Transition Liverpool’s Julia Cadman discusses food and its place in our lives, our health, and our communities.

This is a personal account of an approach to food. Some principles apply: avoiding waste, local sourcing, a narrowish range of simple dishes and listening to the messages from one’s body.

The starting point has to be respect for our bodies and careful observation of/sensing what the body is saying about its energy and nutrition needs. We are dominated by our very active and capable brains, and whatever the level and nature of our physical activity we can easily mislead ourselves and become convinced that a specific diet (inclusions and exclusions) can give exactly the right balance and energy, or should be avoided.

Our relationship with food starts early. Credit: Brian Brodeur

Our personal starting points will vary widely, from the adult who as a childhood was breast-fed then given a well-balanced carefully prepared varied diet which reflected both seasonal availability and suitability of certain foods and was taught how to cook, to the adult whose circumstances when growing up were such that there was limited availability of range of foods and time thus reducing the range of dishes, and where use of easily available flavourings were used to enhance taste and give a sense of fullness, especially in pre-prepared foods.

I have always had a lot of physical energy and have been blessed with a strong healthy body except when a brain tumour developed after measles when I was eight. It was eventually discovered and removed when I was 20.
As a young adult I did yoga, danced and cycled, later became keen on hill-walking too, and have swum regularly for the last 25 years. I have given up driving (one of the best decisions I have ever taken) and I love walking. Over the decades I have also made some fairly radical alterations to my diet, not necessarily on any sound basis, but over the years I have learned to interpret some bodily signals about specific dos and don’ts. As a result of that, if I am invited to a wedding or going to a residential course I now submit a specific diet sheet setting out what I can and can’t eat.

It is easy to become doctrinaire about a diet which really suits. I have found a few principles which really work for me. I do not add sugar to anything and avoid added sugar in prepared foods, although I do eat fruit, dried fruit and starchy vegetables. I gave up meat over 40 years ago and eggs about 30 years ago. As the years went by I noticed particular reactions or sensitivities to some other specific foods, such as potato and mushrooms, and reduced or completely cut out their intake. After a phase of serious intestinal discomfort I also started following food combining. The discipline of not combining protein and carbohydrate in any meal has become second nature and I eat many satisfying tasty and very nutritious meals. When I reached a certain age someone suggested I should eat fish (after decades without) and that is now a regular but smallish part of my diet.

Every so often I will do a vegan day, but a few years ago when I reduced my dairy intake I lost half a stone (which I could ill afford) and found it very difficult to regain any weight, my memory started to fail and I became emotionally very labile. The reduction of dairy meant that for the first time for decades my cholesterol level was acceptable, but at the cost of me being able to function in normal life. Looking back, I can see that on various earlier occasions when I had made a significant change to my diet I took major decisions concerning the direction of my life, and quite often they precipitated a crisis of greater or lesser degree. A strict raw food diet for instance really put me upside down in many ways after just a few weeks. And the difference which sipping water rather than gulping it back (a decades long habit which I have recently ditched) makes to basic bodily function is well documented.

How does this tie in with the aims of the Transition Towns movement? The principles are sustainability and simplicity. Maintaining good health and understanding diet will both help reduce waste of both raw materials and the energy involved in food preparation if simple foods in just proportion and the right amount are used. A good diet in itself promotes health and liveliness, reducing the ‘need’ for stimulants such as caffeine. Whilst meat is thought to be a rich food, the amount of land used for its production is disproportionate. Careful use of vegetables together with grains nuts, seeds and pulses can provide a nutritious, balanced diet and help with weight and digestive control. Whenever possible I buy organically grown foods, which I find much more filling and sustaining. Really fussy eating (there are at least seven food ingredients in any manufactured food which I always check for and avoid) might make shopping a bit more tedious, but also usefully reduces the range of available pre-prepared foods. Of course it helps to be able to source vegetables and the like locally, even to grow them (the garden is looking good), and freshness of produce is a significant element in its nutritional value.

I suppose I am trying to find some simplicity. Highly designed over-seasoned pre-prepared foods with additives and preservatives sold in multiple layers of packaging after lengthy journeys do nothing for a sustainable diet. Foods which mimic meat or dairy products are I feel of limited value. The flavours textures and nutrition available in simple foods mean that there is no need for enhancement or pretence to render the dishes palatable. Of course it is not possible to check the provenance of all foods, and I am seriously fond of dates and spices and a range of good cooking oils. I am lucky to live in a town which has at least one excellent greengrocer with many items coming from local producers. But I also bake using flours sourced from Africa and pulses, nuts and dried fruit from all over the world. So I can’t boast, but neither am I prepared to be seduced by the sheer range of manufactured foods available, however much the children in my care clamour for them. (But I do let them eat them). Most are simply variations on a theme. However, on my monthly visits to a superb independent foodshop in Liverpool I do usually buy one each of the two tinned foods which I both like and can eat – with a mixture of pleasure and guilt when my creativity for cooking fails me and I am hungry.
I love my food.

Julia Cadman

18th May 2020

Two recipes:-

Savoury:–Put a layer of red split lentils on the base of a heavy ovenproof dish. Add a generous amount of olive (or other) oil or oils. Then slice a couple of large parsnips and lay those over the lentils. Add slices of onion and/or leek, then a dark green leafy vegetable too if desired. Repeat the vegetable layers. For a Christmas dish use halved or sliced sprouts in the place of the greens and add balls of chestnut puree. Add garlic andd freshly ground black pepper. Add enough water to cover the layer of lentils, cover with lid or foil and bake in a moderate to hot oven for at least one and a half hours. Check the consistency of the lentils from time to time. Can be eaten hot or cold.

Pudding:–Peel and slice cooking apples. Put them in a deep dish and add the juice of at least half a lemon, which will sweeten the apple. If desired add a handful of raisins sultanas or other dried fruit. Cut up about 2oz of butter into small pieces, add them to sufficient ground almond to cover the apples to a depth of at least half an inch (a full inch makes it even better), add to the dish, then cover with a piece of greaseproof or butter wrapping paper, bake until the apples are soft. Goes well with cream/soured cream/full fat cream cheese.

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