It was the era of meat and three veg, and plain, predictable meals. But, compared with today’s extravagant, long-lasting and imported range of products, our meals were always made from fresh produce, preservative-free. And we were as fit and healthy as buck rabbits.
When I was a child we had a prolific choko vine growing over our tank-stand. Chokos consequently featured with groan-inducing regularity on our dinner plates, but like all our vegetables they were freshly harvested.
The baker called at our house five days a week with his willow basket of freshly baked bread, and the milkman left a billycan of milk each morning — unpasteurised, of course. Our lidded billy hung on a bent nail under the veranda in the shade, out of reach of any scavenging critters — oh, we had everything cunningly organised in those days. Before we could afford a fridge, the iceman came with his torturouslooking calipers and delivered a massive block of ice for our icebox.
I never heard of anybody who had gluten, dairy or lactose intolerances in those days. There were no supermarkets. You bought your meat fresh from the local butcher’s shop, and how you cultivated your local butcher! Housewives took their curlers out and put their lipstick on to go to the butcher’s, and flirted a bit, kidding the butcher into giving them the meatiest chops and best cuts for the Sunday roast.
When the Italian and Greek migrants came to Australia, they brought their famous dishes, zinging awake our simple palates. They cooked with garlic, olives, prosciutto, feta and homemade pasta — ingredients I had never tasted.
I remember when a new restaurant opened in the city; just a house, really, with a sign outside: Mamma Luigi’s. Rumours spread about this outrageously avant-garde eating place. You didn’t book a table, you booked a place at the one long communal table. Mamma Luigi herself brought in the huge bowl of pasta and sauce, baskets of bread, and like an Italian family we all sat down and helped ourselves to this extraordinary food.
Alas, so-called progress happens. Shelf life became the prevailing goal. Supermarkets opened, and with the variety came the processed, pre-prepared and fast food — and the problems. Bodies changed shape. To counteract this, the “lite” alternatives and diet foods appeared. Preservatives and artificial additives proliferated, enabling foodstuffs that once lasted only a day or two to languish on a shelf for months.
We can’t go back, regretfully, but we could at least reduce the tampering. Now, I’m not claiming prolonged shelf life results in shorter health life, but I know many consumers are aching for the more natural diet we once took for granted.
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