My Year of Food: What we can learn from Enid Blyton


I grew up reading The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Malory Towers and The Twins at St Clare's. I devoured all the circus books, the Adventurous Four, various pixies and brownies and Mr Meddles' Muddles. Even Noddy and Big Ears weren't off my list.

I know.

E.B. isn't very P.C. anymore. But it doesn't change the fact that she could spin a seriously good yarn. When I was 10, one of my life ambitions was to read every last Enid Blyton in existence. 

If I had succeeded in my quest, I reckon I would have found that in every book, food was a feature. (Surprisingly, I didn't ever get to the book in the picture... I wonder if there are any copies any more...)

The Five, in particular, were forever packing picnics (sorry, having picnics packed for them by Joan, the faithful and cheerful housekeeper), roaming out around the neighbourhood and eating them, or knocking on farm doors to buy produce for breakfast on their camping trips.

It sounded pretty fun to me.

But can you imagine the children of today reading the descriptions of what they had to eat?

'Sardine sandwiches? Tongue and lettuce rolls? Cream cheese and cold roast pork? Tomatoes? Plums? BOILED EGGS? Are you for real? Where are the chips? The lollies? The fizzy drinks? Oh, they had ginger beer? Well, at least that's something. What do you mean, it was probably home brewed? Eeewww.'

We don't pack food like that for treats any more. Actually, we don't pack food like that any more. That is, unless we're deliberately being healthy. A picnic like that would be weird. Boring. Not what everyone else is eating.

What would most people pack in their picnics today? Chips, for sure. Probably something sweet: lollies, muffins, cake. A bottle of juice or fizzy drink. Bread or baked stuff from a shop. Possibly with preservatives in it. Stuff in packets, largely. 

Today the Famous Five would head out on their bikes with money in their pockets for Maccas, pizza or KFC and all the associated sugar and trans-fats overload. If they'd camped out overnight, they probably would have munched on muesli bars with coloured wrappers.

The fact that plums and boiled eggs were *treats*  for kids in the 1940s and 50s says something. The fact that *treats* really were treats says something else. We dole out 'treats' to our children every day, forgetting that the definition of a treat is something you don't get all the time.

Back then, you ate your breakfast, lunch and dinner. You had a cup of tea and biscuit at elevenses or after school. And sometimes - not always - you got a treat. You got to go out on a picnic and eat rolls and apples and drink ginger beer.

This year, my food cupboard is a lot emptier than it has ever been. I used to have an array of 'treats' waiting to be eaten. At any point, any one could have had a choice of four things to eat. Part of my Year of Food is reducing the choices. There's always something to eat. But that's all there is. The more we get to satisfy our tiny cravings for this and that at any time, the less we value food for what it is and the less we enjoy plums and boiled eggs and good hearty ham and lettuce rolls on our picnics.