Doing nothing is hard. I’m particularly aware of this currently, as I’m writing this blog from a train station at around 10 at night, internet-less and out of phone battery. I’m an hour early for my train and have just spent the day frantically running around Bristol to help Understory feed chocolate to Prince Andrew (we’re still not quite sure how this happened). Despite being on the go and pretty stressed for the last 12 hours, this final hour of waiting has probably been the hardest part of the day. While you’d think it should be fairly easy to spend 60 minutes in your own head, it’s actually incredibly challenging to resist the urge to find something to occupy your time. After 5 minutes of searching for wi-fi, two laps of the station and a half-hearted attempt to talk to a sleeping stranger, I resigned myself to the floor with nothing to do but listen to my own stream of consciousness. As you may have noticed from this blog post, I have indeed failed. I spent 10 minutes pretending to meditate (i.e. doing that thing where you focus on your breathing but then zone back in when you’re contemplating what you’d do if you ever came face to face with a grizzly bear and realise that you had no control over your thoughts whatsoever), gave up, opened my laptop and, thus, this post was born.
My conclusions? Doing nothing is very hard. I recently read an interesting study which found that children were more likely to make healthier choices and eat less when given an extra 25 minutes at lunch. By giving kids some time out, they were able to evaluate their nutritional needs more accurately and so ate better. This is a great lesson we should extrapolate to our own adult lives. But it made me think how rare it is for adults to add an extra 25 minutes at lunch, with most either eating at their desks, on the go or out with colleagues/clients. Life is so fast paced and busy, food as an after thought and “mindless eating” are huge contributors to unhealthy food choices.
With the societal pressure to be constantly moving forward rather than living in the moment, we don’t give ourselves the necessary breaks and time to listen to our bodies’ nutritional needs. And this, I’ve come to realise during the long, dark minutes of this hour of nothingness, is a problem that lies at the heart of our struggle to eat healthily. Now you may be thinking, with good reason, that I’m being overly dramatic about something that is really just a first world problem. But that’s what obesity is, isn’t it? A huge first world problem that is partly due to the fact that we’re conditioned to be constantly engaged in menial tasks. This inability to just be in the present, without needing to be occupied, is causing us to be out of sync with our animal instincts that tell us when and what to eat.
Now I’m not saying that in the past, humans were able to switch off and just sit around all day. I’m sure our species has always driven to fill their time with constant activity and distractions or we never would have evolved as well as we have. The difference is that now it’s having a large impacts on our diets. In the past, mindless eating probably resulted in healthy eating habits, simply because there weren’t many unhealthier alternatives. With little choice in what we ate, food as an afterthought to our busy schedules didn’t really matter because whatever we ate would probably be natural and nutritional. In fact, the things we filled our days with largely involved getting food, such as foraging or hunting. These days, however, unhealthy food is more easily accessible than healthy food, meaning that mindless eating is much more likely to yield something sugary or deep-fried.
This is yet another reason why home cooking is so important. Giving ourselves some extra time can give us our chance to get in touch with our bodies’ needs, rather than consuming anything and everything that’s in front of us. This is the dish I’ve been dreaming since I arrived at the station, starving hungry, with no cafes open or even a vending machine in sight. I know, I know, I’ll shut up about my first world problems now and just hand over the recipe.
Courgetti with smoked walnut and olive pesto:
Ingredients (serves 3):
1 pack basil
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 cup edamame beans
100g (1 cup) walnuts
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 jar black pitted olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon tahini
- Using a spirilser or grater, shred the courgettes into spaghetti-strips
- Places the walnuts and cumin on a baking tray and bake for 5-7 minutes in the oven
- To make the pesto, add the walnuts and cumin seeds to a food processor and blend with olives (leave a few for garnish),1/2 pack of basil, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, chilli flakes, paprika, tahini and grated parmesan. Season to taste
- Lightly fry the courgette with fresh lemon juice, chopped cherry tomatoes, edamame beans and remaining basil. Leave some basil leaves to garnish.
- Meanwhile, poach an egg for each portion by stirring the egg into a whirl pool of boiling water. Set aside after 5 minutes.
- After 5-8 minutes the courgetti should be cooked, drain away the liquid.
- Top the courtgetti with the walnut pesto, poached eggs and grate some Parmesan over the top. Garnish with remaining basil leaves and olives.