I am not sure how many of you watch Dr Gillian McKeith in You are what you eat
on Channel 4? She’s the weasel-faced nutritionist who obtained her ‘doctorate’ from the College of Complete Fraud at the University of Her Mum’s Front Room and now masquerades as nutritionist to the stars and the humble obese alike.
Well my first day as a Living Ghost has made me think a lot about food – and about Gillian McKeith. But mostly about food. When one embarks on such an endeavour it is always wise to be prepared. In this case I should have done my shopping for the week the night before. As it turned out, I woke up this morning realising that I had no food in the house. My flatmate rubbed it in by crunching loudly through his Jordan’s Crisp cereal and leaning protectively over his orange juice (with juicy bits) while I was forced to resort to break my fast in a way explicitly denounced by Dr McKeith as "a nasty shock to the digestive system" – namely by drinking a glass of tap water.
It seemed my digestive system was able to handle the shock, and it was that water that kept me going until I was able to purloin four quarters of a sandwich and a cherry tomato at a union meeting at lunchtime. Solidarity comrades!
Through the afternoon I ignored the rumblings in my stomach and the temptation to nip out to Marks and Spencers for my favourite combination of a Wensleydale cheese and caramelised carrot chutney sandwich with yoghurt and granola. And after work I cycled over to Asda to do the shopping.
I went in with a crisp £10 note and came out forty minutes later with £1.32 in change and sufficient food (in my estimation) to last me a week. Shopping like a Living Ghost was a fascinating experience. Usually I shop in the outer aisles of the supermarket – focusing on fairly-traded or organic fruit, veg, milk, cheese, fresh meat and bread - and rarely venture into the inner aisles. This time I shopped exclusively in the jungle of processed food in those inner aisles.
And normally I never bother to tot up the cost of my goods. Now I add every single purchase up on my calculator as I go round, living in mortal fear of the embarrassment of having to ‘put something back’ if I have made a mistake in my calculations and I go over £10.
So what you are all wondering is, what exactly can you buy for a tenner? In the end, my £8.68 bought me 39 items. The most expensive item – a tin of hamburgers in onion gravy - came to 55p and the cheapest – a pack of curry-flavoured instant noodles – came to just 8p! I haven’t tasted them yet but I’m sure they will be de-licious and a true taste of India... I scavenged in the Ooops!
section and was very proud of myself for picking up some loaves of bread at half price. It was only when I got home that I realised that they would be out of date tomorrow...
To my surprise I was unable to afford any
of the items from my usual shopping list and there were some products (purchased by virtue of being ridiculously cheap) that I have never tasted: tinned marrowfat peas (produce of Palestine perhaps?); processed cheese slices; tinned ravioli; tinned hamburgers; tinned luncheon meat…etc etc.
Notice a pattern developing anyone? Yes, almost all the food I ended up with was processed and tinned (a feature of typical food parcels because tinned food is often ready-cooked and easily transportable). And needless to say the vast majority of my items belonged to the Asda Smartsave brand, though I did go wild with a 46p purchase of Asda’s mid-range Macaroni cheese. I'll live to regret that extravagance methinks.
I felt pretty self-conscious loading up my legion of red and white tins at the checkout and both the checkout girl and the lady behind me (who now I come to think about it looked suspiciously like Gillian McKeith) shot me pitying looks. I packed up my goods and scarpered before anyone I knew saw me.
I didn’t end up actually eating anything until gone nine o’clock. But here’s the beauty of tinned food – it may taste like pet food, it may have the nutritional value of a turkey twizzler - but it does only take a maximum of five minutes to ‘cook’! Faced with 30-odd tins to choose from I plumped for sausages in baked beans, supplemented with half a can of marrowfat peas and bread.
It was a good job I was about to eat because I had started to feel a bit weak and tired and had even begun to imagine the smell of roast dinners in the most unlikely of places. My stomach was crying out for food, so this was not a good time to discover that our tin opener was broken…
Five minutes and much cursing of said tin opener later I was tucking in - although strangely, with something less than gusto. Perhaps this was because the sausages were disintegrating into the beans. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t work out why a smell reminiscent of a school toilet was emanating from the tin of marrowfat peas. More likely it was because as I reviewed the You are what you eat
-style table full of shopping and my menu for the week it finally hit home that I was actually going to have to exist on this food. It's all downhill from here.