Friday, November 18, 2011

Decades of Difference: In your lunch box

The First Decade
In this first decade your parents were probably very concerned, if not obsessed, by your nutritional needs. As a baby your lunch may be most conveniently attached to your mother in the form of her breasts, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee convenience in all respects because, let’s face it, people don’t really like to see breasts out in public when they’re serving their primary biological function of feeding a baby. Bare breasts on a beach? Yes! Breasts in a newspaper? Fine! Enormous breasts on the covers of dodgy magazines? As long as they’re on the top shelf, why not? Breasts feeding babies anywhere public? No thank you say the majority of the great British public.
Your first decade may be fantastic for you as you progress from milk to mush to puree and finger foods. You discover the delights of texture, taste and temperature on your tongue. You watch the varying expressions on your parents’ faces as you delightedly or accidentally fling food all over yourself, the floor, the table and your chair. Meanwhile your parents will be fraught with the childrearing debates: when to wean? Breast or bottle? Peanuts or not? When to try shellfish and honey, how much chocolate? Are crisps allowed in lunchboxes?
These nutritional debates and conflicting scientific evidence hover in the background as you discard the apple, eat sand and worms and soil and any insects you can find, or, in the latter part of the decade, buy chocolate and crisps from the corner shop.

A Birthday Cake = SUGAR!!

The Second Decade.
This decade is a time of choices. You will become increasingly confident in your eating habits and desires. You may deliberately move away from your parents’ choices towards more radical ways of eating. The teenage years may be a move to the quick calorific pleasures of fast food. The ingestion of salt and fat doesn’t worry you. The years of heart disease and weight gain concerns are a distant shore.
Your independent choices may lead you down new paths; vegetarianism, veganism. A love of processed white bread. You may become a devoted carnivore or a fast food aficionado. Your student years may be dominated by baked beans, cheese and bread and as many imaginative variants of those as are possible. In the latter part of this decade you may move away from lunch altogether with a love of snacks, pot noodles, cups of tea and biscuits the pleasures of your culinary day.
The Third Decade
These may be the experimental years. You probably have your own kitchen now and you may have requested some nice kitchen goods for your housewarming or wedding. The life and lunch experiment involves seeing which electrical goods lay dusty and disused in your kitchen cupboards and which ones actually get used. Sunday lunch for 4 or 10 may be an excited reality not an ambition. If you’re lucky, you will have disposable income to spend on quirky experiments like truffle oil, specialist salts, Spanish sausage and organic meat. Some of these ingredients may languish in your cupboards, whilst others will be loved and cherished and promoted from lunch time luxuries to weekly essentials. You will either delight in or desist from visiting your staff canteen, depending on the quality of food and drinks. You may even make your own lunch and take it into work, perhaps in an elaborate collection of Tupperware that includes hummus and other dips and bread with seeds. You will probably become more of a tea or coffee snob in these years, trying Earl Grey and tea leaves in a teapot , coffee may be ground and brewed and served in the smallest imaginable cups with froth...or the expensive coffee machine will be consigned to the dusty cupboard with the juicer and the dried sun blush tomatoes.
The Fourth Decade
You can no longer eat what you want, when you want and laugh at the consequences. You have to think about salt and fats and sugar and calories. The weight seems to accumulate far more easily around your middle without ever going away again.
Your taste for wines and exotic ingredients develops. You may order an organic vegetable box that gives you enough celeriac in a season to feed a family of twelve. You may start to source your meat carefully, buy organic eggs or maybe even keep your own chickens. If you have children, you care enormously about what they eat too. You like to eat lunch in restaurants and have friends around at the weekend. If you eat at work you probably bemoan the lack of quality of the ingredients and the fact that you don’t know where the meat comes from. Your hummus and dips have become low fat and you try to avoid bread when you can. If you are a mother you are traumatised between breast is best and breast is impossible for some mums. The guilt may be overwhelming. In fact feeding your children may become an overwhelming source of anxiety as conflicting headlines compete to tell you what’s best. It’s bad enough to make you buy a new coffee machine and enjoy more glasses of good wine at Sunday lunch time than you probably should. And if you don’t have kids, you have a couple of good glasses of wine or real ale on a Sunday afternoon and worry about your waistline or the size if your hips or your alcohol consumption per week or your cholesterol or blood pressure instead.
The Fifth Decade
Your lunch habits are probably indelibly fixed by now although you may, on occasion, attempt to convert to weightwatchers or healthier meals. Sometimes it’s just too hard to drag yourself away from the pleasures of alcohol and saturated fats and salts and sugar. Your doctor may be advising you against your traditional Sunday lunch but it may be the final ritual you share with the children who have left home and return for good food and company on a Sunday afternoon.
You may be divorced and lunch may have become a small delight for one or a treat you share with friends. It may also be a chore cooking for one after a life time of preparing meals for a family. Your appetite may be diminishing as your taste buds age. Your mid life crisis or menopause may leave you with unexpected intolerances to alcohol and coffee. You may have given up caffeine altogether because of the adverse impact it has on your sleep. You may still eat in the work canteen, but mainly salads. Or the work place lunch may have become your sole meal of the day as when you arrive home to an empty house and a kitchen full of dusty gadgets that have no use any more, you are too dispirited to do anything other than eat a crisp bread, or bite into an only slightly shrivelled apple before going to bed.
The Sixth or Seventh Decade and Later
Do you eat lunch any more? Do you cook? If you’re lucky you still love and enjoy food. Perhaps you still experiment with foods to find the exotic lunch. You may have turned the corner when worrying about what you eat seems nonsense and you may show a reckless disregard for calories, sugar and salt. Foods from your childhood may be a lovely comfort, fish and chips, rice pudding. You may have troublesome teeth and avoid anything that requires too vigorous chewing. Your fruit may be cut up.
If you are unlucky your food choices are made for you and are guided by institutional rules rather than your individual preferences. Meals may not have any flavour or texture for you when they are made by other people or you may enjoy the sweetness of the pink wafer biscuit that you never would have purchased for yourself but which is a staple with the tea at your old folks’ home. Your appetite may diminish completely in these years and you may have to be cajoled to eat anything at all. You may eventually lose the ability to feed yourself adequately although you may still enjoy a nice cup of tea.


  1. So insightful Sian ( as usual ). I was nodding and smiling quite a few times, and yes, I think I pretty much survived on a combination of beans, cheese, bread, pot noodle and biscuits as a student!

  2. I love the Decades of Difference series. I think you should write a book. I found myself nodding and smiling (like Beth); quite awkward when you're in a staffroom supposedly working on Unit Plans for Maths.

    Interesting how after the fifth decade or so, the lunchbox starts to retreat back into the first decade even though you keep going forward. My grandmother moans over her mashed veggies now but manages to sneak in a chocolate or two from her secret stash under the bed. :)



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