A Touchy Subject

Three words often showing up in the media at the moment is mental health awareness. It seems every time I open a news app or even Facebook there is an article, meme, poster or cartoon dedicated to this issues. It is the big buzz word on everyone's lips, but why only now?

Mental health issues have been around as far back as human history, however for most of this time it has been treated as something unholy or dirty; something we don't really talk about.

Even well respected leaders like Winston Churchill suggested barring people with mental illness and learning disabilities from getting married and called for them to be sterilised, saying "the multiplication of the feeble-minded is a very terrible danger to the race." However, it is now widely thought that Churchill himself battled with bipolar-disorder or manic depression, as it use to be know. He has even been credited with coining the phrase Black Dog, in reference to depression but this is still being debated among historians.

These days there is a big push in the media to promote mental health awareness, celebrities are coming forward and openly talking about their own struggles and encouraging others to do the same. Hospitals and care facilities are being scrutinised and are encouraged to deliver person centered care tailored to each patient's needs. Even the young British Royals are openly supporting Mental Health charities and encouraging people to end the stigma attached to mental illness. Their Heads Together movement encourages everyone to be open about the struggles they face and to ask for help when they need it.

In our house mental health is not a buzz word, it is a normal part of everyday life. My husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his late teens, and was open about his struggle from the start of our relationship. Since then I am always trying to find out as much as I can about bi-polar and the treatments available, but even after twenty years of marriage I still feel like a  novice grasping at straws.

The thing about bipolar is that it is a mean, selfish, destructive monster that loves nothing more than to torment sufferers and make them feel worthless, unloved and alone. It sometimes takes a step back into the shadows just long enough for sufferers to catch a ray of sunlight and a glimmer of hope while it sits and waits with an evil grin on it's face waiting for us to relax before it pounces on our loved ones and drags them down to the ground again while we stand by helplessly trying to find a way to chase it off.

Author J.K. Rowling personified depression in creating the Dementors in her Harry Potter books, creatures that make you feel "as if you will never be happy again." The only way to feel better again is to eat chocolate, unfortunately there is no cure for bipolar, no one magic pill to fix everyone. The best we can hope for is that we can find a way to manage this disorder and break down the stigma around it so that our loved ones can enjoy some peace, and see how much they are loved and valued.

Finding Passion

For years we have been told by doctors, dietitians and the media that fat is the enemy. Fat will make you fat and will clog up your heart. Entire industries have been build on this simple idea, there are low fat versions of every kind of food and drink imaginable available on the market and yet people are getting bigger all over the world. We have tried to blame it on the fast food industries, the food producers, the frozen food markets and just about anything that would stand still long enough for us to pin the blame on it.

Then came the BIG news, science now tells us that it is not fat but sugar that is too blame for the growing obesity problems all over the world. While the food industries were removing fat from the food they were adding loads of sugar to make the food taste acceptable, so now once again, we are blaming the soft drinks companies, the fast food industry, the food producers and everyone else around us for adding all these hidden sugars to the food we eat and making us all fat.

The food industries have responded by flooding the market with new low-sugar and sugar-free products and giving us even more 'choices' when we shop, and yet somewhere along the way, between all the brightly coloured jars and boxes in the supermarket isles, I have lost my love of food. I have become bored with cooking, and eating has become something I do just to give my body some fuel to run on. I often skip meals as I am just not bothered to even go into the kitchen anymore and most restaurants leave me cold as I struggle to find anything exciting or different on their menus.

I use to have a passion for food, a desire to try new things and create meals to serve to my family and friends. Sharing the joy of discovery with the people I love, exploring new flavors and learning new ways to combine texture and taste. Watching people take that first hesitant taste of a new meal and then seeing their expression change with delight as they discover a new love affair with food.  

I want it back.

I want to stop listening to the industry 'experts' telling us what to eat and what to avoid. If I have learned one thing from the 'experts' it is that they don't have a clue either and in a few years time, when they find something else to blame the obesity rate on, we will all jump on the bandwagon again ready to blame the food industries for giving us the wrong information.

It is always so much easier to blame someone else than it is to take responsibility for our own actions.

Well, this is me taking responsibility. I want to rediscover flavour. I want to challenge my senses and wake up my taste buds. Life is too short to eat bland food and live without passion. It is time to try new things, see new places and eat real food.

The S Word

These days I often find myself with the telly on in the background and considering my interests it's no surprise that it is usually on one of the food channels. 

I don't often get time to sit and watch a program but I still find the sound soothing and it makes the house feel somehow more friendly, it is also a great way to get some inspiration while planning the weekly menu or shopping list.

One thing I have noticed though is how often the discussions turn to seasoning, you often hear someone pointing out that a dish is over seasoned, under seasoned or perfectly seasoned. I find this a bit puzzling as we all have different pallets so what is perfectly seasoned for one person might be completely unacceptable to someone else yet so many chefs claim to have the answer and seem very indignant if their food is not to everyones liking.

What ever happened to putting some salt and pepper on the table and allowing everyone to adjust the seasoning to their own taste without upsetting the chef's ego?

I know these days everyone is very concerned about their health and I can't even remember how many times I have heard of people cutting salt out of their diet because they believe it to be bad for them, however they seem to forget that we all actually need some salt to function normally. Salt not only helps to maintain the flow of water in the body but the sodium ion itself plays a role in the electrical signaling of the nervous system. In Roman times soldiers even received part of their salary paid out to them in salt, bringing about the still popular expression of someone being worth his salt.

I'm not saying everyone should rush out and start eating salt by the spoonfuls, but I do feel it has been getting so much bad press in the last few years that these days a lot of prepared food come across quite bland and lacking in that little something to make it stand out.

Salt is not just great for preserving food but it also has the ability to enhance other flavors, bringing them together and lifting a dish to new heights. Not convinced? Try and make a basic curry from scratch, adding all your normal herbs and spices but leaving out the salt, once cooked have a taste - then add the salt, give it a good stir and taste again. You will be amazed at the difference, without the salt the flavors will be dull and somehow separate, but once you add the salt it becomes a complete dish with all these subtle flavors coming alive and making it a real joy to eat.

Rediscover this simple, essential seasoning and give your taste buds a real treat.