Harriet Walker: 'I can carry only what fits in my mouth'

Related Topics

As we pat our collective gut and burp happily ahead of the festive season, it's time to think about the social power of sating oneself. Of really going for it at the dining table; of snuffling and troughing, lapping and ferreting; of not just being a "foodie" but of full-on "fooding". The whorls, splats and piles on your plate represent your lifestyle, your emotions, your relationships, like anxious tea leaves crawling up the side of a cup to be read.

The hopelessly bourgeois run on cranberries after Delia popularised them; the ubiquity of a 1970s prawn cocktail; the cold and numb-thumbed amateurs up and down the country trying out Heston's nitrogen baths. All are proof of how food is, for us, inextricably linked to community and trends, of how it has become so much than fuel.

It means we're highly evolved. A pack of hyenas doesn't stop to think about whether the raw elephant they're guzzling on is high in calories, or whether everything but the trunk and tusks constitutes a binge. They don't get angsty if one hyena rips the flesh from the carcass in a more imaginative way. They don't feel that curious tug between parsimony and pariah if the pachyderm they have felled was not free-range.

Food is about identity. We sneer at people whose baskets contain too much Müller Rice and not enough leafy veg; we envy the man who can unselfconsciously eat a sausage roll with chips and gravy in the work canteen; we love McDonald's but hate ourselves afterwards. I once went out with an awful snob who accused me of liking "poverty food" as I adore classics: corned beef, say, and semolina. A friend more recently amended my dietary foibles to "austerity chic". What's on our our plates defines us and acts as a leitmotif for our mood. Salad on a cold day? Watch her: she's steely, that one. Custard at lunchtime? What an old softie.

It's partly because we have so much choice, of course. One hardly feels that the interminable sacks of grain sent to famine-ridden countries signify anything beyond desperate need. But, as a cushy Westerner – not to mention, a fussy eater – imagine how it feels to have your food choices taken away. It's like someone sandpapering your personality.

I broke my leg last week and endured five days of hospital food – once a concept to strike terror into your heart thanks to its digestive rigour, and now simply something to avoid in the same way as walking barefoot across a blasted heath late at night. It's just not good for you.

I'm as institutionalised as they come. I can't turn down a soggy suet or flaccid flan. And I quite like the idea of a starched matron boiling up a vat of Scotch broth and pearl barley, like a Victorian allegorical painting. Nowadays, though, the scene would take in a grease-stained slattern emptying thousands of microwavable meals into a hostess trolley, before letting them congeal for two hours and then dolloping them straight in front of the expectant patient.

Even for someone who likes "poverty food", this was hard to swallow. Broccoli the colour of urine, mashed potato carved from a block like Michaelangelo's Pietà, gristly meat in a sauce so glutinous and otherworldly it can only have been made from the hot phlegm that coats the corridors of Hell. And thrown on a plate with all the alacrity of a slug regurgitating lunch for its young. When I first arrived in hospital, I was strong enough to survive despite the food; by the time I left, my only chance of getting discharged was to avoid it altogether. I hid leathery braised fetlock under wilted, farty cabbage in the knowledge that if I consumed any of it, I'd entirely unironically vomit up my anti-vomit meds and have to stay another day.

And now that I'm out, the story isn't much better. Good food is the preserve of the strong. Hobbling around my flat on crutches takes all my time and energy, not to mention all my faculties. How naive we are to think that a cup of tea and sarnie on the sofa is our God-given right. When you're on crutches, you're an itinerant desert hunter: you can't carry anything apart from what you can fit in your mouth. My time at the moment is spent shuffling back and forth from the kitchen with pre-packaged comestibles between my teeth, much like a wheezy old dog with its favourite slipper. Forget plates and viscosity, forget anything with a sauce element: I need Cellophane I can grip with my incisors, before hurling my prey on to the cushions and lowering myself down beside it.

It certainly cuts back on greed – but that's before you factor in how easily a multipack of crisps hangs between the teeth, and how light it is to transport.1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
These young British men featured in an Isis video urging Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria. About 30 British jihadists are believed to have died fighting alongside IS  

Isis in the UK: How the 'War on Terror' radicalised a generation

Alyas Karmani
Dance yourself happy: strutting their stuff is, apparently, better for people than visiting the gym  

How should we measure the 'worth' of our nation?

Dan Holden
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?