I wrote a post many years ago taking the piss out of wanky ‘My day on a plate’ articles, or, as I renamed them, ‘My lie on a plate’. If you’ve ever read one of these (in Melbourne it’s a regular article in the magazine that comes with a Sunday paper) you’ll find some ‘influencer’ or celebrity who swears all they consume is hot water and lemon, steamed line-caught salmon, and organic kale and quinoa.

This is, obviously, the extreme of the ‘look how virtuous my eating is’ spectrum. Because that is what eating is all about, right? – virtue and honour and showing just how ‘good’ we are because we are all about fresh, healthy, green, CLEAN. (For the record, all food is clean. Unless it’s been dropped on the floor, and I’m not here to judge anyone’s commitment to the five second rule.)

I know I’m guilty of it too. I frequently share online the details of the food I’m making, planning to make later today, thinking of making in the future, eating, planning to eat later today, thinking of eating at some point. And that shared food is, inevitably, on the healthier side. Or the homemade side. Or the this-plates-up-beautifully side. I make hyper-lapse videos of the baking I do each week and share with friends and family and while it’s a little fun, there is a tiny part of me that knows how performative it all is. ‘Look at me in my kitchen whipping up some delectable goodie that is going to make its way into my kid’s lunchbox this week, because I’m not the sort of mother who would EVER deign to chuck in a fun size Milky Way!’

Really, I want to tell myself to fuck off sometimes! (And on the occasions my kid does get a Milky Way in her lunchbox she couldn’t be happier.)

As someone who does indeed love food, loves to cook and loves to share (online and IRL) my creations, I understand the allure of getting excited at asparagus season and only buying and cooking it at that time of year. But expecting everyone else to do that and judging those who don’t is pretty crappy. I know I’ve been guilty of it – if not explicitly, at least implicitly.

I’ve heard myself talk about how easy, quick and cheap it is to throw together soup, and how there is no need to do a fast-food run, because why would you need to when tossing together some onion, garlic, veggies out of the fridge, a couple of chicken legs and some small pasta (obviously in a Le Creuset pot because of course I am also wanky when it comes to cookware) and then sprinkling parsley on top and serving up with some crusty bread? 

Man, there are a lot of assumptions there (even if we take out the need for heavy French cast-iron cookware). There is the assumption of people having those things in the house, and the know-how of just how to throw it all together. There’s an assumption that people want to make soup. There’s an assumption that people want to eat it. 

It doesn’t sit right – and is also all shades of hypocritical of me to be this way – when you think about how very vocal I’ve been rallying against sectors of the community who like to badger people with diabetes about not eating carbs (or whatever other militant food rules they have), and criticise people who choose to eat in different ways. 

It is all very well to tell people to eat fresh, grow your own where possible, shop at farmers’ markets, eat only what is in season, consider food miles, shop local, buy good quality and make everything from scratch. And then to demand that if people absolutely must venture into a supermarket, the rule is they must only be allowed to show on the perimeter – where the fresh foods live, while also banging on about how processed foods, ready-made meals, pre chopped fruit and vegetables, frozen and tinned foods are inferior and if you are truly treating your body like a temple, you wouldn’t go near it.

I’m tired just typing that. And it’s so freaking ableist, privileged and full of presumptions to consider that this is the only way to think about food.

There is nothing wrong with buying prepared food – whether it’s prepared food for babies, kids, or grownups. Prepared meals are just as valid an option as meals made from scratch. Prepared cakes work just as well for a celebration as one that has been baked in your oven. Packet cakes and biscuits are a shortcut that make things easier. Some people may prefer the taste of pre-prepared foods, which is as good a reason as any for deciding what and how to eat. 

There is nothing wrong with purchasing pre-chopped fruit or vegetables. They are still fruit and vegetables, and a fabulous alterative for people who are in a hurry, really don’t enjoy chopping up foods, or find it difficult to wield a knife. Or for people who just grab a bag because that’s what they want to do! 

There is nothing wrong with using frozen or canned vegetables rather than fresh. They are convenient, more readily available in rural and remote areas, often more affordable, super easy to whip up, and full of nutrients. Sure, it looks gorgeous on an Instagram feed to show freshly picked tomatoes from the plant growing in your front garden, and then offer a step-by-step photo guide of how you turned it into organic-vine-grown-homemade-truss-tomato soup, but some Campbell’s tomato soup also works! And, hey, it was good enough for Andy Warhol…

For the record, it’s not just social media over-sharers who need to be reminded to check our privilege. Often, dietary advice from health professionals and health organisations seems to think that everyone has a community garden over the back fence, and the time, interest, and know-how to not only plant year-round crops, but also then prepare healthful meals with it. Processed foods are usually an afterthought and deemed not as good for you. Assumptions are made about cooking capabilities, cooking utensils, time and all the other factors that go into working out what to put on the table for dinner. 

We need to move away from the utopian world that looks through the lens of everyone having gone through a school with a Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program, a dedicated cook at home who is able to do ‘All The Right Food Things’, a budget that never needs to consider the cost of food, and the idea that everyone is harbouring secret ambitions to win MasterChef, and living with grand delusions of Nigella Lawson (hand raised right now). Because that’s not the reality for most people. 

Not a Warhol, but a stunning Appleton.

(Click on image for details of artist, Appleton, who kindly gifted us this artwork when we were hanging out in his New York studio in Jan 2020. We’re so lucky it’s hanging in our kitchen.)