Simon Whalley Explores How Food Culture Is Affecting Health and Wellbeing in Western Society

Food cultures around the globe vary drastically. The foods people eat and the rituals that surround meals are influenced by multiple factors, including availability of ingredients, societal traditions, religious beliefs, immigration, land use, and geographical location.

One of the main reasons why food holds such cultural significance is the communal nature of enjoying meals. While food traditions vary greatly, one thing that holds true across all cultures is the tradition of coming together at mealtimes.

The modern world has created a more global approach to food, in which countless cultures come together to develop blended cuisines representing several nations in one meal. This increased globalisation in some ways means we have more choice. However, the modern way of life can also erode food culture and result in a move away from family and societal traditions towards a more convenient lifestyle.

The Rise of the Ready Meal

Until relatively recently in history, the only way to have access to meals was through the purchase and preparation of ingredients. In the 1950s, the first ready meals launched as a way to use up surplus meat.

By 1970, when home freezers and microwaves became an affordable part of everyday life, the ready meal became a huge phenomenon. The convenience of being able to purchase ready-made meals that could go from freezer to table in just minutes proved attractive to many households in the UK and the US.

Coinciding as this did with the increase in the number of women going out to work, ready meals soon became an integral part of the food culture of affluent western societies.

Dual-Income Households

In today’s world of soaring house prices and the dual-income family, it is no longer always possible for households to enjoy home-cooked meals every day. With both adults out at work during the day, many families simply do not have the time or the inclination to spend hours shopping for fresh ingredients and creating meals from family recipes handed down through the generations.

Instead, many families turn to ready meals, frozen food, processed food, and fast food as a handy alternative. These meals provide much in the manner of convenience, but little in terms of nutrition.

These types of food, when eaten in large quantities, have an adverse effect on the health of the consumer. While there is nothing wrong with eating these foods as an occasional stopgap or treat, a diet composed mainly of processed food will ultimately have a negative effect on health and wellbeing.

Fast Food Culture

Increased dependence on fast food has been linked to multiple health issues in the US, the UK and other nations that rely on takeaways and convenience foods as the primary elements of their diet. Consumption of processed foods has been linked to depression, obesity, and premature ageing, among other conditions.

Animal welfare is also compromised by the fast-food revolution. Most fast food and convenience food suppliers are linked to poor living conditions for the animals being reared for meat. A return to cultural roots and home-cooked meals made from locally sourced ingredients has the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of millions of people living in western society.

About Simon Whalley

Simon Whalley has lived in both the UK and the US in pursuit of his career as a musician and music director. He has overseen several musical international tours and been involved in the creation of three music albums. Whalley is also an avid reader, with a particular passion for Victorian authors.

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