When a child throws himself on the floor and wails because he cannot have what he wishes for, we wrinkle up our noses and mutter to ourselves disapprovingly, “spoilt brat”. This is no compliment; look up “to spoil” in the dictionary and you’ll find “to diminish or impair the quality or character by excessive indulgence.” But why the lesson in language?
Cast your eye over your Facebook feed until you find that frequently used post-birthday refrain, “Thanks everyone, I had a lovely day and feel well and truly spoilt”. In being spoilt, it seems, we feel loved and cherished. The act of spoiling is something to be celebrated – and it’s this new, positive use of the word, which I believe is so revealing about our relationship with food.
We don’t “treat”anymore, we spoil. A treat, more modest in size, would not be enough, because what really makes us happy are treats in such excess that we feel spoilt. Any supermarket at Christmas time is laden with evidence. Christmas food stocks no longer consist of a big turkey and a box of chocolates. Dinner is lavish - with hams, sausages, sweet sauces, honey-roasted vegetables and potatoes three ways. And then there are the things which go alongside in the weeks before and after. The mountains of sweets dressed up in different wrappings: mince pies, iced Christmas cake, chocolate oranges, turkish delight, chocolate-covered nuts, enormous boxes of Quality Street, Dairy Milks the size of a table, the list goes on.
Austerity Britain it may be, but even the smallest occasion is a legitimate reason for feasting. Just think of the size of cakes in cafes: vast creations, three storeys high and slathered in sugary icing – rival only to Bruce Bogtrotter’s monstrous chocolate cake. A Delia Smith Victoria Sponge looks like a scone by comparison. But then, you’re meeting an old friend you’ve not seen for a while for lunch, so you should both treat yourselves. Go on, why not. Children’s parties with their never-ending supplies of cream-covered cupcakes, Smarties, lollipops and sugary drinks are perhaps the worst. Indulgence gone too far; the treats are spoiling us, making us fat and lethargic and unhealthy.
Spoilsport (which you’re likely to call me) takes on a whole new meaning, because we don’t do sport anymore - spoiling spoiler is more accurate. Do you want to know the meaning of the word “treat”? “Anything that affords particular pleasure or enjoyment.” No excess required. But back to our wailing child. A spoilt child will not have any easy march through life, constantly disappointed that his expectations are not met. The kindest (and the hardest) treatment is to resist the child’s demands and distract him with something else until he cheers up.
And our spoilt bodies? Is it not better to resist their rumbling gastric cries for more shop-bought cake and to teach them one square of exceptionally good dark chocolate at a time that the odd modest treat is so much more rewarding (and delicious) than a face and belly full of junk.
A truly sumptuous summer treat - I challenge you to find something more delicious.
- Greek yoghurt
- 1 ripe peach
- A few raspberries
- A drizzle of honey (if you must)
- 3 – 4 pecan nuts
Put three tablespoons of greek yoghurt into a small bowl. Rinse your peach, slice round the middle with a knife, twist to break open, pull apart and discard the stone. Slice each horizontally in two and then cut into smaller pieces. Carefully drop these onto the yoghurt, along with a few washed raspberries. Crumble a few pecan nuts (though any nut will do) in your fingers and scatter on top.
I prefer the concoction without honey. Those with a sweeter tooth might prefer it with a little drizzle – but really, if your peach is ripe, it’s utterly unnecessary. And if you’d rather not eat dairy, then dairy-free coconut yoghurt works just as well.