Why I love food

People think I am weird – in fact they have always thought this.  You see, when it comes to food, my habits are not very typical.

When I was a child, my mother refused to allow us any processed foods. Instead, we were fed home grown, home cooked and foraged fare. We rarely had crisps and sweets were a treat on a Saturday.

When my friends came over for dinner they were presented with fruit and vegetables grown in the garden organically and even homemade blackcurrant cordial. It was a common occurrence for my mum to slam on the brakes of the car and reverse back to pick up some freshly killed pheasant or deer from the side of the road (I grew up in the countryside!)

In fact, my earliest experience of anatomy lessons were the ones my mum, a biology teacher, gave me when she was gutting a deer on the kitchen table.  We foraged mushrooms and berries; in fact, I made some welcome pocket money selling Chanterelle mushrooms to the local hotels!

Homemade is best

Everything we ate was homemade from the bread, pies and pastries to the puddings, ice creams, jams and jellies. I learned to cook at a young age with my mum’s rule being that although she wouldn’t buy any biscuits or cakes, I could cook anything I liked, whenever I liked. This freedom to experiment in the kitchen gave me confidence to try out anything.  I soon became very efficient at making myself a quick snack of pancakes, biscuits or even a cake. As a family we communicated best over a hot stove or round the kitchen table at mealtimes.

When I went to high school my home economics teacher laughed at me for taking in a bag full of homemade chicken stock when my mum refused to buy stock cubes for the soup we were making – we never used stock cubes! She then turned her nose up at my fruit salad which was red with frozen berries and berry juice instead of the sugar syrup she had added to her fruit. As you can imagine this didn’t do much to help me fit in!

At University I continued my cooking – making birthday cakes for friends, teaching flat mates how to cook – I never had to buy processed foods to get by. I still made a roast dinner for myself – choosing a smaller poussin as my meat with lots of fresh veg. The poussin would provide me with meat for another day and I love the challenge of leftovers – always trying new recipes to excite my taste buds. The carcass was never thrown out and instead made me chicken stock for my homemade soups – a pot a week of a different soup has been a long serving habit. I found that despite my high fruit and veg consumption I still spent less than my flat mates on food as I was happy to make a larger pot of food which would be split into several portions. I bought cheaper cuts of meat and made them go further by adding lots of vegetables.

As a junior doctor I would often make myself food to take to work. I remember the only good thing about my night shift when in A&E, was the lovely piece of quiche I made to keep me going in the middle of the night. When I bought my first flat, I went to the market and found an old Kenwood Chef for £5 for making my cakes extra light and fluffy.

Junk food is not for me

My love of food is equalled by my dislike of processed food; of course, I have eaten junk food over the years but very little and I have not enjoyed it. The flavour of shop bought cakes and biscuits is not a patch on home cooked equivalents with much better ingredients. I avoid sweeteners (they give me a headache!) and I don’t drink fizzy drinks which yet again makes me “weird” (except beer!)

In some ways my love of good food has also made life difficult – I can’t stand poorly made food which means that most restaurants do nothing for me and I don’t see why I should pay for food which is worse quality than I make at home. When I was in hospital having my children, I brought a bag of food with me and ensured my husband brought in extra food for dinner as I found the hospital fare so unpalatable.

Over the years my interest in food has grown. I grow my own organic fruit and veg, I delight in filling the store cupboard with jars of homemade jams and jellies, and I fill my freezer with berries grown in the summer to dip into over the cold winter evenings. My husband started brewing delicious beer and my bread maker is one of the hardest working appliances in the house, creating delicious organic wholegrain breads for us. I even make my own muesli, packed full of extra seeds and nuts.

I have kids of my own now and through baby led weaning I introduced them to a wide variety of foods at a very young age. My 12-year-old can competently cook meals and especially loves baking. During lockdown and holidays, she made baguettes, focaccia, rolls, cakes, and salads for her dad and siblings for lunch.

My kids love wandering around the garden munching on fresh fruit and veg and mealtimes are a highlight of the day. They too feel weird amongst their peers since they are the only ones in their class who haven’t eaten in McDonalds or don’t take crisps and sweets to school most days. Packed lunches are a sandwich with cheese or hummus with vegetables and fresh fruit or homemade soup with fruit (which is what my husband and I take to work every day) – quite a contrast to the lunch boxes of their friends.

My food habits are a way of life for me and my family. I think about food more than many other things. I get a great sense of enjoyment eating the freshly prepared meals I make and seeing the faces of my family light up when I bring out the dinner. These days I eat a wholefood plant-based diet which is full of variety and flavour.

I delight in the changing seasons and my meals reflect this change. I am at my most relaxed when I am chopping veg and preparing meals – normally listening to my favourite music!

So, I have decided that being weird is ok with me after all.

Dr Sheena Fraser