The happy eater

Now I’m cook­ing for one less, the Tup­per­ware boxes are fill­ing up. But it’s not greed, it’s who I am

The Observer Food Monthly - - OFM AWARDS 2017 - Jay Rayner OFM jay.rayner@ob­

If I want to un­der­stand the pro­found change my fam­ily has un­der­gone I need only look in the fridge. For in there, piled one atop the other, I will find them: Tup­per­ware boxes, stuffed full of left­overs. Ob­vi­ously, left­overs in our fridge are noth­ing new. What’s changed is the vol­ume of them. The fact is our el­dest child has left home for univer­sity, and while I feel his ab­sence in the lack of dis­carded clothes on the floor of his room and the si­lenc­ing of the ban­ter guns, when I get to the stove, I sim­ply for­get: I cook as if we were still four not three. I suf­fer an ab­ject fail­ure of por­tion con­trol.

The amount we cook is much more than a mat­ter of mere prac­ti­cal­i­ties. It is an ex­pres­sion of self, of his­tory. Doubt­less, there are those who will now feel com­pelled to point out the ex­is­tence of food banks, and of those just scrap­ing by. This por­tion-size fail­ure of mine is clearly the worst kind of over-priv­i­lege. Well, yes. Of course. But it’s likely that the com­plain­ers didn’t grow up with a mother who knew gen­uine food poverty; a woman who, as an evac­uee, re­called steal­ing swedes from a farmer’s field to sup­ple­ment her diet. For her, the act of over-cater­ing, was not just a mark of gen­eros­ity. It was a way of declar­ing vic­tory over the odds that had been stacked against her.

As a kid, I picked up on all of that, but on other things too: a sense of pre­pared­ness, for who knew who might be com­ing through the door at any mo­ment, in need of feed­ing? Granted, pogroms weren’t a big part of north Wem­b­ley life in the 70s, but cultural mem­o­ries run deep. Per­haps too it was a way for my mother to ex­press the ma­ter­nal love that her own feck­less mother had been so very short on. The end re­sult was the same. It was a heav­ing ta­ble, a place of “sec­onds” and “clean the plate” and “more”, and I took that to be nor­mal. You didn’t re­ally think this siz­able arse of mine built it­self did

For my mother, the act of over­ca­ter­ing was vic­tory over the odds stacked against her

you? As a kid I would eat at friends’ homes – let’s not pre­tend; usu­ally non-Jewish friends’ homes – and find my­self baf­fled by the cul­ture of “one each and no more”. You mean, you don’t do sec­onds? Oh. There were clearly two types of fam­ily and I knew ex­actly which I came from.

Then I be­came a par­ent, and the in­stinct to pro­vide kicked in. It was my job to fill the ta­ble, and I did it ac­cord­ing to the only model I knew. A sec­ond child ar­rived, and then all their friends, so each evening you weren’t sure how many you would be feed­ing un­til you did a head count.

The years pass, along with A-lev­els, and sud­denly you’re buy­ing them their own wok and wav­ing them off. You re­main at home fret­ting about whether they are feed­ing them­selves. You do this wor­ry­ing as you stir the over-filled pot each night, obliv­i­ous to the fact that it con­tains too much. Un­til every­one has been served, and you are reach­ing once more for the Tup­per­ware. The ex­cess doesn’t go to waste. Week­day lunches at home are just of a bet­ter qual­ity than they once were. And in time, I’ll learn to cook for three, not four. But I can’t pre­tend. Re­straint just isn’t a skill I ever re­ally wanted to ac­quire. I don’t ever want to be the per­son who cooks only enough.

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