Planning food during a pandemic

In the days leading up to the COVID19 pandemic, photos of queues of people trying to buy food and that of empty shelves in supermarkets ( for some unknown reason toilet paper and pasta have been very popular!) have become the norm for a modern society used to having everything at the click of a finger (or a click on your computer screen). It is hard to get even delivery slots for food if you don’t want to shop in store.

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I saw this during early March when the panic buying had just started
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Within a few days, shelves were beginning to look like this!

I was also swept away by the societal urge or rather the herd tendency to stock up on food, although probably my shopping was nothing compared to the people who bought up shelves of toilet paper and even fought and got arrested over that.  I found that I had bought some extra onions and potatoes but its not too much of a problem to eat them.  Even then I have thought of some ways I could prevent myself from panic buying potatoes and onions or anything else.

  1. Make a food plan for each day and a grocery plan for the week: Write down a possible menu plan and what ingredients you may need. It is not always possible to find everything you need, so you have to be flexible about this.  Check if you really need to stock up a month’s supply of toilet paper or that you are a good enough baker if you are buying so much baker’s flour.  Food has limited shelf life and buying too much means you might end up having to throw it at the end.  There is a viral video of a man who stored hoarded items on top of his kitchen units, in the hallway, toilet and everywhere possible- creating trip hazards in the house and possibly, fire risks.  This also means that someone else didn’t get to have it- this is also selfish behaviour.
  2. If you really can’t find something, look up smaller stores: Many so-called ethnic or speciality shops have stocks of things not available in the supermarkets.  The last time, I looked they had toilet paper, pasta, bread flour and everything else- without the queues. Shopping at smaller stores helps them to keep going during the tough economic times. So it is a win-win situation.  I also learned some special recipes during my conversations when shopping.
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Smaller independent stores often have enough
  1. Look for long life items: These could be either dried foods such as rice, lentils, beans, etc. but also canned and frozen items.  I’ve no idea why people need so much pasta but I found that I could make many dishes by using brown rice for example- Chinese, India, Mexican, Japanese and Italian. Some fresh foods like onions, garlic, apples, and carrots also keep well for a long time.
  2. Freeze what you don’t need: I have prepared food and cut vegetables that might not keep in the fridge and so I’ve frozen these for quick meals. I have also frozen herbs (I found some on sale or about to be thrown by the shop and reduced).  Even opened canned food that can’t be used straightway can be frozen. I am also freezing milk in batches to use later.
  3. Share buying with neighbours: Buying in bulk will be cheaper and you may find that food shops will prefer larger deliveries, rather than small purchases.  Bigger shared purchases also bring down carbon emissions by reducing numbers of deliveries.  In my building, people have also shared shopping duties for older or ill people.  Many hygiene experts recommend washing hard items like produce, bottles and cartons while cardboard boxes, paper and cloth if left aside for 9 hours or more will kill any lingering virus on them.

There are many guidelines about disinfecting stuff bought from the shops.  But washing with water remains the cheapest and the most effective.  I’ve been washing all hard things like vegetables, bottles and cartons- a good habit anyway.  Research from the US National Institutes of Health found that the COVID19 virus survives for longer on cardboard – up to 24 hours – and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces such as door handles, plastic-coated or laminated worktops and other hard surfaces. So it might be a good time to reduce the amount of plastic you have in the home! Of course, with fresh produce that is used immediately, the cooking kills all bacteria and viruses.

The researchers discovered that copper surfaces tended to kill the virus in about four hours.  So I’ve been using all my Indian copper and brass plates.  Coronaviruses can also be inactivated within a minute by disinfecting surfaces with 62-71% alcohol, or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide bleach or household bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite. Higher temperatures and humidity also tend to result in other coronaviruses dying quicker, so if you can, wiping surfaces with hot cloths or using steam cleaner might be more environmentally friendly and even cheaper. On can follow common sense hygiene practices handed down from ages like washing hands and wiping surfaces often, separating raw meat from other foods, cooking and serving to the right temperature. Many religious or cultural practices also require this- Jewish, Hinduism, Islamic, Indian, etc.

Finally the best tip is not look at supermarket queues and avoid social media or news stories about food scarcity- herd mentality makes people scared and buy more than what they need.  It is estimated that in the UK, people have hoarded up £1billion worth of food while some may go hungry while there is enough food and grocery in the supply chain.  Social media and news sometimes stirs up unnecessary fears.  Believe that you will find what you need or become resourceful enough to use what you have! As the Italian writer, Francesca Melandri, who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak, wrote,

‘First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do.

You will count all the things you do not need.

The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.’

(I have not printed her entire article but you can find it here)

anxiety in children

I have children who always seem to be anxious about something or the other.  My older son used to have many anxieties and had counselling.  My younger son is now doing his school exams and constantly studying or revising. His only method of relaxing is texting and seeing his friends from time to time. In his anxiety about the exams, he started revising during his school lunch breaks and forgoing eating and meeting his friends in the break or after school. I tried to get him to relax through conversations over dinner and asking him about things other than exams.  But he seemed very averse to the whole thing and told me that I didn’t understand ‘modern exams’.  I also enrolled him into a service that offers telephone counselling on anxiety issues but he refused to speak to them. I told him he should join some local sports which would help him with anxiety issues.

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Anxiety by Edvard Munch

Talking about this situation with a friend over lunch, it struck me that I was asking my son to do things I didn’t do myself. I was constantly talking about work or working all the time without breaks, I didn’t meet up with friends regularly enough and never did any sports myself.  I spent many sleepless nights due to anxiety over various things (last night I slept for about three hours!).  My two children were only reflecting the anxiety I felt myself and were modelling themselves over me.  But what a terrible role model I was. Social media has made our lives difficult when we see people being successful and earning money, having millions of followers and having public profiles. Although I don’t think anyone tries to become like these lucky people (and they are lucky); we also want to achieve smaller victories in our lives.  But what if we just tried to be happy and not ambitious?

I have just started re-reading the ‘One straw revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka.  Fukuoka was a scientist turned farmer who started a farming revolution by doing nothing.  He was laughed at and ignored for over 25 years until people noticed that he was growing far more crops that way using no insecticide, no fertilisers, tillage and no ‘wasteful effort’.  This morning as it turned 5-00am and the skies became light, I started reading the book after having failed to sleep. In the book, Fukuoka says bluntly, ‘There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is futile, meaningless effort.’  I realised that we overdo everything- work, thoughts, worries, money, relationships- when we could just relax and be happy.  In trying to overdo everything, we get anxious.  Realising this at dawn today after a night of no sleep was rather ironic but enlightening.  Fukuoka’s terse words reminded me of the movie ‘The fault in our stars’ in which the lead character, Hazel Grace, says that in reality as we die, everything we do dies with us.  Though again quite a sobering thought, it really means that we are not that important in the scheme of the universe. If we just let go of our own importance, relaxed and became happy without trying to accomplish and over achieve, we would be happier beings.

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So this morning, I tried some ‘no or little work’ gardening following the advice of Fukuoka and my son joined in.  He then went to a see a friend for lunch and as he left, I joked, ‘I hope you don’t talk about exams!’ He laughed and waved goodbye.  In his writing, the Buddhist monk Nichiren advises his follower, a typically hot headed alpha male samurai warrior, Shijo Kingo, ‘Though worldly troubles may arise, never let them disturb you. No one can avoid problems, not even sages or worthies.  Drink sake only at home with your wife….Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life.’ I had smile as I realise that often I enjoy what is there to suffer and suffer what is there to enjoy! But it is actual so much simpler just to enjoy life.

New beginning with new food

I’ve got an autoimmune condition which causes blood clots for many years.  I’ve had a stroke and several miscarriages.  Since then, I’ve been either on self injected medication or on tablets.  I need to have a blood test every week or so, depending upon the result to make sure my blood is at required level of ‘thinness’ or INR.  I also go for other medical tests every six months as well as eye tests.  Now all this takes up an awful lot of my time and attention- I’ve only forgotten one appointment in almost ten years (for which I apologised profusely). I’m also fed up of having so many medications, of not being able to  travel as much as I’d like to, unable to do some kinds of sports, and of constantly watching my diet because I’m not allowed certain foods.  Although I’ve made the most of it, it is a very restrictive life.  Last year, I had a setback when some medication I was given with another issue reacted with the warfarin and I was back on an increased dosage.  There have been two occasions when certain medications reacted so badly that I was back in the A&E on various drips with a BP of 35.  And another thing- the warfarin also leaches bones so I’ve developed osteoporosis in my spine which gives me terrible pain but I’m not allowed painkillers due to reaction with the warfarin.  It is an endless cycle of medication against medication!

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My cupboards are full of medications!

This year, I made a New Year resolution of being medication free by the end of the year. As it has been said time and time again, ‘Let food be your medicine’, I am trying a new diet which I have called my #cleancurecooking.  The idea is to use organic foods in season, cook using the least amount of oils, spices and salt, and thereby save money and time. I’ve watched many food programmes and read a lot of research on using food.  There are many spices and herbs which are reputed to thin the blood- turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc.  But one of the reasons that warfarin is used instead of traditional herbs or foods to thin the blood is because the dose can be controlled and managed.  As I’m being tested each week and every six months anyway, I wondered if I can use food to reduce and ultimately get rid of my medication.  The risk is minimal and if there are problems, the warfarin can be topped up.  I also eat more starchy carbohydrates than really needed and consequently feel hungry while putting on weight (although I’m small 5’4”, I am tending towards overweight on the BMI chart). I’m not a huge meat eater but if I don’t eat meat at all, I will need to have some more medications to increase iron and Vitamin B12.  So the recipes and ideas I’ve devised are not vegetarian or vegan.

Another thing I’ve done to reduce portion sizes is to serve food on plates with dividers.  I found that I’m not conscious of how much I’m eating if eating on a plain plate.  I’ve stopped having sugar, instead I’ve fruits in season. I have two cups of black, unseated tea with some cloves which gives it some sweetness (think mulled tea!)  Apart from cranberry juice mixed with some apple and pear juice, I don’t have any fruit juice or carbonated drinks.  My treat is dark chocolate which again is supposed to help with thinning blood.  I generally don’t drink although this Christmas I’ve had a few glasses of wine.  A few tricks from reading up and experimenting-

  1. Having lemon juice with protein increases absorption of iron and allows you decrease amount of salt without losing taste
  2. Keeping your room slightly colder than usual, helps to lose weight as well as be eco-friendly (from Science Magazine)
  3. Lentils help with gut biome which help with losing weight- they are also a good source of protein, especially combined with meat. Lentils with meat dishes are good because you can reduce the amount of meat used.
  4. Many spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and red chillies help with blood thinning as well as the immune system.  Think how the warming and spicy mulled wine is used in the winter. I like the taste and smell of fresh turmeric which although is expensive, is a luxury worth having. If you can’t find any, powdered will do.
  5. Herbs and foods such as corianders, onions, fresh chillies, and garlic are also good for boosting the immune system, so I often use chopped up coriander, spring onions and chillies to garnish my foods.  These foods also bring up saliva which is good for digestion.
  6. Drinking water is often good- sometimes when you are thirsty, you think you are hungry, so try the water first.
  7. Use distraction as a way of warding off snacks. I often make calls or do some engaging work and I find I’m thinking less about food!
  8. Chew your food more, that way you will feel satiated with less.
  9. Foods in season taste better and cost less. For example, I’ve now given up buying expensive tomatoes in winter- they taste like boiled potatoes. In summer, I buy less of lemons and oranges but use tamarind to provide sour taste.
  10. Use foods to provide sweet or salty taste instead of adding actual salt or sugar- so for example, raisins can make food taste sweeter and celery can make it salty.  Using more herbs can make the food more tasty than adding more salt.
  11. Dry frying onions and adding oil once the onions have turned translucent uses much less oil than normal frying.

Here is one dinner-

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mashed potatoes, with brown rice and okra. I’ve reduced the carbohydrate somewhat but it is still too ‘starchy’

Next I tried this one which seems to have worked better as it the portions of protein and carbohydrate appear to be better.

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Brown rice, leftover mashed potato and lentil and lamb mince- this appears to have been more of a success

I’m due for a blood test on Tuesday, so I will see if this diet is working or not!

Launch of Energy Gardens

A recent project carried out by my charity, Charushila, where I have used the principles of Value Creation- Beauty, Goodness and Benefit

The Canny Gardener

I have written previously about the garden we were working on the station platform at Acton Central Station, West London.  We finally had a grand launch on Friday with members of the community, our work partners- Repowering London, Groundwork Trust and Arriva (the train company) and the local Member of Parliament.  The garden is complete with ornamental and food sections- from which the local community can freely take away what they need, as long as they leave something for others!  The centre piece of the project consists of a large ornamental bed featuring a stone plaque with the encouraging words of Nichiren, a 13th century Buddhist philosopher, ‘Winer always turn to spring’.  These words are not just about seasons but also about finding hope and inspiration.  The bed is also a tribute to a station staff, well loved by the users of the station and local community, who died suddenly…

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