How to Enjoy the Simplest of Foods

Getting properly hungry heightens the senses and makes even the simplest of foods intensely satisfying.

Photo by Galina Vashchenko at iStockphoto.com

Just imagine how much easier life would be if we were all satisfied by the simplest of foods. Cereals, grains and vegetables which only require the addition of water and heat have formed the bedrock of diets around the world for centuries. But our appetites have been corrupted by the constant availability of sugar, fat and salt-laden snacks churned out by food processing plants, marketed by billion-dollar advertising campaigns and displayed in eye-catching boxes and wrappers.

Sitting at the kitchen table one wintry morning after a long run around the city I stared at my steaming bowl of porridge. I had maple syrup and double cream at the ready, prepared for the ceremonial adornment of my standard post-run meal. I was very hungry and the vision of this porridge had filled my thoughts for a considerable part of my early morning exertion. But, on this occasion I decided to take a spoonful as it was, naked, flavoured only by the pinch of salt from the water it was cooked in — the idea of syrup and cream suddenly felt extravagant. And so, with the house in silence and my senses heightened by hunger, I began to spoon this hot, stodgy porridge into my mouth. It was intensely satisfying — adding anything to it now seemed risky, almost absurd and as I scraped the last sticky remnants from the bowl I felt bereft in the knowledge that I would not experience this again for at least another 24 hours.

Adding anything to it now seemed risky, almost absurd…

The problem is we are so seldom very hungry anymore. Eating is no longer a desperate scramble for relief because at hunger’s first ache we simply grab a snack — we rarely experience the level of hunger required to derive high levels of satisfaction from simple, bland foods. So we seek to make foods more palatable by smothering them with sugar and fat, making the preparation of everyday meals more complicated and vastly increasing the number of calories on our plates.

I recently enjoyed a book about Kenyan runners who love to fuel up on Ugali which is quite simply cornmeal and water cooked together to create a sort of cake. Ugali forms the main part of most of their meals with meat or vegetables as an accompaniment. The runners crave Ugali even when they are away from home faced by the temptations of the western diet and gorge on it when they return. Many of us might describe Ugali as bland almost inedible but these Kenyans regularly experience extreme hunger and where a food has relieved you from this gnawing pain the brain remembers and your perception of that food is changed forever. To a starving Kenyan, Ugali is ambrosia.

I am sure if we all stopped snacking and sat down to our meals with proper hunger in our bellies we would happily wolf down much simpler fare, removing the daunting prospect of having to conjure up new and exciting meals every week and encouraging us all back into our kitchens. Try it sometime.

Get hungry!

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