Why do we eat? Make sure that you read this…

  • How would you do in the health food quiz show?
  • Discover why this survey might not be telling the truth
  • Here’s why it is not too late to make a change for the good

“Jeremy Paxman here with the University of Life versus the Maladjusted Malcontents School of Hard Knocks in the final round of our quiz, and here is your first question…”

The suspense builds and…

“…Why do we eat?”

Not one of the questions you’d expect to hear on University Challenge I’ll admit, but having asked- what would your answer be?

“Well Ray, the main reason is to stay alive,” I can hear many of you say – but interestingly the experts say that we can survive for up to two months without food, as long as we have fluids.

So the obvious answer isn’t an easy starter for ten.

Bzzzzzzz – “Malcontents, Smith”.

“Is it because we are conditioned by our upbringing to regard food as a reward?”

An answer that takes us on a new path and whilst it has some merit, there are some important facts missing so still no points for that one either.

You see the true answer to the question is a really complex one and actually varies according to the individual and their circumstances.

Clearly if you hadn’t eaten for a few weeks chances are you would gnaw away on absolutely anything that came your way – so at times hunger is the primary driver.

But let’s be honest with ourselves, the last time we uttered the words “I’m starving” would have been when we returned from the shops or a hard day at work and felt a little peckish.

In my case a few hours out with the dog has me daydreaming about steak and kidney pies and unending jugs of rich gravy.

But this is the thing… I’m not craving a bowl of fresh quinoa and roasted pine nuts which would be much better for me. I want the stodgy, comfort food.

When we are driven to eat it is usually because we want something in particular, rather than a need for food itself.

That’s not saying that the yearning for something particular is a passing whim though, these are really powerful drivers to what we actually eat.

Some of these desires are indeed driven by emotional factors, reinforced by the dump of feel-good endorphins we get from eating them.

Things like chocolate, sugar and certain spices will all do this to our bodies.

Other instigators of hunger may be due to where we are or who we are with, even a specific song in the background – making it a sort of association process – food then becomes a socially driven aspect of life.

In other cases you simply won’t know why you want a nice piece of grilled cheese on toast or smoked fish with apricots at two in the morning…

…but that is probably because you are either pregnant or under the influence of mind altering substances (anyone see a link there? No best not!).

Reading the literature tends to suggest that generally we eat because of social, pleasurable or emotional reasons.

But a pan-European survey found results which I think don’t quite add up.

A strange survey indeed

The results of this survey which was conducted across all EU member states and over a wide range of ages and social groups found the top five influences on food choices were: ‘quality/freshness’ (74%), ‘price’ (43%), ‘taste’ (38%), ‘trying to eat healthy’ (32%) and ‘what my family wants to eat’ (29%).

Which I would love to believe was a true insight into the modern diet.

But if three-quarters of people rated quality and freshness of food in their top five, how come I regularly see folk unloading boxes of frozen pizza, oven chips and ready meals into their cars at the supermarkets across the land?

I even witness this in Portugal where British families, faced with some of the finest local fish, divine seasonal fruit & vegetables, and properly butchered meats, were grabbing microwave lasagne and imported ice-cream instead.

Seeing fresh food therefore isn’t the trigger for many of us Brits, but is that different elsewhere?

From what I understand of friends and relatives who have visited the USA, things are no different there either – people seem to be driven by the sights and smells of fast food rather than the promise of a basket of fresh ingredients.

In other parts of Europe the tide seems to be turning away from the fresh local approach to more generic imports such as burgers, pizzas and doughnuts.

The common thread for all these communities would appear to be a generation of parents who don’t know how to prepare fresh food and instead have been lured like Pavlov’s dogs to salivate when a TV advert for processed mush is aired.

The great sadness in this is that eating is no longer a joyous necessity; it has become a hedonistic pleasure – an orgy of doughy mouth feel, a rush of sugar and a tang of chemically induced fragrance.

How our forefathers would be turning in their graves

The times when every household grew vegetables, had a brood of chickens in the yard, an orchard close by and a pig to eat the scraps and fatten for the table have long gone.

In those days we did eat to live, but there was true pleasure in the repast on the table.

So, in answer to Jeremy’s question I think we should all stand up and say that here at the Good Life Letter we eat to live, love to eat well and know how to enjoy all that we discover.

Food is always going to be a personal issue, and what we chose to eat will reflect our circumstance and our opportunity as much as our desires.

All I will say to close this matter is that I encourage you all to live by these simple principles;

  • Eat fresh
  • Eat variety
  • Eat heartily
  • Eat happily