Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The Soul of A Carrot
When did we stop eating 'properly'. When did we begin to pile food in meaty towers on huge white plates or substitute a simple bowl of porridge for a breakfast bar dipped in fake yoghurt? When did we begin to believe the manufacturers who told us taking an omega-3 supplement was as good as eating a slice of grilled fish or that beta-carotene in a capsule will cure cancer when all we had to do was eat a carrot?
My mother used to take a banana to work every day "There's a meal in every banana . . " was her mantra. We were packed healthy lunches and forbidden 'snack foods' except at perhaps the odd birthday party and the sharing of a family block of Cadbury's dairy milk on Sunday nights.
On the 7:30 Report tonight I watched a gentle American called Michael Pollan who has just written a book called "In Defense of Food" about food - good food, how to find it, how to eat it and pretty much exposing the marketing Leviathan that tells us "Up and Go" is breakfast, a muesli bar is healthy and that Cocoa Pops are good for our hearts because they contain no fat. We're obsessed with anti-oxidants yet they are present in all vegetables and fruits.
Pollan made the point that the way to make money in the food industry is to take something simple and process the poo out of it. We've forgotten the 'soul of a carrot'. We take out the beta carotene because it was considered the 'cancer preventing' element within a carrot. Turn it into a capsule and sell it in the 'Nutrition' aisle of the supermarket and we'll all live forever. Then it's religiously devoured and the realisation that in combination with alcohol it actually causes cancer. Why, because scientists are not 'sure' that it's beta-carotene in isolation that has the health benefits. Perhaps its beta-carotene working in league with chlorophyll? Perhaps its that element working symbiotically with a number of other chemicals and nutrients that makes the carrot a healthy food. Why not just eat a carrot?
Clearly there's something wrong with the way we're eating. The western diet is literally killing us with frightening levels of obesity, increasing diabetes and heart disease and then there's the environmental problem of over-consuming, grain-eating beef, pork, chicken . . . That grain could be used to feed people! I'm not advocating vegetarianism although I've long held a wish to be one, I am a sucker for a rare fillet steak - with pepper sauce - or red wine jus . . .sorry . . had an omelette for dinner and it didn't quite satisfy. Being a vegetarian is your call if you want to go that way but a healthy diet does not include eating 150kilos of meat a year! And that slab of muscle pushes plants out of our diet and to our detriment.
We are also confused by the proliferation of health claims, the Heart Foundation tick, the wholegrain invasion, the low fat campaign . . how can all this coincide with an obesity epidemic? In our obsession with low fat food, we give a free pass to carbs and sugars and for that reason, we need be careful of food industry commissioned research.
Pollan also gives us a few simpler rules: Use smaller plates, (anyone who's ever been to Weight Watchers knows that one!) make meat a flavouring not the staple of a meal. Use fresh, lightly cooked vegetables, eat wholegrain bread, avoid the pre-packaged convenience foods. Take 'time' to eat - a difficult concept for Aussies who are often seen dashing along busy city streets during the work day with food in hand . . I've never met a country that delights so in eating on the run.
If your Grandma can't recognise it . . you probably shouldn't eat it. Don't eat food that won't ever rot, eat slowly and give your stomach time to alert your brain. My Gran used to administer a teaspoon of cod liver oil a day and a teaspoon of molasses to make it palatable - she died peacefully at 87. Personally, I would have rather had a nice medium Atlantic salmon cutlet but . . that's just me.
I'm overweight and yes, I eat way too much meat and loves me chardy, I can't stand the gym and I have a largely sedentary job . . .excuses . .oh yeah . . but my fridge is full largely of perishables. There's no margarine or cheese in a tube. My freezer contains ice and peas and the odd cold pack for DrummerBoy's weary bones. I know not to boil veg until it turns to moosh or looks an unhealthy sage green. In a country where most fruit and veg from Pineapples to Avocados are available all year round, there's really no excuse to indulging in pre-packaged, over processed food and a window-sill full of supplements! Bottom line, as we've increased quantity in the food growing nations, we've reduced quality.
Clearly, cheese in a tube is weird . . fruit in a 'Roll up' isn't fruit . . .breakfast in a long life tetra pack isn't breakfast and Fruit Loops well . . enough said. Eat food, not too much and mostly plants! And as the Japanese would say "eat until you're four fifths full!"
Now . . all I have to do is take my own advice and whizz past KFC and MacDonalds when I go to feed the horses tomorrow lunchtime . . I wonder what rolled barley in molasses tastes like? Meets with Laurie's seal of approval! Then again . . .I think I'll just have a banana!