I’m embracing the Golden Arches

If like me you have a young son full of energy and his school’s PE lessons are nowhere near enough to use it up, then you’ll know what a challenge it is to provide him with physical activity. In spring and summer, we usually go straight to the park after school where he can scooter about and play until he is nicely tired out. However, as the weather cools the park is no longer really an option (especially for the poor mum who has to sit freezing on a bench). Then begins the search for suitable after school clubs such as swimming or football but even then, unless you go full out and sign him up for something every day of the week you will still have days with a restless child driving you crazy.

Yesterday, my son had a play date after school with one of his friends. As this friend was a girl, I was not sure she would find his collection of toy buses and trains entertaining (now before I get accused of sexism, I know some girls like to play with trains but not this one, trust me) and I thought about taking them somewhere with soft play. I checked the opening times of the soft play zone at the local leisure centre and was shocked to find that it would cost me £6.40 for each child to get in, and that’s before we factor in the cost of ordering some food and drinks for them. Then I had a brainwave and remembered there was a McDonalds which I passed whenever I drove to Ikea that had a soft play area. So I thought we would give it a try.

It took a bit of time to get there with the after school traffic but that was a minor inconvenience. We parked and went in. The restaurant looked spanking new after having undergone a recent refurbishment. The children immediately kicked off their shoes and went to play. Ordering the food was easy this time, no waiting in a disorderly long line for your turn. They had several flat screens all over the place, large ones for ordering food and smaller ones on tables with games for the children. I went over to a large one and quickly placed the order, paid with my contactless card and collected my receipt. In the two minutes it took for me to secure a table and collect some napkins, the food was ready to collect. Super easy!

The two Happy Meals cost me around £5 and came each with a Roald Dahl book that delighted the children. McDonalds has listened to criticism about lack of healthy food options and the meals can now be customised with carrot sticks or fruit instead of French fries and organic milk or water if you don’t want any sugary or artificially sweetened drink (not that we went for those healthy options I must confess). The children ate their food quickly and then ran back to play. Every so often, they came back red faced for a drink. When we returned home later that day, I had two very happy, very suitably tired out children in the back of the car. Job done!

My neck of the woods is gentrifying at a terrific pace with new coffee shops sprouting nearly every month and trendy eateries such as the sourdough pizza place. All well and good but what we could really do with, and I mean that truly, is a nice McDonalds with a play area nearby. If ever, by some miraculous chance, this does happen, don’t listen to the Nimbys protesting about yet another chain opening on their beloved high street. Embrace the Golden Arches I say.

A square peg now and always

The other day I was chatting with my six year old son about school and he talked about how hard it was for him to find someone to play with. His friends from previous years were no longer interested in playing with him because their interests had diverged and he said he often found himself walking alone during playtime, hands in pockets, looking down at the ground. This knowledge tugged painfully at my heartstrings, all the more so because it brought back memories of my own difficult school years.

I too had days when I would walk around in the playground alone and friendless. I remember I would try to pass the time until the end of the break by going to the toilets, combing my hair until it was neat and perfect and generally making myself as invisible as possible. I did end up making friends although the relationships were generally ones of convenience rather than true camaraderie. Looking back now I can see that it was not easy being an Arab in London in the late seventies. We are so used to London being a cultural melting pot that it is easy to forget that it was not always so. During those years I yearned to fit in, to be more like the others at school. All the other children seemed to do exciting things during their holidays such as going camping or fishing or skiing, whereas my family’s idea of leisure time was staying home and cooking a big meal.

And yet these cultural differences do not explain entirely why making friends was so difficult for me. One of the advantages of getting older is that you get a better understanding and acceptance of who you are. I was never going to be conventional. I am and have always been a square peg in a round hole. It’s not that I look or act in any particularly unusual way. I am not a bohemian or a “free spirit”. Neither am I some socially inept introverted person. I have enough social skills now to converse with people in a confident manner. Yet it is clear to me that I see and experience the world differently to most other people. That’s not to say that I am any better than others or particularly special. Just that I tend to have opinions that are not held by many. Some might call me quirky.

This disposition runs in the family. It should come as no surprise therefore that my son is quirky too. Both my parents were unusual people. They were not geniuses or great savants but they had an independent streak in their thinking which I must have inherited. My mother was considered the plain one in a family of beauties. She did not have the height, plump lips and hourglass figure of her sisters. She was very bookish, the only girl in her family to get a university degree. Growing up in Damascus during the sixties, a time of political uncertainty where several governments came and went before the military coup that brought in the Ba’athist regime of Hafez al Assad, she took a keen interest in the politics of the day, going on marches and talking back at teachers she disagreed with. From an early age she found herself running against the flow of majority opinion, being forthright in her views even when the general consensus was against what she said. When people applauded Assad for bringing stability and security to Syria she was vehement in her denunciation of his regime. Fortunately by that time she had married and left the country.

My father was more judicious in his speech but his life too was distinguished by an individual rather than a conventional way of doing things. He was a senior Saudi diplomat whose career success was all the more remarkable given his lack of family connections (in a country where tribal loyalties matter) and his refusal to play politics in order to get ahead. Here is one anecdote that throws light on his character. It was customary for government officials to greet the king at the airport every year when he returned from his Summer holidays. There would be long lines of people waiting to pay their respect to their monarch and the monarch in turn made note of who was there, showing loyalty to him. Favours were dispensed accordingly. My father never took part in this. His friends would urge him to go, maybe then he would get the long awaited promotion. But he obstinately refused to do so. In his mind, he was quite clear that he was serving the Saudi people, not the Saudi royal family. The promotions did come in due course, his royal bosses being too aware of his usefulness and talent for diplomatic negotiations to overlook him for too long. In the decade before his death at the young age of 55, he was at the heart of Saudi foreign policy from trying to broker a peace deal in Oslo between the Palestinians and Israel to negotiating to join the GATT trade treaty (later WTO).

Growing up with such parents was a privilege but it created misfits out of us. When I was 13 and my elder sister 16, my father was recalled back to Riyadh and he took the difficult decision to leave us in London (with an au pair, joined by my cousin who was in her first year at university) so that we could continue our schooling here. The family back home was scandalised. How could he leave his young daughters without a male protector in London? Surely, free of restrictions, they would get up to no good or mix with the wrong crowd. To this my father replied that he trusted his daughters and that their education was too important to compromise. His trust was not misplaced. Nothing could have been worse than to disappoint him. So we stayed on in London to complete our education through to university. While other diplomatic children returned home and were re-integrated into society, we always stood out as the foreigners whenever we visited Riyadh in the holidays. We didn’t fit into the norms of society in our homeland and we didn’t really fit in with what other young teenage girls were doing in London either. There were no boyfriends or alcohol or youthful experimenting with drugs.

So here I am, married to an Englishman, living in a quiet suburb of London. It took me a long time to meet my prince charming. Somehow everyone I met before then made me feel like a freak. Then came along Andrew, with his nerdy habits of collecting model trains and observing street lights, here was someone every bit as unusual as me. We connected! And we procreated. I had hoped that my son, with his English surname and good looks, would find school a less daunting place than I did at his age. But true to his parentage, he has Andrew’s interest in trains, buses and planes and he has my shyness and awkwardness. While the boys in his class want to play fight or do sports, my boy is more interested in observing the different models of buses he sees on the road or watching documentaries about concorde aeroplanes. But what can I do? I shall just have to watch and support him as he grows up, knowing that he might find it challenging to fit in with his peers but hoping he will eventually find his niche.

Time for Reform of Muslim Orthodoxy to Liberate Women from the Headscarf

Yesterday was my son’s school sports day, held in the extensive grounds of Dulwich College. It was a warm, sunny day with temperatures forecast to rise up to 24C. Knowing I would be out all day in the heat, I dressed appropriately: knee length leggings with a light and baggy white coloured tunic, sandals and of course, a hat to protect my head from the sun.

Looking around at the other parents I saw fellow Muslim women wrapped up in thick cloaks from head to toe, many of them all in black. Most of these women would be fasting as it is the month of Ramadan – no food or drink of any kind from sunrise until sunset (though women are exempt from the fast if they are menstruating). The men in these families, those that were in attendance, were dressed far more comfortably in knee length shorts and T-shirts. Watching them I felt the familiar sadness, anger and frustration engulf me.

The stricture for women to wear clothes that cover their entire body and a headscarf or hijab is so embedded in current Muslim orthodoxy that to question this is to be a heretical rebel. I have held my tongue for a long time but today I am going to stick my neck out and say the unsayable. This dress code is wrong, has no real basis in the religion, and is a manifestation of the patriarchal nature of Muslim society today that empowers men and subjugates women. There, I’ve said it!

What irks me the most is the way women are singled out for this burdensome dress code and not men. I would like to see men out and about everyday covered from head to toe (and in black if you please) and see how long they would last under such strictures. If this kind of all encompassing modesty is to be enforced, then let it be enforced on everyone, not just women. I bet within a week or even a day of the universal enforcement of this dress code, men would be up in arms about it, complaining about how uncomfortable and impractical it is.

Men and women are equal in front of God. This much is clear to me. There are differences between us of course. No one can deny that men are in general physically stronger and that women are the ones who carry babies in their tummies, and go on to nurture their children. There are always going to be exceptions to these norms. Some women can be physically stronger than some men, and some women have no empathy with children while some men are caring and nurturing. We may choose to have different roles in our society but we are all equal before God.

In the matter of sexual attractiveness and sexual desire, men and women are equal. I don’t believe the lie that says men are more governed by sexual desire than women and that we consequently have a duty not to tempt them into sin. A muscled man in swimming shorts can turn women weak at the knees in much the same way that a woman in a bikini does so to men. Desires are equal on both sides so it does not make sense that one gender is singled out for modest attire and not the other. The logical conclusion is inescapable: women are told to cover up in order to allow men to have control over them.

Now I have many good female friends and family members who I love and respect and who adhere to the dogma of hijab. Many of them, I’m sure, would argue that they wear the hijab out of their own free will and that it empowers them. I respectfully disagree. The orthodoxy of hijab is so embedded into Muslim society that to go against it is to attract undue attention. For many women, to wear the hijab or not is no longer a choice. It is expected of them in the same way as we do not eat pork and fast during Ramadan. It is a non-negotiable pillar of the religion. There is no opt out, particularly if you come from a religiously conservative family. In these circumstances, women accept the status quo and convince themselves that they are truly doing God’s will.

When I was a young teenager I noticed something strange happening around me. Women I had known all my life were all of a sudden putting on a headscarf in the presence of men. I have photos of many of these women coming to visit us in Geneva and London in the 1970s, all of them bare-headed, not a headscarf in sight. I look through photos of my parents’ wedding in Damascus circa 1966. The only woman in the whole series of photos wearing a headscarf is my old and infirm great grandmother. Everyone else is wearing typical knee-length dresses of the sixties, carefully curled hair, lots of eyeliner and mascara. Yet should we fast forward to a wedding being held today, you can be sure that at least three quarters of the women would be veiled.

mum_wedding
My parents on their wedding day in Damascus

What has changed since then? Have we all suddenly rediscovered our religion and become more pious? I would argue that no, we are not more pious than we were before. The growth of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism can be traced back to the political climate of the late 1970s. Middle Eastern countries, having discarded Turkish and British imperialist rule, were under autocratic and corrupt regimes often seen as beholden to the Western powers. The nationalist movements of the fifties had failed and political Islam appeared in their stead, whether in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the overthrow of the Shah in Iran. The siege of Makkah in 1979 resulted in a much stricter enforcement of the Islamic code in Saudi Arabia. The 1980s saw the rise of stricter Islamic practices and the greater influence of Wahhabi theology across the Muslim world culminating in the likes of Isis and AlQaeda. These movements did not emerge out of the blue – they are the direct results of the political landscape of the 1970s.

So, there I was, a teenager in the early 1980s, unaware of the political dimension but suddenly noticing a change in the religious climate around me. Everything was strict, programmes on television (in Riyadh, my dad’s last posting in a long diplomatic career) were full of men with long beards telling us not to do this and that, life became all about dogma, the stricter the better. Three decades of this regimen has infected the discourse so much that few people remember what it was like before. Even level headed, sensible people, surrounded by this dogma in every aspect of their lives have been unable to resist its influence on their thinking. It’s like a virus has taken hold of the Muslim world. We must shake it off with a good dose of antibiotics.

The younger me, uneasy at these changes around me, asked my Arabic teacher to show me the Koranic phrases that tell women to wear a hijab. If God wanted me to make this sacrifice, then I would do it. First, I wanted to see the evidence. The relevant texts were given to me and my first reaction was puzzlement: was I to make such a fundamental sacrifice on this spurious evidence? As far as I could see, the text was telling women to cover up their cleavages and not to shake their ankle chains to attract men’s attention. Not a single mention of covering hair. I went home to my father and asked him for guidance. Brought up in Medina, the second most important city of Islam, my father’s knowledge of Islam was deep and extensive. “Do women need to wear a headscarf?”, I asked him. No, he said, this is just a cultural thing that has nothing to do with the religion. Thank you Dad, for showing me the way. I just wish more Muslim women had dads like mine.

No matter how long I live here, I will never feel truly British

I have lived in the UK for many years. Since I was seven years old to be precise. I did take two years off to try living in my native Saudi Arabia but that didn’t work out and I came straight back to London. This multicultural melting pot is my home. I know its streets, its underground stations, its parks, its theatres and museums. I feel comfortable here because I know this city and I feel like I belong. Just the other day, however, I was reminded that no matter how integrated I think I am, there are some parts of the English way of life that I still don’t get.

The A word

By which I mean alcohol. Having been raised in a Muslim household I never encountered alcohol until I was at university. At which point curiosity made me try it. I found it tasted rather vile and the effect it had on people around me was off putting. I remember going on a date and my chivalrous beau insisting on buying me a beer. We were at a university union gig and I gamely tried to sip the noxious drink. It was hard work. When an opportunity presented itself I disposed of the contents into a bin. In my efforts to blend in I tried switching to cider, which had less of a bitter taste, and managed for a while to sip slowly at half pints. But even that experiment went sour as I found my system could not tolerate the stuff. I have a memory of nauseously making my excuses and hailing a taxi, rushing up to my university flat and being horribly sick. It seemed alcohol and I would never be friends.

Over the years, I have had a few more drinks here and there. A sip of champagne at a wedding or trying an expensive wine in a fancy restaurant. I can see that alcohol matters to a lot of people, a lot of nice sensible people, and that for many the taste of a fine wine is second to none. I get that, sort of. I can understand it on an intellectual level but at the gut level of experience I can’t. If I want to quench my thirst I crave water. If I want to refresh my palate, juice or a herbal tea will do very nicely. If I want to relax and feel happy, a slice of cake will ease my tension. A glass of cold milk after eating a bar of chocolate is magical. At no time, except perhaps in social gatherings where I want blend in, would I dream of drinking anything alcoholic. There’s just no pleasure in it for me.

Fine I hear you say. We live in a free society and if you don’t want to drink you don’t have to. That’s true and my bubble of domesticity means I rarely find myself in a pub or other situations where alcohol is to be found. And yet… Socialising as I do with neighbours and friends, I often find that the drinking way of life is interspersed into everyday jargon. Whether it’s some Facebook post saying “hurrah time for drinks” on a Friday afternoon or some frazzled mum saying “I could do with a glass of wine”, it all goes to highlight a culture that I am not part of.

Just the other day I finished reading a chick lit novel that I had picked up at a train station waiting room. It was the usual bog standard relationships yarn with a romantic story line. Reading it, I was struck by just how often the hero and heroine had alcoholic drinks. On their first “get together” they down a bottle of southern comfort while nattering away late into the night. The heroine has lunch with her agent and is so nervous that she gulps down one glass of wine after another and ends up making a fool of herself. Every other scene involves them drinking a beer, particularly at times of stress and tension where they seem to down pint after pint. Putting down the book I pondered this alcoholic culture in Britain. The recent death of Charles Kennedy, probably due to alcoholism, has also put this in mind. Hey Britain. Why do you love alcohol so much?

Those pesky animals

There is one other defining British characteristic which I find hard to relate to. I speak of their love of animals. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike animals. I can enjoy nature programmes and stroke a cat (though must wash hands straight after). I wouldn’t wish any harm on animals (except mosquitoes and slugs) but I don’t feel any need to have a pet in my house. Dodging the dog poo on our walk to school is a daily inconvenience. However, I don’t find it bizarre that other people do have pets. What I find strange and incomprehensible is the way animals are imbued with human characteristics and people seem to love them as well if not better than human beings. Somehow, animals are seen as more noble than us humans. The other day, our local Facebook blog had a post about foxes and I was surprised by how many people said they felt sorry for them and gave them food. No wonder we are overrun with them!

At the end of the day these are minor quibbles. I love this country and I don’t think I would ever live anywhere else. There is no doubt though that I still do feel an outsider at times. Perhaps that is a good thing. It allows me to be true to myself rather than be part of the crowd. It makes for a more interesting life.

Farming off the care of our children is not always the answer

mother_and_childImage courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have just recently read an article in the Guardian kindly posted by one of my Facebook friends which argues that the cost of childcare is the biggest obstacle to equality in the workplace. It held up the example of Nordic countries where free or heavily subsidized childcare is available to all children from 6 months onwards, enabling a very high percentage of mothers to return to the workplace and resume their careers. The lack of affordable childcare in the UK, it argued, was depriving the economy and society from the talents of these many women.

What’s to disagree with here? I am a stay-at-home mum who gave up my fledgling career as a reflexologist/aromatherapist because the high cost of childcare could not be justified by the moderate income from my therapy practice. I know first hand how much a sacrifice becoming a mother can be. It has been hard having to care for a young child full time with very little outside help other than the occasional playgroups. This utopian vision of free or cheap childcare would have been manna from heaven for me. I could have continued to build my practice and perhaps also gone on to add additional therapies to my portfolio. What a loss to me and to society that I was unable to do so!

Or was it? Up until my son started full time nursery school at the age of 3, I did not work or earn a salary in any proper sense. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t busy. I had to care for my child, feed him, play with him, take him out to the park endlessly as well as take care of our house, groceries, cooking and cleaning. This was not a life of leisure and it felt like hard work a lot of the time. On the upside, I got to enjoy being with my son and to watch him grow from a small baby to a young boy. I was there when he took his first steps and when he spoke his first words. I had an opportunity to bond with him and to foster a very close relationship in a way that my husband, who was out working during weekdays, didn’t.

That’s not all. During that time I was also able to search for and find our house which we bought as a renovation project. I had to oversee the many works including removing pebble dash, re-pointing brickwork, installing new windows, new front door, new fireplace, new floors, new bathroom, a side return extension, new kitchen and landscaping both front and back gardens. I had to make a limited budget go a long way and spent long hours shopping around for the most cost effective products and services. I may not have earned an income but I contributed to the substantial appreciation in the value of our house. I also learned new skills and found out I was quite good at the property renovation business. A few years ago, when we were fortunate enough to come into some money, I was able to put these skills into practice by buying a sorry looking flat and transforming it into a beautiful home and then selling it for a profit, thus starting my property development business. When one door closes another often opens.

Now I know I have been extremely lucky to have a partner whose income was sufficient to support us all without my having to go out to work, a situation which many other women do not find themselves in. But I am glad now that I did stay at home with my son and didn’t drop him off at day care every morning. No matter how good a nursery is, it is never going to be a substitute for family. My son got love, cuddles and kisses from me throughout the day. I don’t underestimate the importance of physical affection in the development of a child. Yes of course there were times when he drove me up the wall but I had to remind myself that childhood is fleeting and not to wish away this precious time with him.

Many mothers have found that, like me, dropping out of the workplace has given them an opportunity to try out different career paths. This has given rise to the term “mumpreneurs” which is used to describe women who set up businesses from their home. Another way forward is to allow women (and men) to work more flexibly. Job sharing is now very common in the Netherlands – British employers should take note.

It is impossible to have a one size fits all approach to this issue. There is undoubtedly a need for more affordable childcare, particularly for single mothers, families that need two separate incomes to get by or even to provide mothers like me with occasional respite from the non-stop 24/7 job of caring for a child. However, I am not so comfortable with the idea that women should en masse be expected to leave their child in the care of others in order to pursue their careers and that somehow society would be the better for it. I do feel that the job of raising a child is often undervalued and that given the choice, children are happier in the care of their parents than with strangers. Stay-at-home mums may be dropping out of the workplace but they are still contributing to society, helping to raise well adjusted, happy children who will be our future generation.

Our Ideals of Romance Are Harming Society

ID-100238509Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Valentines Day is round the corner. All around us are the usual incitements to buy romantic treats for our loved one – although I was slightly bemused in Asda today to find there was also an entire aisle devoted to Easter eggs and most bizarrely, a marmite flavour egg. But I digress. This year, along with the usual valentine merchandise we have also to contend with the highly hyped new movie 50 Shades of Grey, based on the best selling book of the same name.

Now I do not claim to have read this book but I have enough of an idea of the gist of it. I did read the third instalment of the trilogy (it was the only one available in the library at the time) and not only did I find the sex scenes boring, I was also dismayed by the portrayal of a dominating, egotistical, and rather dysfunctional man as the ultimate romantic hero for our times.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a romantic. My teens and early twenties were spent, I am ashamed to say, devouring all sorts of romantic novels from Mills & Boons to Georgette Heyer. I longed for romance. I lived for romance. My dreams were full of brooding, handsome (and of course wealthy) heroes who would sweep me off my feet and transform my life.

Of course Mr Darcy did not come a calling. I doubt if he came a calling on any other young lady either, not even Kate Middleton who finally nabbed her prince after many patient years of waiting for him to pop the question. The truth is, Mr Darcy is a myth. We women have been sold a lie for centuries – a lie often peddled to us by our fellow women – about the nature of true love. We have been conditioned from childhood to want a prince charming to ride on his horse and rescue us (check out Colette Dowling’s book, the Cinderella Complex about women’s fear of independence).

Why else, in the 21st century, are women still under-represented in politics, in business or in the media? Why is there so much pressure on women to be sexually desirable to men (boob job anyone?) when there is no similar pressure on men? Why do we still believe this myth that the ultimate romantic hero is a powerful man to whom we must submit?

The irony is that love, true love, is a wonderful thing. I was fortunate enough to find it and I can tell you it looks nothing like Christian Grey, Mr Darcy or Heathcliff. My true love is a bit of a nerd with a middle aged paunch, a tendency to flatulence and to fret if he has displaced his keys or mobile phone. He is also my best friend – no one, not even my family, understands me like he does. I can talk to him about anything and everything. He tells me I am loved every morning and every evening. He holds me in his arms every night and gives me comfort. He is my champion, encouraging me to do things I would not have the confidence to do otherwise. That ladies, is a true romantic hero. I wonder how many more functional relationships there would be in society if women understood this.

Our obsession with new food fads is all about us looking for a quick easy fix

The other day I came across an article about a young girl named Ella who recovered from a debilitating auto-immune illness by eliminating sugar, gluten, meat and dairy from her diet. In the process she created imaginative healthy recipes which she posted on her food blog. This proved so popular that a book deal followed together with a lot of publicity, helped no doubt by her photogenic appearance and her family connections (she also happens to be the daughter of a politician and a supermarket heiress).

Intrigued by all the hype, I decided to check out this blog and try out a recipe or two. I struggled to find main dishes that looked tasty to me – let’s face it some veggies can be nice but most are a penance to eat. In the end I settled for the pea and spinach pesto pasta (though I omitted the peas – not fond of them). This was an easy to make dish and I must admit, also rather tasty and filling. It didn’t feel particularly ground breaking as I had made my own pesto many times before, but I did find it interesting to omit the cheese and add lots of lemon and spinach instead. The flavours reminded me of my Mediterranean food heritage where spinach is usually cooked with lots of lemon, olive oil and garlic. So far so good then.

I then turned to the sweet treats section of the blog and decided to try out the sweet potato brownies. The photos of them looked gooey and delicious. I followed the recipe to the letter but mine did not turn out quite as attractive. They didn’t taste much like brownies either. That’s not to say they were horrible, as after I got used to the different taste of them, I found myself going back and forth to the kitchen to have another slice of my virtuous treat. By the next afternoon, all the brownies had been eaten up. Something else had happened too. My digestive system, usually fine and healthy, had clogged up fully.

Constipation is never a comfortable state of being and after two days of it, my energy levels were near zero. There followed another 4 or 5 days of gassy indigestion before my system went back to normal. My husband said to me in amusement that I had just spent a week detoxing from the detox.

This got me thinking. Why are we embracing all these faddy diets? What is wrong with a bit of gluten, or a bit of dairy or for that matter a bit sugar in our daily fare? Yes there are some people with allergies to these foods but the majority of us have no problem digesting them. Our forbears have been eating bread, cheese and meat for centuries. Why all of a sudden must we stop? Why must we deprive ourselves of all this delicious bounty that God has given us? Can’t we eat what we like but in moderation and in balance?

I once made a pizza with a cauliflower crust. It was ok but nothing close to the real deal. The other day my husband and I went out for a pizza and I was bemused by the expanded menu containing low calorie lighter cheese thin crust pizzas with a hollow bit in the middle piled with salad. Why go out for a pizza and then choose a sorry excuse for one? I guarantee it won’t taste half as good as the classic pizza with the real cheese. We only have one life on this earth and we are so lucky to have all this wonderful bounty. Shouldn’t we enjoy what we have in moderation? After all, we don’t go out for pizza everyday so when we do, let’s make it a proper treat.

I’m not advocating a gluttony fest, just saying that most foods are fine as long as we don’t eat too much of them. Yes of course, let’s also try to keep on top of our five a day portions of fruits and vegetables. And maybe we should also think about a more active lifestyle. Our forbears ate butter and sweets but they also moved a lot more than we do.