You Don’t Have To Get Fat Working At Home
Working at home means never being far from the fridge, in London at least; it’s perilously close to my desk.
After living in France I went to Barcelona primarily to work, because the days are so ridiculously long that I can average about four hours more a day. Everything starts late; to cope with the Mediterranean life you move your watch two hours back. It’s popular to play football with your mates at around 11pm or to go for a drink at midnight. Lunch usually starts at 2pm, and as I’m a homeworker I usually cook, so my timings allow for going to the market.
So it was my fault. My Spanish is still appalling (it gets no practice; where I live everyone speaks Catalan), and I’d asked for what I thought was a large filleted slice of monkfish. It’s customary to get on with another market chore while your fishmonger is working on your order. When I came back I’d discovered that she had lovingly deboned an entire monkfish. I sheepishly ended up carting home the biggest order of fish I had ever purchased, and had to source a dozen different ways of cooking it, nearly all of them involving buckets of olive oil. I get through two bottles of the stuff a week. There’s olive oil in my eggs, my cakes, my hair gel. Why no butter? Firstly, it’s sold in ridiculously dinky little packets the size of matchboxes. Second, it melts, so of course oil is a better solution.
Spain’s huge, astonishing markets could be one of the main reasons why Spaniards are on course to overtake the Japanese to become the longest-lived people in the world. According to a new study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, people in Spain will have an average lifespan of 85.8 years by 2040, while those in Japan will lag slightly behind at 85.7 years.
Tapas provide part of the answer; with so many little small plates you tend to exercise better portion control, and several bowls end up containing fruit and vegetables. When I come back to London, receiving a plated meal in a restaurant always seems really odd to me – how do they know how much I want to eat? I usually want roughly two-thirds of what I’m served. But in the West the concept of leaving a clean plate has been driven home to us. My mother always said ‘There are children starving in Biafra!’
It turns out the secret is not just having inexpensive fruit and vegetables with every meal and controlling portions. Spain’s universal free healthcare system seems more advanced and efficient than the cash-strapped NHS. And there’s the Mediterranean habit of surrounding yourself with family and friends wherever you go. While I’m working – bear in mind I’m in the very centre of the city – I can hear no cars, just children, endless kids and parents playing games, singing, talking, drinking wine.
This lifestyle has been under threat for years; junk-food chains have flooded into the poorer areas, all of which now have McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and KFC. European countries are fighting back by banning new outlets, and targeting schools to warn of the dangers of a western diet. But it all comes down to time. I can build in an hour to cook every day, but for friends with long commutes, the last thing they want to do when they finally reach home is start cooking.
For homeworkers, it’s a great way to keep up your energy, and smaller meals stop you from hitting a tiredness trough during the day. But when I switch to a Med diet I return to target weight within a week, and a short amount of exercise at home (no more than 20-30 mins a day) keeps it off. Better quality calories, better writing!