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Variety is not the Spice of Life

Our food culture enshrines a level of variety which is a wholly unnecessary burden on the home cook and the planet.

Imagine how much simpler life would be if we just ate the same meals every day. It may sound like a ridiculous idea but only because we have fostered a food culture in which variety is enshrined. Many cultures still follow a very simple dietary regime where a staple such as rice is eaten at every meal. Different spices and meats together with seasonal fruits and vegetables bring some diversity but the construction of everyday meals is broadly the same.

Many of us eat the same breakfasts — toast, cereal or porridge and some of us eat the same lunch too — soup or a sandwich. But those workers who bring the same cheese sandwich in day after day may find themselves the butt of jokes as this dearth of variety signals to others an individual lacking imagination and creativity. This need for variety is such a modern development and perhaps a lack of it actually signifies something quite different? Just as Steve Jobs would famously wear the same coloured clothes every day to limit his cognitive overhead so choosing the same meals every day delivers a similar benefit — more bandwidth for other things. I don’t think anyone ever called Steve Jobs out for his lack of imagination.

Routine is a great simplifier and reduces our tendency to overthink everything which is one of my favourite pastimes. To experiment I have eaten dal with rice and greens every weekday for the last 3 weeks and, while my family think I’m barking mad, I am totally in love with the whole process. I spend 45 minutes cooking enough dal, rice and cabbage for 5 meals and then it’s just a matter of zapping it in the microwave to order. Having a delicious hot meal ready in under 5 minutes every evening is awesome but the beauty of the regime is also in the simplicity of the food itself — split peas cooked in salted water until soft and then some spices added — maybe some onion and tomato too. The effort to flavour ratio elevates the satisfaction to new levels so not only do I look forward to it every evening, I find it hard to replicate these levels of satisfaction on the other evenings when I have to prepare and eat something different.

The effort to flavour ratio elevates the satisfaction to new levels

Simplicity doesn’t work for social media, magazines and TV shows dedicated to food and responsible for bombarding us with hundreds of images and recipes every week but we need to be cooking more fresh food in the home for the sake of our health and that of the planet so it is something we need to embrace. I know how stressful mealtimes at home can be and how much pressure there is on the home-cook to deliver a variety of tasty foods so any routine you can build into your week to help reduce this is a bonus. To start with I would strongly recommend meal planning, batch cooking and letting your family know that eating the same food 2 nights in a row is totally normal.

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