Much of the world eats the same thing every day. Why are we so preoccupied with variety?
Figuring out what's for dinner is an endless challenge for people in North America. There are countless websites, cookbooks, businesses, and social media platforms dedicated to driving culinary inspiration and giving ideas to people who can no longer think of anything new to make. People will pay a small fortune to have ingredients delivered to their front doors, just to avoid the hassle of figuring it out for themselves.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, there is far less debate. Why? Because they eat the same thing every day. There is a daily food routine based on repetition and predictability. Sure, it makes a diet more monotonous than my Canadian one, which switches randomly from Italian pasta to Asian noodles to Indian curry to American chili and cornbread, but it makes life easier for the home cook.This point has been driven home as I travel around Sri Lanka. On the first day, faced with a plate of spicy dal and rice, I commented that I could eat this every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My local tour guide looked up and said, "You will." Sure enough, five days into the trip, I can say I've eaten rice and dal (or variations of it) for almost every meal so far. Monotonous? Not in the least. It's tasty, nutritious, and filling – all that I ask from an ordinary meal.
I've had the same experience in Brazil, where every lunch consists of black beans and rice; in Italy, where lunch predictably includes courses of pasta, meat, and salad; in Turkey, where breakfast is always a mix of olives, tomatoes, and cheese. These things don't change much because people don't overthink them: they just make food.
Here on TreeHugger, we've written before about the need to return to simpler 'peasant'-style cooking, to embrace the traditional dishes that are the foundation of different culinary styles and that rely on local, seasonal ingredients. These are often vegetarian dishes, or use little meat, as meat has traditionally been reserved for special occasions.
But now I am suggesting that we take a step further and embrace repetition. We should stop obsessing over novelty and eating different exciting things for every meal, and focus instead on what is good, healthy, and straightforward to prepare, even if it means eating the same thing over and over again. It's the food-based equivalent of a uniform, which many of the world's most successful people have adopted because it limits decision fatigue. By cooking the same thing, you free up your mind for bigger ideas and concerns.
Establishing a core repertoire of 5-8 recipes and running through those on a regular basis would go a long way toward alleviating the anxiety that we Westerners create for ourselves in the kitchen. Or we could each commit to making the same thing every night for weeknight dinners, and save the innovation for the weekends.
I know I'll return home from Sri Lanka with a desire to simplify things in the kitchen. I won't hesitate to serve bean burritos twice in a week, or shy away from making the same batch of minestrone soup several times in a month. Because – let's be honest – the family doesn't care. They're just happy to have delicious, fresh food on the table, so why not make it as easy as possible?