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Friends and family sitting together and enjoying a meal together.

Happiness and food.

Does food unite a happy household?

Or does it put financial pressure on a stretched household budget?

My mum always said that you must wear proper shoes, enjoy school days because they are the carefree days of your life and finally, buy the best ingredients you can afford, because this fuels the body and keeps you happy. 

This week there has been great discussion about how people’s shopping habits have changed and how shoppers prefer to top up their weekly buys more often than having a monthly shop. Furthermore, the cost of food has dropped in real terms over recent years and people have more choice than previously, from using local producers at farmers markets or buying from the high street independents and national supermarkets.

My mother is a brilliant frugal cook and with a limited shopping budget she used to find the best quality food and cook the most delicious curries. For most of her life, she has always bought from the local corner shop where I would accompany her and she would teach me what the various ingredients were and how to select the best quality. Despite a limited budget, she became a creative cook who could tumble down leftovers to make the food go further. With five hungry mouths to feed it was a challenge but she did it. I remember as a child we would sit around the table anticipating what my mum had cooked for us. She would serve us the family meal with the emphasis of eating together and talking as a family. I have fond memories of my childhood.

People forget that leftovers can be reused to create a new meal.  They don’t have to be thrown away. Chicken curry could be converted to a beautiful fragrant biryani, oven cooked, with the boiled eggs, golden onion, fried potatoes, carrots and all topped off with yoghurt. The aromas would fill the room with spices all cooked with love. Or how about macaroni pasta with spicy chicken curry accompanied with fresh coriander, cachumber (a type of salad) and mint and yoghurt chutney. I also enjoyed eating chicken livers (a very cheap source of iron which tends to be frown upon these days), all cooked in a spiced masala and eaten with a simple salad. A spiced Indian omelette is also very tasty and easy and quick to produce. See recipe below. All the above are ways of stretching the budget further, which are quick and simple to cook.

So, what are we doing to help those who don’t have the ability to provide the comfort of a hot meal every day?

There are many circumstances that prevent people from having a good hot meal every day. From illness,  physical ability, financial constraints, homelessness and or the lack of ability to cook to name a few.

During my shopping visits I often come across a food bank, positioned at the end of the cash desk, or  just as I am leaving the shop. Is this, to help people who are struggling to afford to feed themselves? Is it because people can’t afford basic food or is it that they don’t have the facilities to cook a healthy, nutritional, balanced meal? Do we ever question where this foods goes?

Celebrity figure Gwyneth Paltrow was given the challenge to live for a week on $29. Being creative in the kitchen is essential tool and I feel that if you are able to cook; with basic kitchen skills and simple ingredients you can cook a healthy and filling meal. Gwyneth Paltrow failed her $29 food stamp challenge after just four days. Why did she fail? By understanding why has failed we might understand  why food banks are used more and more every day.

From various forms of media, politicians or charities, we’re hearing that food bank usage has risen dramatically in the past few years. Trussel Trust, the leading food bank organisation in the UK, say that 913,138 people required 3 days of their emergency food from 2013-2014, compared with 128,697 people from 2011-2012. According to estimations from Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty, over 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food parcels. Oxfam also say that over 2 million people in the UK are estimated to be malnourished, and 3 million are at risk of becoming so.

On the 25 March 2015, Labour published a pledge, planning to cut food bank use by changing the benefit systems and promoting a living wage. I think this will address a few aspects of the problem but it doesn’t address teaching people how to cook in the first place. Going back to basics, how to budget, how to cook simple affordable food.

I am all in favour of a minister for food because we all need it; if done correctly, it will bring happiness to our households and might be a step to reducing other social issues.

In answer to my questions, good food can and will unite a happy household and with a better knowledge and understanding of budget and cooking skills this should alleviate some of the financial pressures which stretch an already tight household budget.

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