I’m ten years old. Or nine, or eleven. Around that time, anyway — the precise age is not important.
It’s lunchtime, and the students in my little school have emptied out of their classroom and are rummaging in their school bags for their lunchboxes. Soon, the cacophony begins to wane, and the children sit down on the floor, cross-legged, and start to eat their lunches.
There’s the usual suspects of white bread and polony or cheese and Vegemite. Most children have homemade cake wrapped in greaseproof paper, or perhaps some sweet biscuits.
For the record, I never had those things. Poor, deprived child that I was, my mother used to insist on packing sandwiches made with wholemeal bread, and for snacks, I would have yoghurt, or almonds and dried apricots, or an orange. Nobody wanted to swap lunch with me.
Except for days like this. My father had been in Perth the day before, and he drove the three hundred and sixty kilometres home, bringing with him a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sure, by the time he got home, I was asleep, and it was well and truly cold by then anyway (my mother put it straight in the ‘fridge) but the next morning, I could take it with me in my lunchbox to have for my lunch.
Cold fried chicken. I am the envy of every child in the school. All twenty-five of them.
Do you remember, when fast food was a treat? When I was young, we didn’t have the access to it, mainly because of our relative isolation. We were twenty minutes’ drive from the nearest ‘town’ which had (and still has) one small general store, a hall, a wheat silo, a mechanic, and a few houses — really, that’s it. The next town was about forty-five minutes away, with TWO supermarkets(!!), a post office and high school, several houses, and a pub… but still no fast food restaurant. Fast food — apart from what you could buy from some service-stations — was just not accessible everyday.
For the last few weeks, the Handsome Sidekick and I have been trying to return to healthy eating habits which fall by the wayside when we’re both too tired to think, which has been quite often, in the recent past. We’re eating more raw food, reducing our already fairly limited intake of meat, keeping chocolate for the occasional treat, eating smaller pieces of cake*, and checking our portion sizes. The result is that we’re (very slowly) losing some weight, and we seem to have more energy. We also feel a lot healthier — whether that’s psychosomatic, who knows? These were benefits I expected. But the element I didn’t factor in was just how amazing food can taste, when you limit it. How good it is, to look forward to a meal, to be really hungry, and then feel immensely content after you’ve finished eating.
A friend of mine is observing Ramadan this month. He is not a Muslim, but fasting is part of his weekly routine, and as a spiritual person, he appreciates the value of depriving oneself of food, and of prayer and meditation during that time. Reading what he had to say about the sense of calm one feels with an empty stomach, I could understand the desire to participate. Restricting food in this sense allows us to realise how precious a thing it is, and how good we have it, when we have enough to satisfy our hunger.
It led me to think about delayed gratification, and how there is so little of that. We don’t deny ourselves much, these days, do we? We lament the way we can’t have things, but it’s an external force (usually money) which doesn’t allow us, rather than it being a case of self-denial. Money really can buy anything — you can get whatever you want, whenever you want. It used to be that certain clothes or food or shoes or cars were only available in particular countries or areas. That’s no longer the case. If you have the money, you can get it.
And obviously, people do. They pay the money — or put it on credit — and get it. It’s available; and taken on face value, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have what they want.
Take Disneyland for example. It started with a single theme park, and now they can be found from Paris to Hong Kong and in between. Having more than one Disney theme park means that more people can visit. The Disney experience is open to a wider audience. But does it cheapen the value of the original?
Those building the new parks would perhaps argue that they’re ensuring the experience is accessible, that it avoids elitism. I’d argue that it ruins the uniqueness, the specialness, of these ‘things’ we used to be able to only get somewhere else, or at a certain time of year. Of course, restriction of anything means that less people will be able to have it, or enjoy it. But doesn’t that make it all the more special when you can? When you finally manage to travel to California, after years of wanting to, and get your picture taken with Goofy, or ride on the roller coaster of your dreams? Or when you finally sit down to eat after a long fast, or when you finally get to read that book, or watch that film or kiss that person?
Just because we can have whatever we want, doesn’t mean we should. The mere fact that it’s available shouldn’t mean we feel obliged to get it. Business models being what they are, if there is a market for something, then it will be marketed. But we have a choice. We can choose not to eat it, or visit it, or buy it, or do it. Whereas before, availability was the limiting factor, now it’s us. It’s up to us to limit ourselves, to have some self-control. Only then is it possible to really embrace and savour the experience. Only then can we feel as if we truly deserve it, that it’s really worthwhile.
*I know what you’re thinking. But I’m OK with this. Really!