The Lunchbox #19
Are you hungry for ChatGPT? No? A meal replacement shake then? Or maybe just a delicious springtime lunch and a roast sesame cookie🍪.
Hello and welcome to The Lunchbox Newsletter. And a particular welcome to our special guest…SPRING! We’ve survived another winter, and what an eventful one it’s been. On the upside, I’ve got a big box of deliciousness ready for your consumption. My very favourite part to write this week was Up on My Lunchbox, in which I delve into the dubious marketing and dodgy ethics of meal replacement drinks. I would love to have explored the world more deeply, kicked down a few doors and written another 10,000 words, but, alas, The New Yorker this ain’t. If you’d like to support my investigative journalism career AND get yourself a salty n’sweet Roasted Sesame & Chocolate Cookie recipe, I invite you to subscribe to a paid subscription. It’s only £4 a month or £40 a year and you’ll be supporting my writing of this and helping me to sustain it. Click the orange button below - and thank you for your support 🧡
What I’m currently consuming
(*Nothing here is sponsored*)
The future: ChatGPT 4
The extraordinary advancements in AI have been all over the news recently, with ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot, looking like it’s going to affect life and business in both positive and negative ways, with many people fearing for their jobs. None of it has particularly piqued my interest until now… The latest version ChatGPT 4, is able to scan a photo of your fridge and give you recommendations on what to make with its contents AND provide you with accompanying recipes. Now how useful is that? That said, we’re at the very simple recipes stage.
Upon being presented the above photo by a user in the US, the chatbot suggested “Yogurt parfait: Layer yogurt, strawberries, and blueberries in a bowl or jar. Top with honey or nuts for added texture and flavor.” Fun flourish at the end. And with its eye on marketing, the chatbot even impressively tries to rebrand your basic yogurt + fruit, a move us recipe developers have been trying to fool you people with for years. Its second suggestion, “Carrot and hummus wrap: Spread hummus on a tortilla or wrap. Top with shredded carrots and any other desired veggies” is less successful due to the absence of any wraps in the fridge. I shan’t fear for my job just yet.
The superhero supermarket: Motatos
As a person who goes weak at knees when I see the word SALE and who cares deeply about food waste, I’ve just discovered a website that gives me more thrills than a lunchtime martini. This Scandinavian supermarket scoops up surplus stock from wholesalers and distributors - whether it’s a result of over-production, seasonal trends, faulty packaging or short best before dates - that would be destined for the landfill. They sell it at heavily discounted prices, some things are up to 60% off. It’s mostly long-life dried or tinned/jarred fully packaged goods, all of which is completely fine after its BBD has passed, I mean do you ever check the date on your kitchen roll anyway?
Scrolling through is a genuinely exciting experience (if you get your kicks from discounts), and there are some wonderful brands on there right now, such as Mr Organic, Napolina, King Soba and Wessex Mill Flour. There are also cleaning products and toiletries galore. The delivery is just £2.99, free over £40, which is pretty easy to achieve if like me, you decide to stock up on all the discounted Napolina tinned tomatoes (read my thoughts on this in last week’s newsletter). See a great interview (and some wonderful scandi accents) with the founders here.
Something to fill you up
Roast Ricotta with Butter Beans, Artichokes & Mint
Fresh, perky, full of texture and vibrant flavours. If you haven’t tried roasting your ricotta yet, what are you waiting for? Instead of melting, it becomes softer and creamier and absorbs all the flavours you surround it with. A brilliant lunch or dish for a dinner party. Do you use fresh artichokes if you can get hold of them.
See my how-to video here
6 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 x 400g tins butter beans, rinsed
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fried chilli flakes
A few sprigs of thyme
3-4 jarred or fresh artichokes, quartered
Zest of ½ lemon, to serve
A big handful of mint, to serve
Green salad, to serve
Preheat the oven to 220C/425G/gas 7. Warm half the oil in a medium pan over a medium-low heat and gently fry the garlic until fragrant and just beginning to colour very slightly.
Add the beans, a big pinch of salt and pepper, 100ml of water and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the cider vinegar, then transfer to a small baking tray. They should be pretty wet.
Make a small space in the middle of the beans and up-end your ricotta into the tray. Dot around the artichokes and sprinkle the oregano, chilli flakes, and thyme sprigs over everything. Season well, then drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the edges of the ricotta are just beginning to darken.
Zest over the lemon, scatter over the mint leaves and serve warm or hot with a green salad.
Something to finish you off
Toasted Sesame & Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Sarah Kieffer
As soon as I saw a photo of a cookie rolled in sesame seeds, I knew I had to have it. This is my version of that recipe, tweaked to my tastes. I’ve added tahini and dark chocolate to temper the sweetness, giving it that perfect sweet/savoury balance - the holy grail in a sea of super-sickly cookies. The seeds give it a wonderful crunch too so this is a serious contender of a cookie.
175g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar
150g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp tahini
1 tsp sea salt flakes, plus extra to sprinkle
1/2 tsp baking powder
240g plain flour
100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped or choc chips
Black and white sesame seeds, to roll
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. With an electric whisk, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and once fully incorporated after a minute or so, add the tahini.
In a separate bowl, combine the salt, baking powder and flour, then stir into the sugar mix. Once mixed, stir in the chocolate.
Combine the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl. Shape the cookie mix into 55g balls, then roll in the sesame seeds until evenly covered.
Place on some lined baking trays (I suggest 5 per tray), making sure there’s plenty of space between each one. Sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt, then place in the oven for 8 minutes until golden in the edges.
Remove the tray and give it a couple of assertive taps on a hard surface (this helps create the ripples), then return to the oven for another 3 minutes. Repeat this once more, then once the cookies are golden on the edges and place in the centre, remove and leave to cool, transferring to a cooling rack after 10 minutes. Will last in an airtight container for 3-5 days.
Meal replacement products: friend or foe?
My headline is misleading. As a dedicated meal chewer, I’m clearly NOT going to argue both sides, but I’m fascinated by the marketing of these brands that tell you that these products will enhance your life, particularly your health. And they’re spreading across the Western world with Soylent in the US and Feed in France.
Meal replacement drinks have been around for a while - I’m sure we’re all aware of Slimfast’s shakes for weight loss. And indeed, more recently, protein shakes for supplementing your meals have become more popular along with the rise in gym culture. But what is this new breed of meal replacement that’s being marketed to active millennials who are apparently too busy to eat solid food? And to be clear, I don’t see any issue with grabbing something for breakfast as you rush out the door, we all occasionally have to do that. But lunch and dinner - are they not actually pretty important moments of the day?
You may have seen the adverts or even know someone who drinks Huel, (see advert, above), the most heavily, cleverly marketed and prevalent of the bunch. It’s a big business. Founded in 2015, it’s now valued at $560m, with a host of celebrity investors. It claims to provide ‘26 essential vitamins and minerals, protein, essential fats, carbs, fibre and phytonutrients’ with this as a mission statement: ‘We want to make nutritionally complete, convenient, affordable food, with minimal impact on animals and the environment.’ These products are being marketed to address all the pain points of the modern millenial: Are you concerned about your health? Too busy trying to achieve in this life? Worried about money, wastage and the environment? Then Drink This!
Huel’s claims of saving you money on your food costs have already got them in trouble. A Facebook advert claiming a month’s supply only costs £50 has been banned by the Advertising Standards Agency who worked it out as being in excess of £350. And that’s not their only honesty violation. Steven Bartlett, a braggadocious 30 year-old entrepreneur, known for his role on Dragon’s Den, (and famously prone to exaggerating his wealth) also doesn’t do much good for their image. Huel sponsors his podcast, The Diary of CEO, and he frequently waxes lyrical about how drinking Huel is key to his efficiency and success (we call this bro logic). He makes it seem almost glamorous. But this has got him in hot water with the ASA too, for blurring the lines by doing a chatty ad that was ‘not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication’. Oh, and the one thing that he doesn’t tend to talk loudly about…he’s on the board of Huel.
Now I’ve established the dubious marketing, I’m ready to sink my teeth into the heart of the matter: for a product that is being marketed for its health benefits, I fail to see how drinking a meal from a bottle is good for your health. Yes, it might carry all the requisite protein, fat etc, but what is healthy about not stopping, sitting down and paying attention to what your body needs? To not experiencing your food? Buddhism encourages us to focus on the act of eating, to eat and drink and with our whole heart. Indeed, there’s a reason why so many Eastern cultures eat with their hands - they want to connect with their food. Drinking your meal is the antithesis of this and regularly rejecting the ritual of eating cannot be good for our mental health. And of course, since breaking bread is at its heart a communal activity, are we not depriving ourself of the essential pleasure of sharing a meal with a loved one, friend or colleague?
Huel’s attitude to this is revealed in the above video, in which we see a young woman sitting at her desk tapping away at her laptop and sipping away at a bottle of Huel. No lunch break. No rest. No fresh air. Just work. Isn’t the loneliness of gulping down our meals solo more detrimental to our health than not quite reaching our daily protein allowance? And isn’t it just a bit depressing?
Since you read this newsletter, I can assume that you Live to Eat. You may know a few people who live on the flip side of this, but this breed of person is a rarity, often the extremely busy or stressed. Huel’s attempt to normalise this less-than-joyful approach to eating is dangerous and will surely lead to more disordered eating and a generation unable to prepare their own meals or able to feed themselves their required nutrients – allowing more businesses like Huel to take advantage. One of life’s greatest pleasures is sharing a well-prepared meal with other people. And indeed, what about the pleasure in the preparation - taking time out of your day to nourish yourself and do something other than working or achieving. Huel is set to deprive an already-stressed generation of many wonderful things and for this reason, it’s very much a foe.