I, like everyone else had a good laugh during the recent snowfall over Ireland. One of the main sources of this was the rise of bread memes. Whether it was Photoshops, lingerie, or Amy Huberman inspired t-shirts, there was good craic to be had over bread. The source of this was of course the frenzy at supermarkets and newsagents nationwide as people clambered for every last slice of delicious wheaty heaven. While I was enjoying the craic around bread however, it did strike what is to me an interesting glimpse into the Irish psyche, or more accurately the Irish diet.
Ireland has never really had much of a food culture. The most historical dish we have is probably Coddle, a Dublin dish born out of starvation and poverty. Coddle first became a thing in the late 1700’s when the famine caused mass migration abroad and to Dublin in search of work. It’s an inexpensive dish that uses all the leftovers. When the 1916 Rising was in full swing, it wasn’t only their houses being smashed and the Brits that local Dublin people needed to worry about. It was the fact that food supplies were cut off. This lasted for quite a while and when supplies did start to trickle back in, they couldn’t afford much. So Coddle became the dish of choice.
The only food we have that could be regarded as a modern delicacy is the Tayto sandwich (or King if your prefer). We love this snack so much that it found it’s way as a meal onto one of our national airlines. We also have in more recent years the popular inventions of the chicken fillet role, and the spice bag. You may be noticing a trend here already.
At some point during my laughter at the scramble for bread and memes, it dawned on me that the Irish have an unhealthy obsession with bread. This is reflective of an overall unhealthy attitude towards diet. I’m not one to judge, as someone who has struggled with weight all my life. There’s been times when I’ve been very fit and times when I’ve been very fat and I’m currently in the process of trying to get fit again. As a result I have done a lot of reading up on diets and healthy living. Most people these days know that bread isn’t good for them. So why do we still consume so much of it? When it looked like we wouldn’t be able to get supplies for a few days, it wasn’t water or fire wood that people ran for, it was bread.
Ireland has one of the highest obesity rates per capita in Europe. Participation in sport for people 15 and over has decreased according to the most recent CSO survey. But the amount that people are spending on sport and leisure has increased. The increase in spending is most likely due to the gym culture that has ingrained it’s way into the young people of Ireland. There also seems to be an uptake in people attending classes such as Spinning and fitness camps. What’s the problem then?
While I love weight training and recently started taking cardio more seriously it’s no good without first looking at diet. Let me give you an example, when I was at my fittest I didn’t really care too much about diet. I was working out so much that it didn’t really matter. But in my final year of college 16/17, I was so busy, so tired and to be honest depressed due to stress that I stopped going. Now this shouldn’t result in a weight increase but because my diet was always kinda crap anyway I started to put weight on. This added to my depression and so I ate worse and worse and over the year pilled the weight on.
While I think participation in sport and exercise is very important to tackling obesity, the habits of the Irish diet is even more so. There is a direct correlation between obesity rates and socioeconomic background. This is due to the working class turning to cheap, highly processed food designed to fill you rather than provide nutrition, such as the beloved slice pan. However in modern busy society these kinda foods are attracting everyone as it requires little time or care to prepare.
When I made this argument about bread to a family member, they defended bread as a staple of the Irish diet. But that’s the problem, I once seen an Irish Weight Watchers plan which limited bread to two slices per day. Seriously! The level of bread consumption is so bad that a popular diet limits bread to almost a full slice pan per person per week. You can tell me that I’m overreacting to a joke, but spend the next few days looking at the amount of bread consumed by you and those around you, you would be surprised.
Bread is just an example here of an overall desperate need for us Irish to really start looking at our dietary habits. If we are tackle the obesity epidemic in Ireland, the diet is the first place we need to start. So am I just talking shite? You can take or leave my observation, but I’m no longer laughing at bread memes.