electric appliances to help us, there is no reason why we need them at all - other than labour saving (so no excuses). We are also far more in tune to the earth's cycles than we think. Like many animals we store food for winter, and the urge for this begins at harvest time when the days shorten and the nights get longer. At the winter solstice, people then had a feast to celebrate the fact they could then begin the start of finishing off their stores, knowing another season of growth would shortly be upon them. The Christian religion could not stop this, so instead changed it to celebrating the birth of Christ (who we know was almost certainly born in September due to the shepherd's watching their flocks - as these were brought down later to be given shelter when the weather got too cold).

By Spring, with most of the storage cleared, then comes (as again happens with other creatures) the 'nest cleaning', and again we are very familiar with this urge to 'spring clean' our homes around March/April, even if today there is little need.

So around autumn there is very definitely an inbred instinct to gather and preserve. This ancient instinct, is pleasurable because it has to be, otherwise we wouldn't still keep doing it. The hunting-gathering instinct then comes into full force and we will drive for miles to gather free (produce) blackberries, mushrooms, sloes etc, even if the cost of driving to and fro is far more than if we bought the produce from the supermarket. But we can't control the urge to do it.
If we can't gather freebies, then we do the next best thing - buy reduced price foods. Then hoard them. Thing is it is usually women that do this because they are at home while the men hunt (in this day this is called 'work' but still has undertones of of the past, but that's another story).
When humans became more settled and began to realise that instead of hunting they could corral the animals then rear them, also grow crops, things changed - but only slightly. Humans still have the instinct to hunt, and this then became a 'game' - which is why some birds, deer, and other large wild creatures etc are called 'game'. Shot for fun than the real need to have something to eat.

In some parts of the world where life is more 'tribal', a nomadic way will make it easier to find something to eat. Those more settled could be faced with a winter of near starvation and nature has also devised a way to get folk through this. Eat as much as possible during times of plenty (aka spring, summer and autumn), and store the surplus as fat (usually on hips and buttocks), then the body uses this reserve to keep people alive when food is very scarce. Come spring time and food is more plentiful, the fat folk are now quite slim - but with folds of flesh hanging down to 'fill up' again during the year.
No wonder I keep feeling cold. My body is telling me to feed myself up these last few months so I can keep warm during the colder months, and here am I doing the opposite to lose weight.
Instincts don't seem to take into account that food is now available all year round. So we still hunt and gather. Mind you, that's pleasant enough - but nowadays the cost of it all keeps rearing its ugly head.

The 'hoarding' instinct does not always have to do with food. Some people prefer to collect other things, these - unlike food - stay around the home with more and more being added, and we've often seen programmes where people can barely find room to sit as they are surrounded by their 'collections'.

Moving house can cause other instincts to arise, and most people (esp women) can feel very stressed if there new place does not resemble their old in part. The book said that just by putting up the rack of spice jars in a new kitchen can help make it feel like 'home', even though few of us rarely use the spices, and some of them not at all. Have to say I agree with this, my own rather large collection of spices is on full view on a set of shelves on an empty kitchen wall, and certainly felt better once they were there. They used to be arranged in order of shape of jar (there are several different types), but have now re-arranged them in alphabetical order, even though this means many jars sit next to one of a different height. It is just easier to find what I want this way, although the erratic appearance is not so pleasing (to my artistic eye).

Almost every 'foodie' thing we do has a reason, and have to admit to seeming to be person that hasn't really moved on since Neanderthal times when it comes to these 'instincts'. Perhaps few of us have. Certainly where we eat matters, for 'eateries' have long since discovered that we prefer to eat in 'private' (so that no other person can grab the food from our mouths), and the faster customers can be got in and out of an establishment the more profit can be made, so the cheaper cafes charge less (to haul us in), but then surround us with bright lights, no tablecloths, and loud music, so we cannot eat fast enough to get out, leaving room for others waiting to be fed. The more expensive restaurants have dimmer lights, very soft music, subtly placed tables, good service and often we have to book so the table is there for our use as long as we wish (with more wine then probably being drunk), then charge very highly so they also make a very good profit without the need to serve so many, so often.

The bit I liked reading about most in the book was how our cooking and eating habits have changed, but always it coming back to the cook (usually the mother) who keeps the family unit together by the way she feeds her family shows how much she cares for them. It doesn't have to be expensive food - it is being bothered to spend the time doing it that counts - and by providing good nutrion. This has always been the best way to show her love.
Perhaps - in today's world of almost instant and junk food this is why so many youngsters go on the rampage, because they have lost this ingrained 'instinct' of being cared for. Maybe parents love them to bits, but buying them a plasma TV to go in their bedroom doesn't fill the gap caused by having a take-away pizza for supper each day instead of a proper 'home-cooked' meal. A badly fed person is hardly ever a bappy one.

Another interesting thing is that we 'normally' eat two good meals a day (breakfast and supper) with a lighter lunch in between, and although we are happy to eat bacon, sausages and eggs EVERY day (if this is what we like), when it comes to the evening meal we get very discontented if we are served the same meal on consecutive days. This apparently is because breakfast fills our (protein) needs to give us energy to get through the day, but by evening we have got the 'seeking something new' instinct coming to the fore.

Goodness me, seems my life now is run completely on old instincts, but at least feel it's now OK for me to keep putting up different recipes so we can all keep our needs fulfilled. Money being a fairly new kid on the homo-sapiens block, 'making do with what we've got' has now to include hunting-gathering for the least possible expense, so hope I can also fill this new challenge to our civilised lives.

Your comments have come timely. Urbanfarmgirl is enjoying this urge to gather and preserve foods (now we know why). Woozy is stocking up - the shorter hours in the day has obviously triggered her instincts too. Cumbrian is well into hunter-gathering. Just love you all - creatures under the same skin so to speak. Certainly we are4 like-minded.
Thanks Les for the info re pepper. Do know that curry powder can be used to sprinkle on the ground as it will deter cats. So a good way to use up old curry powder that has lost its taste (but not pungency).

As security is one reason why many people (certainly myself) tend to 'hoard' food, as you say Deb, this is also the ancient fear of starvation, and even though now food is plentiful, we still have this inbuilt instinct. Only the very strong willed can overcome it. They probably hoard money instead.
Myself love to watch The Great British Bake Off on TV, but had to miss it last night due to B wanting to watch a footie match, however it is repeated at the weekend (and can always catch up on iPlayer).

As it is Norma the Hair day today, have no time for recipes but will find some good and seasonal ones to put up tomorrow.
The weather was foul all yesterday, how you found time to garden Cheesepare I don't know, but thanks for writing in (missed you), and pleased to hear of your good crops. A lot of apples were blown down last night, this means they will be bruised, so won't keep (more work to use them up/freeze etc). There were lots of floods in and around Lancaster, and wish I'd been able to take a look at the sea bashing against the prom wall. Here the rain has stopped (for the moment), but still very, very windy.

Never did get around to baking the cakes as planned yesterday, but then what's new? Still a full week before our family arrives, so plenty of time yet. Think will make B a steak and kidney pie for his supper (or lamb shank, new pots and peas). Depends how I feel and if I can be bothered with making (or rather thawing out) pastry.
AWT the other day showed a new way to make pastry in a food processor. He put the butter, sugar and egg into the processor and blitzed it to crumbs, then tipped in the flour and gave it a very few pulses just to bind the lot together. Don't think he needed water because of the egg. Then gathered it up without kneading (by then it had clumped together) and chilled before rolling. Apparently this is an excellent way for those who find it difficult (like me) to make good pastry. Really must try it.

Have to dash, but - as ever - looking forward to meeting up with you all again tomorrow. See you then.