Resolutions are often fraught things, aren’t they? They are so tangled together with promises about the year ahead and visions of our ideal lives and selves, not to mention the comedown after a season of parties and feasting and socialising which could have lasted a few days but for some people lasts a month or more. No wonder we feel like we need a reboot come January.
I found it difficult to make a list of resolutions ahead of time and spent the first day of 2017 mulling them over. I am lucky that I receive the days between Christmas and New Year off, a perk of the sector I work in. Removal of this privilege would doubtless result in a revolt to put the poll tax riots to shame. Few of us will ever become truly wealthy in this game, so give us our holiday, is the general sentiment. Because of this the New Year slipped into frame quietly; as I was travelling home on the 31st, and didn’t go out to celebrate, there was little sense of transition, the clean slate.
When I read other peoples’ resolutions they are often quite inspirational – ‘be braver’, ‘write my novel’, ‘travel every month’. Mine are much more…homespun? More like good ideas than visionary aspiration. Still, here we go. I’ve started with food ones, but there are a couple of non-food related resolutions towards the end.
1) Eat fish at least once a week, preferably twice a week
I honestly feel quite conflicted about this one. On the one hand, I know it will probably be very beneficial for me personally – the health benefits of eating fish and the Omega 3 fatty acids they contain are myriad and seem to cover a new vital function a week, from heart health to brain function to overall emotional wellbeing to management of aggression. I have been catching up on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme over the winter break and listened to a fascinating podcast on Diet and Dementia; it was noted that eating fish twice a week is strongly correlated to a lower risk of developing dementia (eating berries also seems to be correlated to a lower risk, but berries are seasonal and perishable and so I don’t think I can commit to eating them regularly in winter). I’m not yet thirty, but I fear dementia like I fear Type II diabetes: it’s slightly irrational, but both are diseases correlated with age and with significant lowering of our quality of life if developed. I am an academically-minded person and the idea of losing my brain, which is to say my essential self, is very, very scary. So if I can do something which will have a long-term protective and preventative impact for my health, especially when it is as easy as eating more fish, which I love anyway, it seems obvious to do it.
Yet the personal benefits to me must be balanced against the wider, indeed environmental, consequences of increased consumption of fish in the context of the global decline of fish stocks. Our oceans are not well-managed, and even consuming farmed seafood may put pressure on wild fish stocks, as farmed fish are frequently fed fishmeal made from their wild cousins. When farmed fish is fed on grains, as livestock is, they develop Omega 6 rather than Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s very, very easy to eat, and indeed overeat, Omega 6 fatty acids, so in this case the unique health benefits of eating fish may also be significantly reduced.
On balance, I’ve decided to keep this resolution (obviously) because I’m quite careful about how I buy fish, only buying those caught using more sustainable methods. I avoid all trawler-caught fish, seek out alternative fish species to very popular, possibly overfished, types, and almost always buy fish which has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
2) Bring a packed lunch to work at least three times a week
Bringing in a lunch prepared at home is almost always more economical and healthier than buying one in the shops, especially as I don’t usually like supermarket ready meals. I also tend to find the meals I bring in more filling than shop-bought ones.
This was also one of my resolutions for 2016. I was often successful but did occasionally fall of the wagon, which I expected – it’s an aim rather than a stick to beat myself with. I tended to slip up more towards the end of the year when my time was running short during the weekends and inspiration was failing me.
I like to aim for three days a week because I don’t then feel guilty if I miss the full five working days, but also because if I aim to prepare three days’ worth of meals I usually actually manage to make a week’s worth anyway.
3) Eat at least three vegetarian meals a week
This is a goal made with the impact of our eating habits on the environment in mind, and possibly acts as a corrective to my slightly more ethically troubling first resolution. I toyed with making the goal more stringent, with at least three vegetarian days rather than simply meals a week, but have kept it as above in the interests of setting a goal which is manageable.
While I hope that this resolution will also help me to eat more healthily – with respect to such things as my intake of vegetables – vegetarian eating is no shortcut to health. God knows this ex-vegetarian has eaten enough cheesy, butter and cream-saturated vegetables, or those slicked with generous quantities of silky olive oil, to know a vegetarian diet is not necessarily always synonymous with austerity. In the spirit of the environmental ethos which has governed the setting of this resolution, and with a nod to health, I will also aim to choose vegetarian recipes which do not rely heavily on resource-intensive cheese and dairy products to bulk them out and boost flavour.
4) Clear my archive of bookmarked recipes
I used to not only read food blogs avidly (I still do, although less than I used to owing to time constraints) but also bookmark many recipes with aplomb. Many of these recipes remain, bookmarked and uncooked, many years later. While they do not take up physical space, being mere bookmarks, they do seem to occupy a lot of psychological space and, for some reason, weigh on my mind. 2017 is the year to free myself of these mind-forg’d manacles and start cooking the recipes I have so carefully set aside. I have many recipes gleaned from blogs which have become much-loved gems, and it will be fun to see if I have other future classics hidden in my archives.
5) Celebrate my heritage more
I felt a bit strange about committing to writing this down – especially after a year which many people feel has been characterised by a resurgent and often repugnant strain of nationalism – and wasn’t entirely sure if it was a food or non-food resolution. But I want to mark my Belgian roots more than I currently do, and almost any observation of culinary or other traditions would be an improvement on the current situation. While I am fully, 100%, Belgian (which surprises many people, who assume I have at least one British parent), I have lived outside Belgium most of my life and have rarely felt emotionally connected to Belgium as such in a way which could be considered patriotic or nationalist. However, as members of my family become older, and especially following my father’s death, I have developed something which resembles nostalgia, sentiment, for my heritage, and certainly resembles an appreciation for my own culture which I’m sure wasn’t necessarily there a few years ago. My ‘roots’, as it were, always seemed so permanent and ‘just there’, which I could pick up and go back to whenever I felt like it, not like something that need to be nurtured and preserved. As I get older, and with those changes within my family, these connections seem all the more fragile and strangely important, as if, after all my protests, the intersection of my personal and cultural histories is actually essential. Who would have thought it?
This is, of course, not just a culinary thing – cultural heritage is strongly associated with language and I have become more and more sentimental about the Flemish language and preserving it. I know if I end up having my own children that it will be important to me to pass on Dutch to them and ensure they speak it, which is not something I thought was necessary even a few years ago – indeed I dismissed the learning of Dutch as not worth the effort, as it’s not an internationally important language. (The speaking of Flemish/Dutch and French is a very fraught thing in Belgium; as I’m Flemish and speak Dutch with my family, I don’t have the same sentiment towards French). However, cultural identity is also cemented in the eating of common foods and partaking in common celebrations, and as I like to cook this might as well be my way of observing my heritage.
I suppose in this respect I will be starting with the celebration of ‘Verloren Maandag’ (Lost Monday), a celebration day held on the somewhat awkward date of ‘the first Monday after the first Sunday after Epiphany’. It is not only a very Belgian celebration but one very unique to Antwerp, the city where I was born and involves the eating of sausage bread, putting this resolution directly in conflict with No. 3.
6) Develop a good bedtime/sleeping routine
Must sleep more in 2017. I am terrible at sleep and really need to work on going to bed at the same time every night and falling asleep, rather than staggering into bed at midnight and staring at the ceiling for two hours.
7) Visit at least two (new) places in the UK outside of London
This was also on last year’s list of resolutions and I didn’t manage it, which is a bit shameful, but I hope to manage this year.
8) Read at least one book a month
I am a pretty decent reader, mostly thanks to a long commute, so I’m setting this so I don’t slip out of the habit. I don’t think I’ve properly read a book in months. My boyfriend kindly gave me Ian McEwan’s Nutshell for Christmas so I suppose I will start with that.