Could this be the magic bullet to avoid winter flu?
Every year at the start of winter I type the same thing into Google, and every year fixate on at least one result that will save me. The question – how not to get sick – generates the same basic answers each year, but still the promise of a magic bullet lingers on. Last year, it was hand sanitiser. If I could distribute travel-size dispensers into every jacket pocket I possessed, no germs would dare to come near me. (They did.)
Windows were a thing one year; fresh air would do the trick. (It didn’t.) I’ve never gone as far as the Sars mask, but I have definitely gone through mad phases of not holding the pole in the subway.
The real answer, I know, is to eat and sleep better; but this seems unachievable, or at least deeply uninteresting without some programmatic element with grander marketing promises to make me immortal. And so this year, after everyone in my household promptly got sick three days into autumn and has been engaged in a relay race of infections ever since, it’s meal prep. If I can make my fridge look like a trolley on an airplane, we will hack this cold season and emerge fighting fit in the spring.
In this, at least, I am helped by the food preparation services of New York, which have proliferated in the last few years so that any requirement can be met and delivered to your door. If you’re on a blockbuster diet – Paleo, say, or the Whole30 – there is a company that will deliver those meals every day. There is a new company devoted to “fitness” meal plans, which seems to involve the same combination of protein, carb and fibre as its competitors, with the exception that every meal comes with a jaunty fitness-inspired name: “bodybuilder’s essential white rice”, for example, or “athlete chicken teriyaki”.
Actually, I tried that last one this week and the chicken did look like it had done a hard workout. The homespun version of all this is meal-prep Sunday, a movement on Instagram and elsewhere in which people post photos of a week’s worth of meals they have prepared on Sunday night. It is supposed to encourage, but something about the image of seven salads in mason jars or a week’s worth of neatly deconstructed chilli bowls fills me with despair.
The difficulty is primarily one of scale. Left to my own devices I will eat any old crust I can find lying around, and seem to have existed for three years solely on leftover fish fingers, so clearly there is work to be done. But the outsourcing impulse, or the adoption of radical new habits, is a piece of avoidance that ends up like all other grand schemes – in the bin.
The sensible thing, I know, is simply to shop better, which doesn’t mean panic-buying 75 kiwis and, over the course of two weeks, watching them slowly disintegrate on top of the microwave. Still, it is hard to let go of the idea there is something better out there, something bolder and more definitive in its results.
And so I go back to the internet. “Avoid contact with people who are sick,” seems to be the main headline on more than one health website, which in my case would mean moving to a separate house from my children. After another night of coughing, I think I have finally found the answer.
• Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist
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