Enjoying your food

Were you aware that it was recently British Food Fortnight a celebration of British food producers? In this country we are often guilty of selling ourselves short when it comes to food in favour of supposedly superior products from other countries. According to the British Food Fortnight website Britain now produces more cheese than France! Yesterday, I purchased a very nice looking chilli and lime condiment from my local farm shop. I am very looking forward to trying it out on my next Chinese stir fry. I also got myself a bottle of Satan’s Sister – that’s a bottle of beer in case any of you are wondering! There seem to an awful lot of small independent breweries round here producing high quality real ales. I’ll report back to you when I have got through them ..

If you are a supporter of ex-professor Patrick Holford and the Food for the Brain Foundation you may have missed British Food Fortnight. You would have thought they would have been keen on promoting healthy, wholesome and nutritious British food. Apparently not as they have certainly not sent out any emails promoting it recently. Perhaps the commission being offered was not high enough? I found a very interesting article on The Guardian website which made me wonder if celebrity nutritionists actually like food very much. Journalist Rachel Cooke went to interview Gillian McKeith. (Her full correct academic title as Ben Goldacre pointed out is actually Gillian McKeith.) She gained the impression that, dare we say it, Dr [sic] McKeith was not very healthy:

She is famously tiny woman, but even so, there is something papery about her skin; when she shakes my hands, I feel bones wrapped in parchment. She would no doubt laugh out loud at the suggestion that she is absolutely famished but, beyond all the wild enthusiasm and the preaching and the ‘positive energy’, this is precisely what she radiates. She looks hungry.

After listening to Dr [sic] McKeith Ms Cooke concludes that:

the real problem with her is that she is so anti-life. Food is about history, and culture, and ritual (…) there is so little that is celebratory ..

I very much enjoy visiting Basingstoke Farmers’ Market. It would be great to take ex-professor Holford there with me. How about a bottle of English apple juice? No too much sugar! Or some freshly made doughnuts? Also too much sugar. For some reason he seems to have a grudge against sugar. How about some minced beef or pork sausages. No, meat is unhealthy for reasons not too clear. How about some Cotswold cheese? No, apparently you will develop a dairy allergy if you eat too much. Ahhh yes, he does like his berries doesn’t he? Raspberry Mr Holford?

Michael Pollan in his recent book In Defence of Food suggests there is a real problem with he calls nutritionalism:

In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. Put another way: Foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts.” (In Defence of Food, p.28)

He goes on to declare:

[P]eople don’t eat nutrients; they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently from the nutrients they contain.

He then goes on talk about how certain supplements may actually increase mortality. Do you remember the Cochrane Collaboration’s report earlier this year?

The quest of our celebrity nutritionist friends, people like Patrick Holford and Gillian McKeith is to find the ideal combination of nutrients to create the ideal diet. If that were genuinely possible you would possibly expect to find that different kind of diets would produce different health outcomes. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Human beings appear to be able to survive on a wide variety of diets. Think of the Greeks and the so-called Mediterranean diet, Scottish crofters and their oats or the Inuit who eat a diet rich in fish. Pollan coins an interesting term when discussing the current nutritional related health problems in the western world: the Western Diet. The Western Diet is high in processed food. Are celebrity nutritionists part of the solution to this problem? Down at my local supermarket you can find a Gillian McKeith Vitamin C bar. Can you think of better sources of vitamin C? Possibly you might like to buy an orange? However, according to Ben Goldacre our friend ex-professor Holford believes some supermarket oranges do not contain any vitamin C. (It is there in black and white in the latest edition of The Optimum Nutrition Bible.) Rather coincidentally, you can get some vitamin C pills from Health Products for Life the company he recently sold to Biocare for £464,000 Goldacre invites Holford to send a vitamin C-free orange to him care of his publishers. (Note – send the orange to Ben NOT me.) Truly I hope things have not quite got that bad! Pollan points out:

Most consumers automatically assume that the word “organic” is synonamous with health, but it makes no difference to your insulin metabolism if the high-fructose corn syrup in your soda is organic. (In Defence of Food, p.178)

Nearly a year ago The World Cancer Research published a report Food, Nutrition, Physical Acitivity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective on lifestyle and cancer. The idea was to do a systematic review and look at all the available data on lifestyle and cancer, though readers of The Daily Mail could be forgiven for thinking the report was simply about demonizing bacon! Their conclusions tie in very well with what Pollan recommend in “In Defence of Food”, for example,

limit consumption of processed food with added salt (p. xx).

The report informs us

Rates of overweight and obesity doubled in many high-income countries between 1990 and 2005” (p. xvii)

It is very depressing that having conquered malnutrition in the Western world many of us are eating ourselves to death. The sad thing is that celebrity nutritionists and their army of admirers are playing on our fears. For example, Dr [sic] Gillian McKeith offers us a detox potion available for more than £15 from our local supermarket. So what can we do?

Be subversive. Don’t pill buy the pills and potions offered by the lifestyle gurus. Eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Check out local suppliers who you might miss if you rely on supermarket advertising. Get a bit of exercise. (In a few weeks I’ll tell you how to get 40% off the retail value of a bicycle.) Above all cook your own meals from scratch then you’ll be the one doing all the processing! Possibly you could even grow your own vegetables or better still get them from a member of your family who does. Enjoy your meal !!


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