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!
I recently viewed a video of the pollution of plastic carried on the ocean tides from one side of the world to the other. The volume was beyond staggering and the abuse and devastation this inflicts upon wildlife and land is totally shocking.
“You only have to watch the news to see how far plastic travels and the dangers it poses to sea life”.
The simplicity of food shopping and preparing our meals has changed dramatically over the years as has the length of time food is stored on the shelves and the seasonal products that are available all year round grown from around the world . Sugar is added to everything and the connection we have with each other from local stores has decreased also leaving us all lost in connection with what is really going on , our rhythms and our relationships. What a great sharing Jane for us all to ponder on and take note to make more loving choices that really can make a difference.
“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?” We can learn so much from nature – if we lived and ate in tune with what was seasonal and fresh rather than eating so much processed, prepared and packaged food, this would undoubltedy increase societies current state of health. Clean and simple – its a great place to start.
I’ve had some Granny Smith apples in my larder for almost 2 weeks now and they look the same as when I bought them. Yet, the next door neighbour has an apple tree and the apples are decomposing so much more quickly (and naturally)…What exactly are we ingesting from supermarket shopped products?
Most people do care about the environment and are worried about the plastic waste that is polluting oceans and the earth. A simple solution to this might be giving to charities who take care of this yet we are at the same time buying many products every week that are packaged in plastic. The hardest thing about taking responsibility for many is that it starts with ourselves, our choices of what we buy, how much and how it is packaged. I also noticed most unhealthy products are packaged the most so cutting back on those would benefit both our bodies and our environment. True answers do serve the all so us, the planet and the environment.
There were times in the past when people had to preserve food in order to survive the winter, they did this by salting, for instance salt beef, pickling using vinegar, and sugar for fruit. This was in the many thousands of years before fridges. When I was growing up very few people had fridges, but of course they did have access to many foods in the winter, whereas in the Middle Ages it could be a matter of life or death. But now we do not need those survival tools theses days, yet many still believe they have to stock up in various ways. It is an ingrained habitual behaviour that it is time to shed, and the only way to turn this pattern around is to become aware of why we did it in the past and so be able to choose another way relevant to now.
I love this question Jane – “When did we start to make the simple act of purchasing food so complicated?”
I recently travelled away from home and stayed wth some friends and was really inspired by the simplicity in which they eat. They shop every 2-3 days and the contents of their fridge was very basic – some proteins (lamb/fish) and some greens (spinach, beans, broccoli…). With some herbs and spices, chilli and spring onions, simple and delicious meals were cooked and enjoyed. It was super simple, super tasty and super inspiring.
I reflected on my own fridge, and saw how I ‘stock pile’ which can work when I am super busy but also I ‘stock pile’ when it is not needed as well.
I have observed the stockpiling of food as well Jane. In fact there was a period in my life where I did something similar. Fortunately I have always lived in houses where I have not been able to sd this. But I could still feel that need within my own body. I looked at ways I could prepare things myself – almost needing to be self sufficient. Actually even though it looks different there is a very similar quality here.
Good questions Jane. Interestingly I don’t think I know what is in season and what is not any more because I have spent so many years being able to get and eat exactly what I want. You have offered me a new perspective which I will bring into my awareness as I shop now. Perhaps this will be impulsed from my body and I will instinctively know what is in season and what is not – either way – a new day dawns!
How fresh, literally, would life be if we removed all the processed and preserved foods from the shelves and had a diet that was full of the things our body is naturally designed to eat. It would be great to do an experiment like this, and thinking about it, that’s what our family does in the food it buys.. when we talk about the health crisis, the kids not concentrating at schools and all the issues of the world.. what if we started to address the route of them, the underlying problems including why we have set up our society to be so sugar dependent – one of many hundreds of little things that make a huge difference to how each person feels.
Yes Jane, some great points and some even greater pointers for the direction we might head with our food production and choices if we are to reverse the current trend, as you illustrate. Bringing life back to simplicity is an essential part of restoring something fundamental that we have lost, and learning to listen to our bodies again is a very good start to that process.
If we did buy and prepare food and eat 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 so many so called ‘food’ chains would be out of business very quickly. After all it is only ever about demand and supply .
I was recently on holiday in France and I really enjoyed going to shops where a lot of the fruit and veggies were fresh and loose and not in packaging so you could feel and assess the quality and choose which ones you wanted. It also felt different to go to the shops every couple of days and buy a smaller amount of fresh food and eat it over the next couple of days rather than a larger shop of food for weeks.
I have noticed that buying food in shops these days has become more about buying a product based on its looks or packaging than on the quality of the food inside. It also seems to me that the majority of the products that are in supermarkets these days are completely unnecessary in terms of nourishing and supporting our bodies.
This blog reminds me of the far reaching impacts of every choice. We may think our choice to eat biscuits only affects us but in truth we pollute our bodies and the environment. There is no escaping it.
Chomp, chomp, chomp, munch, munch, munch, I’ve eaten my way into not being able to feel so many times. Food’s a drug there’s no two ways about it.
Last week I bought some lamb cutlets. The amount of packaging around them was significantly excessive. The thought occurred to me not to buy them because of the excessive packaging but I wanted them so I bought them. And this is the crux of the issue. Until we say no as consumers then we keep saying yes!
Jane such a great sharing and awareness on sell by dates food and packaging coming from how we shop nowadays and the variety year long products of every aspect and season being the same. It has become the norm to live this way of supermarkets stock piling and the lack of knowing what is seasonal products and our natural education of this.
Growing ones own vegetables and shopping in markets is a real treat rarity and knowing of the quality in our lives and the lack of preservatives and sugars added to all this is huge.
Thank you Jane… so what we are knocking on the door of here is of course a giant industry with an enormous investment. And so advocating anything else could seem futile, and yet articles like this are exactly what is needed as bit by bit, we start to return to a livingness in our life rather than an existence
It’s scary what we as a society have become used to. If we are not old enough to remember when shopping for food was as simple as you describe then we know no different to the complexity of how it is now.
“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 certainly know that when I do that Jane I don’t get bloating in my tummy and that digestion is clear because of the way I’m digesting life – in natural rhythm.. the really healthy way to eat and to live.
In such a short period of time so much has changed and we have become entirely dependent on preservatives, long shelf lives and a constant wide variety of food rather than having a relationship with the natural cycles of the food
Great points you raise here Jane, that we are really using the longer sell by dates, so that we don’t have to take more responsibility for our own diet and what goes on in our bodies. We really don’t have to look at these dates, when as you say we reall.y do know what foods are good, what is ok to eat or not.
There is also an argument that anything fresh is good for us, but I consider some of the natural food I have eaten over the years with wheat and dairy and such like in it. The sweetness of honey and the effects on my body, and I get to see that eating fresh is only the start of the food journey. Then it is a case of responding to the feelings that are given out from the body, not always an easy thing to do given the array of messages we are strongly fed about what is good for us to eat. Thank you Jane, such an important discussion.
ha ha Stephen what can I say but yes, and we also need to discern the messages our body is giving us…mine would eat fresh fruit all day given half a chance but my pancreas doesn’t thank me for it! Goodness, food is a monster topic!
I have previously considered that we can use the length of sell by dates as a marker of how preserved/ additive added a food is. Generally, I would say this sell by date also relates to how vibrant and healthful a food will feel once it’s in your body, like the fuel we put in our cars. Why go for cheap substitutes when we can have high octane foods?
I have recently been in America and had a pretty interesting experience with food. I went to a supermarket that is also in the UK and positioned as a ‘health supermarket’ but in the US – it was the same as any other market – I found it interesting how many sweet things you could buy. In my travels. for the first time, we stayed in apartments only and cooked our own fresh food. And it was interesting to observe how much more I felt. It was pretty crazy and intense, but it really did show me how much more comfortable my trips have been in the past because I had food to dull me. So it is no wonder we eat the way we do when we see the world and where it is at. But it is a constant choice for us to say ‘yes’ to love and to the possibility of feeling more and eating less foods that can dull me.
I find it quite scary how some foods can look fine way past their sell by dates when naturally grown food only stays fresh for a couple of days. It would be amazing if we could eliminate all the foods our bodies don’t need and put all that energy in to producing fresh, healthy un-messed with foods that are accessible to all at reasonable prices.
This is scary! And I too have wondered wouldn’t it be great to put real care into the foods we eat so we can feel the difference. Simple recipes with amazing nourishing foods grown in healthy soils full of nutrients. No need for GM foods or bleaching garlic!
The extent of our processed food industry is evidence of just how far off the beaten track we have wandered. When studying the ingredients of many popular food items, it is plain to see that they are stuffed with artificial ingredients that bombard our bodies with chemicals that screw up the delicate hormonal and neurological systems. This in turn prompts us to desperately grasp for quick fix remedies in a vain attempt to restore equilibrium to our bodies. When we return to a fresh and simple diet, we allow our bodies to resume their natural running order, delicately tuned to the rhythm of the day and hugely appreciative of correct nutrition with which to accomplish all we ask of them.
The way that we produce food and packaging is a direct reflection of the absolute irresponsibility that we live with. In a nutshell it basically says that we care little about either ourselves or our environment.
I have a garden that is full of greens – lettuce, kale, silverbeet, rocket, herbs…When I’ve shared the excess with friends I’ve often had comments that it doesn’t last very long. Which is true it doesn’t. But this is the way it is. It makes me wonder what happens to supermarket food that a lettuce can last for weeks in the fridge. It is quite convenient but not really natural.
Very good point Nikki – what is really added to our food to make it so ‘durable’ or to make meat look bigger or to make fish a more appealing colour. Longer sell by dates could be hiding a whole host of other factors we may wish to be more aware of instead.
Most of us would rather eat a good looking plate of food that doesn’t taste fantastic rather than a plate of misshapen vegetables that taste great, we’re so influenced by what our eyes see and this is a massive problem, not just with food stuffs but with each other. We sum each other up in the blink of an eye and for most of us other people have to work damn hard at convincing us that they’re anything other than what we’ve deemed them to be.
Love this article, so much I just shared it around. This is a great factual account of where our food is heading and when I say food I mean where we are heading. I watch the patterns of how we consume particularly around our food habits. You only need look at our shopping trolleys to see where our focus is when it comes to taking care of how we each. There is a big focus on longevity and shelf stability but less and less focus on true quality. I have noticed the older you are the less you consume and in real term the more you shop. Doesn’t make sense? What I am saying is that the older you are you seem to shop more and buy less and only shop for what you need over the next few days or week at most. In making life so so busy we change how we consume. I would love to see the peel back of everything around food and the quality of our habits and it all starts in my pantry, thank you.
I remember when I was a very young child, world hunger and starvation was one of the greatest concerns for humanity, and had been for many years. Now, only 2 decades later and we are facing the crisis of obesity, something about this unbalance has to be wrong and until we begin to get honest with our very fraught relationship with food will it begin to be addressed.
We buy all our vegetables from a local fruit and vegetable shop run by a family, who have lived in the area forever, connected to it is a butcher that sells the best lamb ever. They get fresh produce Mondays and Thursdays so we shop on those days, no packaging, except plastic bags to carry it all home in. I love the simplicity and community feel of the shop, we know the family really well and often there are other friends in the shop. Reading your blog has inspired me to buy some hessian bags to transport the goodies instead of plastic, so thanks Jane for your blog.
I have recently been buying more of my fresh food from a small local shop where the food is not packaged and is naturally ripened. I love the feel of the shop, and although some of the food may not last as long as the pre- packaged stuff from the supermarkets, but boy it tastes and feels so much better when I eat those items.
The relentless search for ever longer lasting bread has seen the manipulation of the gluten molecule over the years, genetically modifying it to be longer and even less digestible so that now we can store a loaf of bread for a week or more whereas I remember the fresh French Baguette that was stale the next day. Convenient yes, but more and more indigestible and this goes a long way to understanding why more and more of us are gluten intolerant.
Obesity world-wide has reached epidemic proportions and underlying causes must be addressed before we can reduce rising rates. . Feelings of need, hurt, inadequacy loneliness, lead to overeating and drinking for comfort or to numb the pain. Some people, unable to address the root cause of over eating, opt for a surgical procedure to shrink the size of their stomach. This is a quick fix solution, not a commitment to find long lasting answers.
In the supermarket I go to broccoli wrapped in cling film is more expensive than when it is loose, what is the purpose of all the packaging we have today? Who started thinking it was a good idea to produce so much packaging. Bring back the days of all loose food and less options that are packed full of sugar, salt and preservatives.
Whoo… this will set the whole current food industry on its head as we will return from the global multinationals back to the local markets and suppliers, there where it used to be in the past which was much more natural to our being.
There is a lot to be said for buying fresh food regularly instead of stockpiling with preservative -loaded items. We can support the process of going in this direction by doing it ourselves, relying less on packaged food and selecting fresh produce . . but not getting rigid about it and using packaged food when needed. I love the farmer’s market where people come in with fresh Tuscan Kale picked that morning – truly delicious. My son-in-law who is a well-known chef gets fresh food daily for his restaurant – he goes down to meet the fishing boats before they go to the markets and buys whatever has been caught last night –doesn’t even freeze fish for the next day (though I must say I freeze fish myself). He grows rocket, lettuce and kale on the roof of the restaurant in the middle of the city.
My parents are living on a small island off the coast of France at the moment and the majority of the produce is local which means it is all seasonal. It feels lovely to visit them and eat this way as it feels so natural and means that we enjoy the change of season and appreciate and enjoy what is available then.
Yes, this is a gorgeously natural way to eat. It’s sad that we have come so far away from this way of eating.
Recently I was in a farm shop buying food to take back to London with me because all of their produce is picked that day or the day before. It tastes so much better than vacuum packed produce, crisp, fresh and really flavoursome.