from the United Kingdom

We Are Not Alone

Gerrie Hughes

I just finished eating breakfast. I buy the oats for my porridge loose from the local organic shop, having become confident to use the hopper that dispenses them into a brown paper bag after a few initial mishaps. When I get home, I pour the oats into a large glass jar and fold the bag neatly, placing it in the drawer where I keep pieces of aluminium foil and washed-out plastic bags, ready to re-use.

Each morning, I scoop a measure of oats into a pan, add salt and water, set the pan on a gentle flame and stir until the porridge is just right. These small, customary rituals provide a framework for my day. After breakfast, maybe a late-morning coffee, but more often an early lunch. I wake up early to write, so by midday I am hungry. If I am feeling healthy that day, I make salad. Sometimes only the satisfaction of a slice of bread and butter will do. Lots of butter, and maybe a boiled egg or piece of cheese cut up to make a sandwich. Thus replenished, I am ready for my afternoon of client work.

Then, as the evening darkness gathers outside my kitchen window, I think of dinner. Often the process of preparing it begins with chopping onions and garlic and a generous outpouring of olive oil into the pan. I have been a home-cook for many years, so I have the ability to make a delicious meal from a few simple ingredients. I am grateful for this faculty because I see it becoming rarer in our society here in the UK. It seems like, in one generation we lost the knowledge we need to be able feed ourselves well.

Food and nurture were outsourced to supermarkets and takeaways and ‘lifestyle’ diseases were visited upon us even before the pandemic struck. Heart attack and stroke, type 2 diabetes, diseases of the immune system, depression, anxiety, autism and dementia are all linked to what we eat (Jacka, 2019).

The soil in which we grow our food has become depleted by constant overuse of fertilisers and pesticides to the extent that it can already no longer provide us with all the nutrients we need, and people are counting the number of harvests we have left (Carrington, 2020), which some estimates put at less than sixty. Climate change also directly affects the growing of food we need to survive. Our grandchildren may go hungry.

The diet that suits us best is the food of our ancestors. Traditional cuisines, like the Mediterranean diet for example, but others too, feed body and mind, and also community and society (Jacka, 2019). The customs and landscapes of our peoples are encoded in our DNA and rouse up to influence our appetites in the present moment. What and how we eat is deeply embedded in our minds and hearts. When we share in someone else’s traditional mealtimes, particularly where there is a difference in culture, it can feel like an invitation and a revelation, an opportunity to experience difference and sameness in a very practical way. We all need to eat, and not only the humans.

Our effect on our world has caused the extinction of many species, now our own extinction is threatened. Food can be a three-times daily reminder of just how inter-connected we are with the air and the earth and the weather, farmers and delivery drivers, our local shops and markets, our communities and families and also the consequences of political and economic decision making by the governments we choose, which influence our choices and possibilities. Our decisions about the food we eat have consequences for our bodies and minds. They also affect the wider environment because of the impact that some aspects of our current food processes have. Plastic packaging, too many food-miles, waste caused by over production, misuse of fresh water, and intensive agriculture damage the land and exploit animals, and also people in some parts of the world. We live in a capitalist society, so money matters and our spending decisions are closely monitored by the brands available to us. I tend to treat the money I spend like a vote for the kind of world I want to live in.

Apart from our breath, which is our most constant companion, the essential exchange between self and other, food is the deepest way we connect with our environment. Sometimes this inter-connectedness cannot be fully seen because it is too close, too constant. Maybe it is time to step back and take a fresh look at our relationships with food.

References

Carrington, D. (2020) The Guardian Newspaper, 5th December, p.9.
Jacka, F. (2019) Brainchanger, Great Britain: Yellow Kite.

Biography

I am a member of GPTI and a UKCP Reg. Gestalt psychotherapist and supervisor based in South Wales. I am also a writer and a home cook. My book ‘Food and Mental Health: a guide for health practitioners’ was published in January 2022 by Routledge. My previous book ‘Competence and Self-care in Counselling and Psychotherapy’ was published by Routledge in 2014.

Contact:
[email protected]
07779 198917
www.psychotherapycardiff.co.uk
Ig @gerriehughes

Artwork by Liz Hammond.

This page first appeared in the UKAGP Newsletter. View the Newsletter here.