Have you ever wondered how life would be if we didn’t have ‘sell by’ dates for food? And more so, whether our body would reap the benefits of not eating food with chemicals or preservatives in it?
I remember in the 60s and early 70s that when you went to a local shop you bought only the groceries you needed for the next few days. A few slices of cheese, a few tomatoes, a loaf of fresh bread, a couple of apples and a few eggs. These items didn’t have a sell by date and you knew to eat them within a few days. There wasn’t the enormous array of different brands or food types – quite a simple diet – and none of us went hungry or minded. I loved the fresh eggs when we had them, and having an apple when I got home from school.
Fast-forward to 2017 and we have a very different experience. I was looking in the supermarket at various foods and noticing the sell by dates – and that those foods with long sell by dates seemed to have more ingredients in them than those with shorter or more immediate sell by dates. I started looking up the aisles at things like jam. If we look at jam – the long sell by date jams are stacked full of sugar as well as the fruit, yet you can also buy some preserves e.g. strawberry preserve which has no added sugar – it only has apple juice concentrate in it, which once opened, needs refrigerating as it has a far shorter sell/eat by date.
Foods with long sell by dates have preservatives in them. There are a range of things we use to preserve food or elongate the sell by date e.g. vinegars, sugars, salt, other preservatives, and we use tins, jars, mountains of plastic packaging, and all manner of containers, all of which have to be disposed of while globally the necessity for recycling and rubbish disposal continues to rise. You only have to watch the news to see how far plastic travels and the dangers it poses to sea life, for example:
“An illustration of the sheer magnitude of the problem is that as much as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – pollute the seas.” (1)
How come we need so many foods with long sell by dates? How on earth did we manage all those decades ago without them? Hunter-gatherers aeons ago didn’t have sell by dates or have a problem with plastic. When did we start to make the simple act of purchasing food so complicated? I know we can manage very well without long sell by dates and the food we ate decades ago was less tainted with preservatives, sugars, salts, and there was no plastic packaging. And yet nowadays we seem to live in a way where we stock up, hoard, plan for the future and want our shopping to last for weeks, and when we are coming up to public holidays when the shops are open less, we stock up as though we won’t see another shop for months.
In an age where we have problems with:
- Obesity – worldwide this has more than doubled since 1980 (2)
- Diabetes – the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014 (3)
- Addiction to sugar (4)
- The overuse of salt in our diets (5)
wouldn’t it be a great time to consider how we could simplify food, with fewer sell by dates, fewer preservatives and packaging? Is it also possible that our body would find benefit in eating food that is simple, contains no preservatives, is in season and freshly prepared?
Letting go of sell by dates as they currently are is a public health initiative that is well worth considering. Whilst it may mean we shop slightly more often or we need to consider and plan our food with more care, it would completely change our relationship with food, with shopping, and at the same time support the environment. It would change food manufacturing, our use of salt, sugar, vinegars/preservatives, and the need for so much packaging. It would also impact on our health as we wouldn’t be ingesting so much sugar, salt and other preservatives or chemicals.
Equally significantly, it would also offer the opportunity for us to look at the recently emerged trend of stockpiling food and the panic buying that occurs at holiday times. Animals don’t stock pile food – they eat according to their own rhythm and according to a far greater universal rhythm and cycle where their body naturally knows what is needed.
What then if the answer to this stockpiling trend was simple and natural – just the same as it is with the Animal Kingdom?
What if we bought and prepared food and ate by listening to our own body, feeling what to eat, what to buy, how to buy it in accordance with the natural rhythm of our body?
I know when I choose to be aware, my body knows exactly what it needs when I go shopping, or when I’m about to prepare and cook a meal. And nowadays I shop, prepare and cook most of my meals for myself and the food I eat is mostly in season, fresh, and minimally packaged. More so, I know my body benefits from this – I love the seasonal fresh flavours, and the ease of cooking fresh food, and my body loves the simplicity of it. There is also less packaging to recycle after too!
Is it then possible that: Sell by dates are past their sell by date?
What if our body knows how to shop, when to shop, what to shop in a way that doesn’t need packaging or long sell by dates or chemicals, as the body can, if we choose, live in accordance with the rhythms and cycles of nature, the seasons, and can flourish very well without the need for long sell by dates? And in doing so not only are we more responsible for our own health and wellbeing, we are more responsible for the environment we share with everyone else, too?
By Jane, London
- UN News (2017) ‘Turn the tide on plastic’ urges UN, as microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy. UN News Centre 23rd February http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56229#.WLAznhCFBfQ
- WHO (2016) Obesity and Overweight Fact Sheet – http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
- WHO (2016) Diabetes Fact Sheet – http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/
- uk (2016) Sugar reduction and obesity: 10 things you need toknow – Public Health Matters https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2016/11/01/sugar-reduction-and-obesity-10-things-you-need-to-know/
- WHO (2016) Salt Reduction http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs393/en/
‘A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down’ – irony or just pure corruption?
Educated food choices – become your own physician!
We have created a shopping environment where it can be quite tricky to shop without sell by dates as gone are many of the local greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers. But it’s not impossible, and is a great reflection of our commitment to life in general if we look at how much effort we are prepared to put it in order to be able to nourish our bodies with food it is asking for, not what is convenient.
The simplicity and joy of life is in what you’ve written – there’s no need for the highs of artificial flavours and additives that are short-lived, unhealthy and probably addictive. I would say the urge to stockpile is born of a fear that there isn’t enough to go around and one won’t survive without hoarding one’s share. I can feel fear when I am hungry sometimes which doesn’t make logical sense – I’m not going to starve before I reach a shop!
Sometimes I can feel ravenously hungry when really physically I’m not. So what may happen is the thing I don’t want to be aware of – e.g. if I don’t want to admit I was upset by something – may not be able to be ignored before I hit a shop and able to eat to distract myself from feeling whatever is there to feel.
The stock piling thing is an interesting habit. I’m inclined to buy ‘just in case’ items. Food that is for no real emergency, it’s more of a safety net if I need some sugar or salt fix or similar – as if, if I didn’t have it, I’d be in trouble (of course nothing would happen). It’s like a security blanket, which ultimately I know don’t need.
A great article Jane for further consideration on how I shop and how I can simplify my diet and not waste food. I usually shop for the week at the local market and sometimes at the end of the week there are some foods that I have not used, so shopping every few days for what my body needs makes more sense.
“Fresh produce does not need fancy cooking, the taste comes from the freshness.” This is powerful statement and so true.
From experience I know when I compromise on the quality of anything, it is not as satisfying and I end up wanting more or try to find ways for embellishing it.
Fresh produces do have so much flavour some with out much cooking, the natural freshness and the smell. Their is more nutrients in the natural produce, we start to kill the nutrients when we start cooking, there for over cooked food may taste good but with little or none nutrients.
This is a great exposé of our relationship with food – it’s not a healthy one.
I agree and our relationship with food is reflected in our relationship with our environment too. Every choice we make has a direct impact on everything else but it is not always immediately obvious especially when we are not embracing energetic responsibility.
It would also enhance our connection to community because we would need to shop more often and therefore there would be a call for the return of the local grocer with locally grown produce. I love this – what a great plan.
Thank you Jane, you give me something new here to ponder on. I never really thought about this but it is very logical indeed. If we put all food in cans and plastic it is bad for the environment and we not really need that if we live according to our natural cycles.
These are unfathomable statistics relating to plastic packaging and pollution- wow, more than stars in our beautiful galaxy! What are we doing to our particles with the food substances used to preserve food with some ridiculously long sell by dates (2 years plus for some).
“An illustration of the sheer magnitude of the problem is that as much as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – pollute the seas.” (1)
It is useful to have an indication of how long something has been sitting on the shop shelf – but who determines the use by date of an item and what that means.
‘Sell by’ dates are a great example of how we have disconnected from the world around us and what to buy and eat that would support our bodies. Instead we tend to shop less frequently and feed our bodies foods that do not support us and are so out of touch with the food we are consuming that we have to be guided about when it is no longer safe to eat it. Removing sell by dates would encourage more responsible buying and eating so definitely worth exploring.
Creating (tampering with) food to make it last longer and then stockpiling comes from a place in us that feels empty and seeks to fill up the space, not with anything of substance but with all that keeps us dull so as not to feel the emptiness we create when we withdraw from the love that we are. Until we address this root cause we will continue to have increasing rates of obesity, bulimia, anorexia, diabetes, exhaustion and general lack of vitality as we turn a blind eye to what is really at play when we eat to ‘fill space’ and not for true nourishment.
That statistic of the microbeads in the sea is so awful to feel how we have just accepted the abuse of our food chain all for comfort and convenience. We are without doubt the most obnoxious living animal on this planet. It’s really shocking when you look at the mass destruction we have caused.
It makes a lot of sense, but of course will only come from the public, the people, as longer sell by dates means more profit for businesses. To make the change will require education and a willingness to put our health first. You would think this would be a no brainer but time has shown us that wellbeing is not currently high on the priority list as evidenced by the soaring rates of diabetes that Jane highlights.
Indeed Stephen the drug dealers are only where they are at because of the demand from addicts – it’s a game we’ve mastered to keep us where we’re at.
Thank you Jane, working in a supermarket I can tell you the amount of brands, types and variations of one particular food is just crazy… one day we will return to simplicity ????
It is ridiculous the length of time food can last when it is pumped full of preservatives. Years ago I lived in a flat and someone had dropped a sweet on the stairs a couple of floors down, and that sweet was there for two years without even changing in shape or colour. At the time we found it amusing because even the ants did not want this sweet, but it is actually horrifying to know that these things and more are going into our bodies.
Our food and how complex we have made it, with all the choices that are there, is one reflection of how society is nowadays, also very complex and far from simplicity.
It is just so not possible to separate this issue surrounding food away from the rest of our life and there’s a whole industry more than willing to support and feed our want for convenience and speed and we have learnt to cut corners and compromise quality, and food is only a part of this trend. It is rather surreal because we have access to various food that we probably wouldn’t have even heard of 20 years ago and food has elevated itself as a culture of sort, and we seem to have grown more willing to ingest what doesn’t agree with our body as long as it fills up our emptiness and satisfies our taste buds.
It’s an interesting topic to ponder on, when I was growing up we knew what was seasonal but now apart from some fruits i’m not sure what is seasonal. Where I live we have foods transported in from warmer climate countries so when I think about it we are eating to another area and not our own. When listening to our body we naturally choose foods that support us for a day, week, season etc. In winter I naturally move to more warm hearty meals to support my body to stay warm.
There have been so many simple options to change by our food choices etc. We know sugar is not good for us, all the preservatives are a bit much and too much food is not good either, but we keep eating it. Wouldn’t it be also a question of do we really want to change?
It makes sense to live by the dictation of our body in our choice to eat, what to eat and how much. The hunter gather yakked only what is needed and then gets on with what is at hand, this feels like it is our natural way..
This is a great artifle Jane. Comes with the wisdom of shopping and knowing what to get to support us as well as how much to get – to be in the flow for the week. I agree it’s important to eat our food at its freshest quality, so sharpening our relationships with these things brings a great deal to our bodies and family.
We think we have improved life and made it easier but what you show here it that we have made it more complex and less and less according to our natural making.
I love the straight forward common sense of what you share, Jane. I have been aware of the problem with plastic, the sea and wild life for some time, but it was only in preparing to teach the topic with the children in my class I realised that of course the micro-plastic particles come back to us via the food chain in the fish and sea food that we eat… so we are of course also polluting ourselves… (and that’s without the extra sugar, salt, and number of preservatives.) A call to come back to a simpler way of living with our food is very needed…
It is certainly something we don’t consider Rachel, how our carelessness with our waste actually ends up in our food chain. We certainly need more education on this, and how our toxic behaviours are destroying our natural world as well as our health.
Our relationship with food, the process of production, marketing, preservation, packaging etc is telling of how we live as a society in general. While we intend to streamline production and working processes, be more efficient and simplify a lot of things through e.g. technology life has become much more complex and complicated. Against any faith in the future and high hopes of improving life with the modern means, it seems we move further away from the simplicity that allows for more space, quality and focus on humaneness and brotherhood.
I agree Alex, perfectly put – we do have a tendency as a species to complicate situations of which food is but one great example. I remember a naturopath said to me once ‘if your grandma would not recognise it as food, don’t eat it’, and I thought this was good advice!
Through simplicity we know God and through complexity we avoid him.
This last line can also be expressed as – ‘Through simplicity we know truth and through complexity we avoid it.’
It seems there is method to the denial of truth/God on a global scale. We know precisely what to do to not know how to undo what we want to change because of the suffering we have created by being out of touch with truth and simplicity.
When we consider the levels of obesity, ill health and pollution of our environment (and our bodies) and regard this along side the shift in food-buying patterns, food branding/marketing and advertising over the last 30-40 years, there is no denying there could very well be a correlation between the two. What you propose here Jane is simple; eat fresh, seasonal and make the time to shop (look after one self) on a more regular and consistent basis – and we could well see a shift in the health of nations
Rosanna, you are right – the extra effort to use these ingredients more than repays itself in the higher energy levels we then have.
You offer some great ponderings here Jane! Changing how we shop for food would change our relationship with it entirely, not just how we plan, cook and eat it but how we feel within our bodies after all those things and how we relate to ourselves too.
I am totally with you on this one Jane. I also find the wastage of foods hard to accept. When a food is on it’s sell by date supermarkets take it off the shelves whether it is perfectly edible or not. It has to go so tonnes of food is wasted every week this way.
What this blog reveals is how easy/tempting is to avoid a relationship with the whole we are nonetheless buying into and are affected by.
Sure Eduardo, it is the temptation and the avoidance of having a relationship with the whole that has led us to the situation with food we experience today. But that also means there is a way out. When we let go that temptation and choose to be consciously be part of the whole instead, we can change things, sometimes even faster than we can imagine what can be possible.
Our bodies would definitely benefit with much less chemicals and preservatives in them. And if we started to buy more organic produce or went to the local market, there are no use by dates on those veggies. There is something about shopping in this way also, it is much more enjoyable and you definitely need to be more focussed on what you feel to cook but its really more like how we used to shop many years ago when I was younger. We used to have the butcher and the grocer come to your door, and of course the milkman and baker. There was no real need to go to a supermarket. And a lot of families grew their own veggies.
This is great to read Jane as I have pondering on this topic a lot lately. I have always wondered what is in a packaged cake that it can have a six month expiry date and who on earth would want to eat it when its expiry is almost up? It appears that food is being produced for those with a busy lifestyle who think that they have no time to shop for fresh produce and the demand is definitely there from the public for instant food, fast food and comfort food; no wonder our worldwide health statistics are making very shocking reading.
The busy lifestyles cause rush, anxiousness and stress on the body and then compounded with eating pre-packaged, instant foods that dull awareness and are addictive with substances like sugar and salt to prolong a long shelf life– the cravings for more of the same is another downward spiral in the true health and wellbeing –mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
It is fascinating and very telling to compare the lifespan of a spray-free lettuce to one purchased from the supermarket. The demand has been and continues to be for convenience above all else with a myriad of pressing lifestyle factors contributing to this, and with that the notion of fresh food is desirable only on the condition that it is packaged and ‘prolonged’.
Food has lost its simplicity, because life has lost its simplicity. When we make our lives simple again, the wonder and joy of real food, fresh, nourishing and vibrant becomes just part of our normal everyday way.
Great blog Jane. What I find alarming is foods that should normally go off quite quickly like fruits and vegetables actually stay looking ‘fresh’ for weeks. This is partly because of genetic modifications and also the irradiation process. Our food really has been messed with.
Great points Debra, indeed even the fresh foods may look artificial as well!
Yes that is a great point Debra and also some apparently not fresh food such as frozen vegetables can be frozen when they are fresh so may even be fresher than so called fresh food that was interfered with. It always comes down to our choice and discernment about what we eat and very often it is emotions we eat that cause us more harm than the food.
A lot of consumables that are found in supermarkets today are actually not truly fit for human consumption; some are mainly a concoction of salt, sugar, cheap gluten and some artificial flavours with a minimum percentage of ‘real’ food thrown in for the consistency. Would we be much better off without these consumables and to what degree would that then make a dent in our ever worsening lifestyle-driven illness and disease statistics?
Have you ever gone to be supermarket and seen foods close to their sell by date they do not look fresh at all but they are still sold at full price! I have noticed that with many things including meats and fish which actually smell too even though they are ok to eat. Have we accepted a lower quality and care in our food and hence in the quality of what we eat?
I know from experience that when I don’t value myself I can go looking for reduced items in the supermarkets as if thats all I am worth. Yesterday was a prime example as I found a packet of Rhubarb for 29p (normally £2.20) but it was rotten on the ends and clearly past it’s best! I stopped in that moment and said No, I don’t deserve that quality even if I could ‘just cuts the ends off’. I went for the full priced, fresh rhubarb as I held myself in a higher value in that moment.
Great point Joshua, this shows me a few things, one is that people buy the long life items, the ready meals and not the fresh produce as otherwise the fresh items would not be near their sell by date. So not only do we end up eating foods that don’t’ truly support us we then leave all the foods that do to rot, which in-turn puts up the price to cover waste and becomes a cycle of lower quality.
I would say from my own observations that the packaging of food and preserving of food is a commercial decision based on making as much profit as possible from the supermarkets for if food lasts on shelves longer they can keep the stock longer so that is one factor. We need to change our whole attitude towards food in general from being something that is comforting fuel and a commodity to something that can really nourish and support our bodies.
I agree Andrew, We just need more health stores in our communities, a real health store being a greengrocer that sells fruit and veg. I wondered whether we also have to accept paying a little more money for our food. But then I thought, well actually probably not as the smaller suppliers are not normally looking to make as much profit as the big companies, and I know from my own experience that shopping in smaller local stores is often actually cheaper.
I agree Jane years ago we used to buy what was needed and nearly all foods were local produce, now we have food flown in from all around the world. While it may give us more variety and the opportunity to have foods out of season this has meant we don’t have to listen to our body and feel into what food is needed to nourish and support us.
Great point you make, with food flown in from around the world we are confusing our bodies even more, not listening to what the body is asking for but getting caught in temptation, desires and over-riding what the body truly wants.
Sell by dates…. I like this article! I find it quite shocking how long things are made to last.. but at what expense. To make them last they are fumigated and packed and this and that extra ingredient added and none of that is good for us. I try to only buy food that doesn’t have all the added nastiness in it but it seems to be quite challenging at times as sugar for example and salt, seems to be in everything in addition to preservatives xyz.
Jane I feel everyone has got so used to the convenience of produced being available in many ways, they have not actually stopped to consider the packaging or the chemicals they have gone through to prolong the life of the food.
“What if we bought and prepared food and ate by listening to our own body, feeling what to eat, what to buy, how to buy it in accordance with the natural rhythm of our body?” Now there’s an idea worth progressing! If we listened to our body would we have that second slice of cake – or indeed eat cake in the first place?! Back in the 1950s I would go shopping with my mother nearly every day and we would queue at different counters to buy and pay for butter, bread etc. Yet there were far fewer shops than there are today. Today most people have at least a smallish shop nearby where they live or work. It is thus possible to purchase fresh foods a few times a week. No need for packaged food filled with preservatives…. and far more healthy.
“Sell by dates are passed their sell by date?” This is an interesting point – if someone asked me what foods and vegetables were seasonal I wouldn’t actually know! While I love the idea of a more old fashioned way of shopping where food is fresh and preservative free but that option is not readily available to us. I would say the quality we choose, prepare and cook our food in is equally as important as the packaging and preservatives in it, and our ability to tune into exactly what nutritional needs our body has that day.
It is an interesting point Meg, what is seasonal. I have always liked going to local markets to buy foods and you get to know a bit more about what is seasonal when you talk to the grocers, but they too still buy their produce from importers, so most of the year what is on offer is the same. Interestingly often when the more local produce (anything grown in the UK) comes into season the price is usually a little higher! I do agree though what is key is ‘our ability to tune into exactly what nutritional needs our body has that day.’
I love going to the local fruit and veg market as I learn so much about the foods which are in season. The other day when I went the stalls they were full with brightly coloured strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and the owner of the stall was telling me that it was too mild to cut the curly kale that morning and he would only cut it if the temperature dropped. I also find that when I buy products like broccoli covered in plastic it goes off quicker than when it is loose because of the damp that the plastic holds.
Yes so true and sadly so many of us end up eating food which has virtually no nutritional value even believing it’s healthy.
Great point Jane, I feel we as a society to just eat without even really stopping to understand that what we eat will effect us in different ways if we do not eat nutritious foods.
Yes, we bring little consideration or awareness to the fact that our bodies need a certain balance of nutrients and when we are eating the wrong food for our body, even if it is seemingly healthy we are still causing harm. It is only when we tune in to what our bodies are telling us we need and couple this with awareness of nutritional values that we start to have real understanding of what will support us.
There is a lot of irresponsibility that is marketed with eating and how often we eat. When we fall for these ideals and beliefs rather than stopping to feel what is right for us we are adding to the current world trend of escalating ill health and disease.
I grew up with parents who owned a considerable hobby vegetable patch and was amazed at the conversation they would have over planting that always revolved around the moon phase displayed in the local paper delivery. My father would cut out this page and pop it on the bench and together my parents would plant seasonal vegetables that I had the joy of eating growing up. Reading this blog has allowed me to appreciate the old ways and how far we have come from living that level of connection to the land and to ourselves.
Its interesting a lot of the older generation can still talk about food in season, however I have no clue what is in season or not. Just goes to show how much has changed over the years and how quickly we have lost the connection to nature and seasonal produce.
The conversations are a marker of how the connection to nature and the cycles were a way people lived. Not looking to consume or produce what was not in tune with this order.
I love shopping at our local Harris Farm Market, which always has an array of very fresh, in season fruits and vegetables and they send out a weekly update on what is in season and what’s on special. For example there is an over supply of garlic at the moment so it’s about a quarter of the price it normally is!