It's hard to escape all the apps and services delivering takeaways and food from almost any brand these days. But I can't help thinking this trend is taking us away from fresh produce and the social rituals that come from cooking.
This thought hit me particularly hard this week when I was out one evening with my son in London. There were Deliveroo drivers everywhere, taking food from various restaurants to people in all corners of the city. There's no doubt that services like these are connecting restaurants and people in new ways. But it made me wonder how many people were cooking at home with fresh produce at that moment in time. I sense it wasn't very many.
From a young age, cooking has been an important activity for my family and I. The ritual of cooking together - and getting people around the table to talk and eat - is really important. Takeaways and ready-made meals are making us lose this activity of cooking together, as well as providing us with less nourishing food.
Many fresh dishes can be made with just a handful of ingredients. When food is made safe to sit on the supermarket shelf, it has to go through a certain number of processes. As a result, food is overcooked in order to have a longer shelf life, and it has chemicals and more ingredients added for this very purpose.
The first two things I teach anyone at Brigade and the Beyond Food Foundation is to make soup and bread. Fresh soup shouldn't have more than about four or five ingredients in it, and the same goes for bread. Look at any soup or bread on the supermarket shelf and you'll often see 10 or 15 ingredients in each. I was in the supermarket the other day looking at the soups and you can almost visualise how they have been run down a conveyor belt, through miles of stainless steel tubing, ending up in a plastic pot.
Cooking together and eating good, energising produce feeds the body and mind. When the people on our Beyond Food Foundation programmes are getting their lives back together and are engaging in work for the first time in a long while, they need their bodies to be in tip-top condition. I discussed how food inspires our apprentices in more ways than one on BBC Radio London with Robert Elms (timestamp: 18:00 minutes) this week too. The first meal they ever eat with us is a carrot, almond and coconut soup. It's really bright, vibrant, velvety and luxurious. It's packed full of vitamins, minerals and goodness too. You can almost see the colour returning to peoples' faces when they eat it. We share it with a bit of fresh bread - tearing up a loaf and passing it around.
Making fresh meals such as soup and bread doesn't take long, so it's not something people should feel daunted about. I spent an afternoon with Bread Ahead this week to remind myself of this very fact. We're always making fresh bread at Brigade, but I wanted to soak up someone else's enthusiasm. We made rye bread and sourdough - it was really fun and I left with a great feeling. It reminded me of when I served honey and hemp seed bread on Dragon's Den - the dragons found it really compelling. Fresh food really does have a palpable effect on people.
I've noticed that the television often punctuates peoples' evenings. It can dictate how that precious time is spent, which leaves no time for cooking. But making a decision that your evening is going to be full of cooking and talking instead will only enrich your life as well as your health.
We're all guilty of feeling like we can't be bothered to cook in the evening. Sometimes I need a wake-up call too. But I do think we need to push back against the stream of fast food and ready-made meals. And sometimes it's the simplest things that do the trick, such as a hearty soup and a loaf of bread to warm up a chilly evening.
- Carrot, almond and coconut soup recipe
- Honey and hemp seed bread recipe, as served to the dragons on Dragon's Den
Using fresh ingredients is a priority for us at Brigade. Come and join us for our unique supper club - The Social Diner - on 2 March 2018, with £10 off when you use the code LOYALDINER03 at the checkout.
Receive Simon's latest blogs and other news directly in your inbox.