Just Eat the Effing Sandwich

Possibly the best (effing) sandwich I've ever had in my days - toasted ciabatta with crispy bacon, avo, melted brie and caramelised onions. It was from Motherland Coffee in St George's Mall. I still think about it.
Possibly the best (effing) sandwich I’ve ever had in my days – toasted ciabatta with crispy bacon, avo, melted brie and caramelized onions. It was from Motherland Coffee in St George’s Mall. I still think about it.

Before I sat down at my computer right now I made myself a sandwich. As in, put things between two slices of thick, fresh bread (real mayo, cheddar cheese, cucumber, tomato, rocket and a bit of chutney, if you want to know), and not flaxseed ‘bread’ or cauliflower ‘bread’ or ‘bread’ made from dried, ground psyllium husks (what the hell is that anyway?), but the kind we used to eat back in the day made from wheat and yeast. Pretty retro, huh? And while I actually sat down to work on something else entirely, the strangeness of sitting down to eat a real-life sandwich struck me enough that I changed my plan and started writing about that instead.

Because the thing is, three months ago this sandwich would have made me quake. I mean, it’s a carb, for the love of god, and everyone knows carbs are very, very bad. Very. And believing this to be true, I would have substituted the best part for, well, anything. More lettuce. Seeds. Those psyllium husks. Anything but eating the bread part of that meal because if I did I believed I’d basically be obese or dead or both within the week. But bacon was fine. Oh, chow down, sister. Bacon’s not a carb. Neither is chicken skin or steak or butter or coconut oil. All of these things? Hunky damn dory. But a slice of melba toast? Well, you might as well go in a dark room and mainline arsenic.

And I don’t know, in this age of information, how we human beings can still be so stupid. Okay, maybe stupid is harsh, but why we fall so enthusiastically, so uncritically for these fads and trends instead of just using our noggins and good, old-fashioned common sense. And I totally include myself in the idiocy because I have done every. One. Of. These. Diets. Looking, as I was, for the holy grail of eating – the key, the trick that would let me stop fighting with food and therefore myself. And I ate the eggs and forewent the toast (so yuck, right?) and turned down the banana in favour of the smoked sausage. I mean, does any part of turning down a banana make sense? Potassium. Fibre. Nature’s own pre-packaged snack food. Perfect. A lot perfect-er than that piece of processed meat.

Because actually sitting down to an entire sheep at one sitting is not okay just because you skipped the mash. Putting butter on your 500 gram T-bone isn’t fine because you had spinach instead of chips. It’s greedy and it’s stupid and it’s killing the planet. Do we even think about what it costs in energy terms to get that cow onto our plates? And putting that amount of fat and protein into our bodies just can’t be healthy. I refuse to believe it is. It’s one of those cases of if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.

I’m not a dietician, but I write about food and think about food and eat food a lot. And, because it’s something that interests me, I read books about nutrition and talk to people who are dieticians and doctors and have made it their life work to help us be healthy and when I ask them what they think of Banting and LCHF the sensible ones shake their heads in collective despair. For sure, no question we were eating too much grain (thank you, marketing campaigns of the 90s). We don’t need all that wheat and rye and barley and the kak that gets added to it. But removing all carbs is extreme and counter-intuitive and, frankly, cray. There is no way a sandwich filled with avo and salad is worse for you than a three egg omelette with bacon and a half kilo of cheese. Or that the fat of the (probably hormone fed) steak is better for your body than a nutrition-packed sweet potato. It just doesn’t make sense.

The other day I was chatting to a restaurateur friend of many years – someone who runs a few of the most successful eateries in Cape Town, and who’s made a very good career out of feeding people. And we talked about trends and food fads and the future, he told me something that made so much sense. He said, on the way out are the days where people will sit down and gorge themselves on a huge piece of steak and this is because we are becoming more mindful of what meat really is and where it comes from. We want to know it’s from a reputable farm where the animals are treated humanely and not pumped full of drugs and rubbish. Quality is replacing quantity, and it’s about damn time.

Contrary to the greed that permeates our food culture now and has for some time, we human beings seem to slowly be gaining respect for the fact that an animal lost its life so we can have those pork chops for supper. And, what’s more, restaurant patrons of the future will be presented with a ‘Provenance Bible’ where they can see exactly where the food they are ordering was sourced – the meat, the fish, the eggs, the vegetables, the cheese. Transparency will become de rigueur and, with it, accountability and a growing interest in and awareness of what we are putting into our bodies.

And with that philosophy guiding us hopefully soon we’ll start to pare down; reduce our portions; order one plate of meat and share it amongst the table. In his words, we’ll go back to eating like our grandparents did – not endless sandwiches made from cheap government loaf, but a few slices of good bread baked with organic flour and natural ingredients, savoured and eaten in moderation. Fresh fruit and vegetables we’ve grown ourselves or bought at a market served raw or lightly seared. Fruit, nuts, home-made butter, organic olive oil. Happy food that our bodies recognise and know what to do with.

It’s okay to eat potatoes now and then. Few things in the universe are more delicious than a French fry. Just remember that they’re high in energy so don’t eat more than you’re going to expend. Have the odd plate of pasta. My god, it’s good for the soul. But mostly eat salad. Eat the stuff that comes in the best colours (not smarties). A little bit of meat now and again when you feel your body needs it. Because it’s not about how to get as much food down our throats as we can get away with and still look good in low-cut jeans. It’s about eating gently and living gently. And looking after ourselves and our environment. And saying no to factory farming – not supporting those mofos because it’s really not okay, the suffering that goes on there and that we all collectively condone.

So, having after immersed myself wholeheartedly in the madness of diets and weird eating trends for the past twenty years and having learnt many things from that experience, the ultimate conclusion I’ve come to is this: eat meat a little bit, but let it be special; a treat. Aim for a diet that’s simple and light on the body (and the soul). And when it comes to food (and life), practice mindfulness and humility. Stop all this radicalism and the weird, self-imposed rules like taking the freaking croutons out of the Caesar salad. They’re the best part. Banting gets it right-er because it’s about going back to basics, turning away from processed stuff and incorporating a bit of fat. But it’s too extreme. Cauliflower is not the truth and the light. There’s a middle road that I think we’ll get to when all this hype dies down. And what I’ve learnt from all of it is to eat the effing sandwich.

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