The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Val Mel­hop Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au.

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.

wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to Which green herb is one of the main in­gre­di­ents in tra­di­tional Cap­rese salad? Ken­neth G. Ross is best known for writ­ing which 1978 play? Who was the prime min­is­ter of Italy at the be­gin­ning of World War II?

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