Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cheap food, lifestyle cookery programmes and pimped up rice and beans

I like food.
I like cooking good food.
And even though I’m better off than lots of people, I’m not rich enough to be able to shop without considering my budget (although this girl does dream of one day having a champagne lifestyle).

Reluctantly returning to reality… there has been a lot of talk about cheap food in the media recently following the discovery of horsemeat in a certain type of Irish burger sold in Tesco. Catriona of makes interesting points about it over here.

There are some things I want to say too, because even though I don’t eat burgers, this controversy does have something to do with me.

1: We all – regardless of our income and how much we spend on food – deserve to know what we’re eating. We need to be able to trust that our food is what it says it is.
Most of the time, I cook my food from scratch and feel somewhat protected by this. But how am I supposed to know what’s been sprayed on my vegetables? Has something been added to that can of tomatoes? What about that jar of spices? Is it really just ginger?
This is not me being over zealous. We all deserve to live in a world where food is what it says it is, nothing more and nothing less. Ireland, with its worldwide reputation for the quality of its food, should be setting the standard in this regard.

2: I totally agree with people who have said that everyone needs to be taught how to cook. We all have to eat. Therefore we should all know how to prepare food to put in our mouths. This knowledge has been lost by some people so we can’t rely on parents to teach their children. Home economics/cooking classes should be compulsory for all.

3: The fact that there are more cookery programmes on the TV today (and more food blogs on the internet) does not mean that more people are being inspired to cook. It may sound counterintuitive but I think that some of these shows play a part in turning people off the idea of cooking.
Many of them are presented by people who lead very fortunate and privileged lives. There’s Nigella in her beautiful Notting Hill home full of copper pots and pans and a larder full of expensive exotic ingredients. And Jamie – for all his good intentions – rushing about London on his fancy Vespa and calling into expensive artisan food shops.
Most people can’t afford such lifestyles and the implicit assumption they make is that they can’t afford good food.
This has to stop. Good food should not be associated with a lifestyle. It should not be aspirational. It should be something for us all.

I’ll leave you with a recipe for what I'm having for lunch today. Essentially, it’s a pimped up beans and rice dish. It’s healthy with its pulses, wholegrain rice and nutrient-rich avocadoes. It’s delicious. Oh! And guess what? It’s also quite cheap!

Pimped-up rice and beans – serves two
75g brown basmati rice
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Half an onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon runny honey
Salt and pepper

1 avocado, diced
¼ red onion, sliced
½ lime, juiced
2 large tomatoes, chopped
Salt to season
Small handful coriander leaves, chopped.
  • Cook the basmati rice until tender, drain and leave in a covered pot to keep warm.
  • Prepare the avocado salad by mixing the avocado, the tomatoes and the red onion in the lime juice. Taste and season.
  • Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the garlic and onion. Cook for one minute.
  • Add the chopped red pepper and cook until soft, three minutes or so.
  • Add the drained beans, the cider vinegar and the honey and season.
  • Cook for five minutes until the flavours come together.
  • Divide the rice between two plates, spoon beans over and serve with the avocado salsa. Sprinkle with chopped coriander before serving.
Now, where was I?  Oh yes, that champagne lifestyle...


  1. Hear hear! Great post, Sharon.

  2. Great post. I have started avoiding the aspirational cooking shows (at home out of work, so watching more telly than normal)in favour of River Cottage type shows that are teaching a lot of traditional skills that have fallen by the wayside. Interesting and entertaining. I'm going to try my hand at elderflower champagne and finally make good on my threat of raised beds for veg this year!

  3. That sounds great, Sharon! I tried elderflower cordial last year but wasn't that pleased with the results. If you do well with your champagne, I'd be interested in selling it in the café...
    Growing your own is a great idea too. I did it for a few years but don't have time anymore. We only grow salads, herbs and tomatoes now.
    And regarding traditional skills, Diana Henry's new book seems to be all about that. It's on my wish list!

  4. I wholeheartedly agree. Food shouldn't be aspirational. There's nothing wrong with eating bland food.
    Great blogpost & lovely meal.

  5. You are SO right.

    Your post reminds me of a TV programme I once saw, it was about the frequent statement that people on low income can't afford healthy food but have to rely on prefabricated stuff.

    A cook gave a family a certain amount of money, more than they usually have to spend, and sent them shopping for supplies for a week. They more or less ended up with the usual ready-made stuff.

    Next week he went shopping with them, same amount of money. They bought a lot of veggies and more healthy stuff. Also enough for a week. But: They wouldn't have known what to do with all of that!

    So you are totally right: You have to teach kids/people how to cook. If they don't know that you can put before them a huge heap of healthy stuff and they won't be able to make anything out of it.

    And before you teach them how to cook you have to teach them why they'd want to take the trouble in the first place. As my sister-in-law likes to say, "Anybody who can read will be able to cook." But they have to have the motivation to start.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Katja. So much has been lost in terms of the generations teaching each other how to cook, hasn't it? It's so strange because we all still need to eat and most of us want to eat food that tastes good and is good for us too.
    Cheap food can be good food but we definitely need the knowledge to know what to do with it. As you say, we also need to want to do something with it too. The question is: how do we do that?
    I know I've maligned him a little in the post above but maybe Jamie was on to something with his Minstry of Food idea and community cooking classes?

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  8. nice healthy rice. Will try this for my kid today. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Mark, I hope you and your child enjoyed my recipe. It's tasty and healthy - like all the best dishes are!

  10. Articles and content in this section of the website are really amazing. Great ideas indeed! I will surely keep these in my mind!

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