Áilín Quinlan: When it comes to meals, we’re speaking with forked tongues

scratch that’s being done in this country, but we’re no longer eating the same family meal at the same time together, so writes Ailin Quinlan
Áilín Quinlan: When it comes to meals, we’re speaking with forked tongues

DYING TRADITION: Only around 30% of us are now preparing our own evening meals. Picture: Istock, posed by models

WELL, I thought, this is disturbing.

Probably not quite as scary as the potential outcome of today’s election — I won’t even go there — but worrying enough all the same.

At a time when diabetes, obesity and plain all-round ill-health — by 2030 it’s predicted, one in two people in this country will be diagnosed with a cancer of some kind — is such an issue in this country, the findings of a new study by Bord Bia are discomfiting.

Only around 30% of us are now preparing our own evening meals, according to the report, which highlighted a 12% decline in the number of people now cooking dinner from scratch — that is, peeling, chopping and preparing the ingredients of a meal themselves.

Just over 40% of adults did this back in 2011, but by last year this had fallen to three in 10.

Grace Binchy, Bord Bia’s Consumer Insight Specialist, puts it down to increasingly busier lifestyles, revealing that nearly half of the adults surveyed claimed to enjoy cooking — but only when there was enough time to do it.

Convenience, she commented, emerged as an “extremely important consideration when choosing what to eat in the evening”.

But here’s the thing. When it comes to cooking the family evening meal — and I am a relatively committed cook of regular family meals because that’s the way I was brought up myself — it’s never actually convenient.

In fact, convenience can’t be an “extremely important consideration” in family cooking, because otherwise you’d never cook.

You cook family meals because it has to be done if you want your family to eat properly. You don’t just wait for the right time to appear. Good intentions don’t get the spuds peeled; getting a meal on a table takes time, effort and preparation.

So anyone who maintains they cook when it’s convenient are deluding themselves. If you’re busy, and you don’t think you’ll have time to cook after a busy day, you, er — and I can’t believe I’m having to say this — prepare the veg and/or even the main course the night before.

And if you routinely find that it’s, em, not convenient to do the prep beforehand either, well then, why are you even talking about enjoying cooking?

In fact, if you’re walking around telling yourself and everyone else that you cook, but only when it’s convenient, you’re probably not cooking very much if at all.

People who tell you that the issue of convenience is an “extremely important consideration” for them when they’re choosing what to eat in the evening are at best being disingenuous. At worst they’re delusional or downright dishonest.

Maybe what all of this is about is that some people simply want to be perceived as the kind of person who ‘enjoys’ cooking, because that sounds good.

There’s more bad news. Not only has there been a significant decline in the amount of cooking from scratch that’s being done in this country, but we’re no longer eating the same family meal at the same time together.

Nor are we focusing on what we’re eating — or even on the other people around the table, if, that is, we’re even around a table together.

The Bord Bia research shows that since 2011 there’s been an increase in the number of households preparing different meals for different people.

One in 10 evening meals is now being eaten in different rooms. Takeaways and home deliveries now account for nearly 10% of all evening meals eaten over the course of the week — a figure which rises to 15% on a Friday or Saturday.

And on top of that, devices such as tablets or smartphones are now active during the consumption of more than 70% of meals. Not good. For so many obvious reasons.

And even when people do cook for their kids, pasta-with-sauce meals are now the number one meal type eaten by children.

The report doesn’t say whether the ‘sauce’ is homemade or out of a jar, but I’d say we could make an educated guess on that one, especially when the report also shows that the traditional meat-and-two-veg dinner now accounts for only 11% of all adult evening meals.

But here’s where we Irish are really and truly deluding ourselves: The report found that “health and wellness considerations are driving consumer behaviour, with more than 80% of people placing a high level of importance on eating a balanced diet”.

Big gap here. If only three out of 10 adults are now cooking a meal from scratch, and yet eight out of 10 are telling researchers that they place a high level of importance on a balanced diet, there’s a lot of people out there who are severely delusional or who are blatantly lying through their teeth.

Again, Grace Binchy has some insightful things to say here.

When it comes to evening meals, she observes, “there is a tendency for people to remember the choices they make as being better than they were and their original intention is not always reflected in their actions”.

Well if that isn’t a pithy analysis of human nature and how we delude ourselves, what is?

At the end of the day, lads, we only have ourselves to blame...

More in this section

Sponsored Content