A tender age? Eating when you’re older

I use a lot of grooming products on my face. As a man approaching his late 30s, the daily slathering of retinol and hyaluronic acid has turned from prevention to attempted cure as the slope on the downward spiral towards my demise gets ever steeper. Wow, what a jolly, uplifting start? This sharpened sense of my own mortality brings with it many thoughts. Do I really want children? Am I successful enough in my career? Do I have any nostril hairs left that aren’t grey? And, most importantly, will I still enjoy the food I do now when I’m older?

When I’m at my parents’ I do all the cooking. I was an unofficial consultant on their kitchen renovation and as such lay claim to the space when I visit. There was a period where my nan would come over to my folks’ for Sunday lunch which would always be prefaced with a friendly reminder from my dad to not present any food that was “mucked about with”, her words, not his. ‘Mucked about with’ included but was not limited to spices of any kind, almost every herb (I vaguely recall thyme making the cut once), anything that had an exotic name regardless of its flavour, garlic, alcohol (she was a teetoller all her life save for a famous incident in a Bath pub with a double Archers and lemonade and a story about my dad’s circumcision), sour things and anything that would bother Mr Scoville’s scale. For a while I took it as a challenge – how could I make a meal that would pass the nan-test while still tickling the pickles of those with broader tastes?

Suffice it to say it was trial and error. Red wine in the gravy was a big no-no. She clocked that straight away. Mustard on the outside of a joint of beef didn’t go completely undetected but was eaten nonetheless. And then there was the curious time I slashed up a lamb leg and poked garlic, rosemary and anchovy into the little cuts which was an unwitting slam dunk success. Who knew?

But as time has gone on, my wonderful nan has found even the most basic flavours a challenge. Sweet trumps savoury. Some components of the roast are now off-limits. Black pepper has became a contentious issue. Ham, egg and chips is a sure-fire winner.

We come into the world with 30,000 taste buds in our mouths but by adulthood only about a third remain. After forty, taste buds stop regenerating, so it’s a fast train to Bland Central from there. Older people’s sense of smell diminishes over time too, while they also need more sugar and salt in their meals for it to register – not great for their health but let’s leave that Pandora’s chocolate box closed for another time. 

But there is one big difference I’m dearly holding on to to give me hope I won’t end up eating sad sliced white and custard creams in my dotage. Growing up during WWII, the availability and prevalence in cooking of the ingredients people of my generation and younger consider everyday was so restrictive, today’s 80-year-olds have never really been exposed to these new flavours. Their eating habits were established in an era when food was generally served in black and white and it wasn’t the discovery/ social currency/ performance art/ political hot potato/ onanistic popularity contest it has become today.

I can’t even fathom how I would begin explaining to my nan that last night I opened up my phone and used an app to order some Vietnamese food which then got delivered to me. But for most of us this seems as normal as having a shower or disagreeing with Donald Trump’s policies. Modern life can be scary and intimidating, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that you can’t give an old dog new treats. 

But in the same way I cannot conceive a day that I’ll give up slim-fitting jeans in favour of DadSlacks, I can’t see me giving up my beloved spice rack. Only time will tell.

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