There is no denying the fact that life is tough and getting tougher by the day and, one of the hardest things to do, is to keep your family fit and healthy within the budget you have at your disposal, which is where a puzzle emerges.

Why on earth do the majority of people spend so much of their increasingly precious income on absolute junk - dangerous junk at that and then complain that they don’t have enough money to manage on?!

Let’s face it - the Pakistani diet was, at one time, probably, one of the healthiest in the world - bursting at the seams with all of the highly nutritious and necessary minerals, vitamins, proteins etc found in lentils, beans, fresh dairy products, meat, fish, chicken and, obviously, some of the very best fruit and vegetables to be found anywhere on earth, yet, over the last couple of decades or thereabouts, people, both urban and rural, have turned their backs on what is good in favour of some ‘edibles’ that are downright bad and which have a distinctly negative effect on health and pocket.

Advertising, it goes without saying, has much to do with it, but so to do changes in societal mores and values, which, yes, are influenced but not wholly controlled by advertising in all of its many guises and, I hasten to add, advertising does, in some cases, play an extremely valuable role in spreading information about the currently available items. It appears to be more of a ‘following like sheep’ situation in which people merrily follow the example set by others in their circle of family or friends without actually giving the matter much, if any, thought.

An interesting conundrum arises here though…....whilst packets, tins, jars, bottles, cans and cartons have taken over from wholesome meals and snacks conjured up in the kitchen, there is an outburst of “Ooh’s” and “Aah’s” if someone presents something homemade or, taking it a step further, homegrown yet, on the whole, few are now prepared to make things themselves on a regular basis - once in a blue moon and, by the way, there is one of those this month, is fine but not day in, day out unless there is a resident, paid for cook who, if the opportunity arises, will also make use of pre-packaged this and that to save the effort of starting from scratch.

Today, Eid festivities being in process, will be a prime example of people feasting, over-eating to be honest, on a wide variety of dishes of which one, usually more, ingredient is processed in one way or another and, during this process, purposefully ‘contaminated’ with an array of chemicals in the form of preservatives, colouring and flavouring to name but three and, things in Pakistan being what they are, some of these will have already been banned in countries where more sense prevails yet here, where healthcare is a major  and costly issue, people literally gorge themselves on things which, in the long-term, can make them very sick indeed.

The underlying reason for dietary changes just has to lie, not with affordability as even those who shouldn’t still do manage to spend fortunes on white sugar, processed snack items large and small and, when given the chance, on greasy fast foods that do nothing for blood pressure let alone general health, but on the societal development of the concept of time. It is true to say that far more women work these days, so they have less time to spend preparing food from scratch, let alone find the time to go out and purchase the necessary, unprocessed ingredients from the bazaar, but the vast majority of women do still have ‘housewife’ as their main role in life. The thing is, so-called ‘progress’ and ‘development’ being what they are, a large percentage of housewives, I certainly do not use this term in a derogatory manner, much prefer to spend their time glued to the television or computer screens than in the kitchen when, as many of them do have household appliances rendering work easily and quicker done, they should really be able to find plenty of time to make relatively low cost, healthy meals which, giving it sensible thought, will save on those dreaded medical bills too.

Please do not get me wrong: I am not against taking shortcuts in the kitchen and do it all the time myself, but shortcuts do not have to mean using anything other than pure, unadulterated, food and fresh food when possible. Most households have, despite the problems brought about by loadshedding, fridges or freezers or even both and knowledgeable use of these means that food can be cooked every other day at the most, rather than on a daily basis and it really doesn’t take all that long to cook up things such as tomato sauces and even jams and the like if household tastes have developed in this direction.

In no way am I, a ‘liberated’ female in the Pakistani sense of the word, advocating that women should be locked in the kitchen - no way!

What I am advising though is the rebirth of sense and sensibility on the food and health front, nothing more and nothing less.

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban. Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com