Category Archives: The Food Revolution

Family Meals

Family meals mean something different to everyone, but for me it’s any meal that is taken sitting at a table, preferably with good company, good food and good conversation. No, the office desk is not a table and Twitter/Facebook/Instant Messaging is not good company, but will do in a push, there might be something to be said for video chat although I’m not so sure I want to be on the receiving end even if I’m eating at the same time.

There are a lot of reasons that this ‘Family’ style of meal has evolved in numerous different cultures through the centuries and not all of them are down to practical reasons like the lack of a microwave to re-heat a meal, or social reasons the human beings need to talk and bond.

For me the most important reason is the lack of distractions, this allows you time to think about what you’re eating; yes, you may be discussing the news of the day or the meal itself with someone but your attention isn’t focused on the television or your laptop or and without that distraction your mind will try to fill in the space by thinking more about what you’re eating, how it tastes and maybe even where your meal came from.

This has a number of benefits, not least of which is that you will experience your food rather than simply tasting it. You will consciously think about the textures, flavours and so on. I almost always find myself wanting to talk about how a family meal was cooked and it’s the discussion that slows down our eating (another benefit) and eating slower also means that we generally eat less (another benefit)

This is before we have even thought about the benefit of the social aspect of a family meal. The mere act of sitting and breaking bread together is something that helps bring people together. After all, one of the single best things we can do to improve our mental health is to talk, it’s as much a requirement for healthy living in humans as the food we eat.

You’d think that having a family meal a day would be standard practice for everyone with all these benefits but it’s unfortunately a tradition that is dying out. There are many reasons/excuses given for this, modern life and working hours, the hassle of actually cooking, timing the cooking so everything is ready at once and that old classic, I don’t have the time.

That last one always annoys the hell out of me, if you don’t have time to do something that is so important to your health and well being as eating, well then you’ll never have enough time for anything else.

Timing the cooking of different elements of a meal can be tricky and sometimes I find potatoes taking longer to cook than I expect or cooking much quicker, that’s why we have ovens. More importantly, that’s why we have one pot meals like stews and pies. With a little practice when timing isn’t as critical you will quickly develop skills to get it right more times than not and eventually every time or at least the skills to fake it 😉

The hassle of cooking? Please give it a rest, unless you plan on eating alone then you have people around to help, get them involved as you need. Most people will be only to happy to help and can do a task, like chopping the veg or stirring the pot etc. with only a little input from you. This not only makes the task easier for you, but it shares the skills with others, adds to the social aspect and people who help prepare a meal are far less likely to criticise it and far more likely to enjoy it.

The modern life one, can be a bit of a bugger though sometime people aren’t working the same hours so it can be difficult to schedule, but you should still make the effort to have a family meal as often as possible, if for no other reason than it helps to repair the damage that the modern life and weird hours can have on the human condition.

Nutritional Science

It’s been around for a long time and we should trust it absolutely, shouldn’t we?

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food and nutrition is a big part of that, after all what’s the point in me sharing these recipes if I don’t have the first clue about the nutritional value, I could be recommending recipes that while they may not be toxic in the “comic book – one bite and you’re dead sense”, could very easily be missing a vital nutrient or have excessive amounts of calories or a dozen other “problems” that could lead to a slow and painful death.

So I’ve taken to trying to find out as much as I can about nutrition and nutritional science. It’s actually a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. The thing that has struck me though is how much we trust nutritionist to decide what we will eat on a day to day basis, when the science is really in it’s infancy.

It was less than 200 years ago that Liebig first discovered the make up of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, marking the start of the science of nutrition. At the time people thought that was all there was to food, no worries about vitamins, minerals etc. but then later came the discoveries of those and then that was added to what we thought was all that was important in food, then came more discoveries and those were added as well, until we get to where we are today and we think we know everything about food.

To put it simply we don’t and along the journey so far many missteps have been taken in the name of nutritional science. For example we believe that a low fat diet reduces the risk of heart disease. If so, why have we seen more and more heart disease as more and more of us move to a low fat diet?

The thing is there is a lot to be said for nutritional science as well, but the human race has tended to put far too much faith in nutritionists (in my opinion) and not enough in where we got our nutritional information from historically. This is basically those traditional recipes handed down through the generations that we have all tasted. These recipes and cuisines have survived because the people eating them have survived and thrived. If the food was killing them then they would have either changed and evolved what they were eating or simply died out.

Somewhere in the last two hundred years though we decided to ignore this obvious fact and put our faith completely in science before the science actually knew as much as our ancestors did about what we were eating.

The more I learn about nutrition the more I realise just how wise our ancestors were, they didn’t eat processed packaged foods, they ate meals cooked with fresh ingredients, that were mostly grown locally or grown wild.

The thing the science can confirm for us is that the fresher the food, the more nutrients, vitamins, minerals etc. are present but shure yer Great-Granny/Granny/Mammy could have told you that 😉

What do you think, do you trust your Great-Granny/Granny/Mammy more than the Scientists?

Food related stuff I’ve spotted on the Intertubes

This post is really a bit of a lazy one, these types of things to me are the equivalent of “the clip show” on TV. I read a fair bit online as well as offline about all things food. Sometimes these articles help me to form or reform opinions I have and express them in my own posts here. Every so often though I collect an array of open web pages because I want to write about certain topics but for one reason or another don’t get round to fleshing out these ideas. So with out further ado I give you a series of links to interesting and thought provoking articles I’ve read over the last week or two.

First up we have @reindeersp list of all the Irishfoodies that could be found on twitter, click here if you want to follow the list yourself.

It looks like Amazon are getting into the online grocery business, in the UK at least. I had a look through some of the catalogue before I realised the UK only nature of the Beta and was thinking of ordering a few bits and bobs that aren’t easily found locally but was disappointed that I couldn’t. Here’s hoping the beta goes well and it’s available to all sooner rather than later.

What a great new product from thinkgeek :)

Peter has a really interesting post about teaching organic gardening in schools. I really enjoyed this post and to me it comes down to this… which is “greener”? “Organic” produce that may be better travelled than I am :) or local produce that maybe isn’t certified organic?

Think about the carbon footprint of what’s on your dinner plate this evening, how far has each ingredient travelled? Is that better or worse for the environment than non-organic farming? I honestly don’t know but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and so far for me it comes down to taste, freshness and the methods used to produce the food, not whether it’s certified “organic” or not.

And now for some Food Revolution updates, it’s great to hear about positive moves in the U.S.A. like this one from the Governator himself, but then you read things like this and realise that it’s going to take a long time for real change to happen. Still it’s another reason for me to be happy that my breakfast cereal of choice is porridge.

Closer to home, in the UK, Jamie Oliver has come in for some rather strange criticism by none other than Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary and has had funding removed from his School Dinners program to improve them in the UK, at the same time as his efforts in the US are starting to have a serious impact. Then only a few days later you read this and think well he’s (Andrew Lansley) going to have to rethink that now, or will he?

Monsanto Vs Haiti

Recently, (about a week ago) I spotted a link from @donegangardens on twitter that led to a really surprising story. Essentially Haitian farmers have been offered 60,000 seed sacks of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds by Monsanto (manufacturers of Roundup). Not only have they turned them down, they have actually vowed to burn them. Full Story here.

Roundup herbicide logo
Image Via Wikipedia

While at first this might seem a little ungrateful and idiotic after the recent disaster, I for one am very impressed by this. Monsanto’s GM Seeds account for 90% of the GM crops sown in the US. So? I hear you say – they developed a product that people want and are reaping the benefits.

While this is true, it doesn’t give the full picture. To see the extremes that Monsanto are willing to go to, in order to protect their monopoly it’s worth watching Food, Inc. or reading this Wikipedia article.

Now I don’t want anyone getting the impression that I’m anti GM crops, I’m not (I look forward to square fruit and veg that don’t roll off my work surfaces and bruise themselves :) ) in fact I believe it’s just an extension of what’s been happening in agriculture for centuries with selective breeding and cross breeding. The genetic code of many plants has been changed, possibly the best known example is the orange carrot; this is not natural, but a result of extensive breeding by the Dutch.

Where I have an issue with genetically modified crops, as we know them today, is a result of the litigiouf tactics used by Monsanto.

Throughout 2004 and 2005, Monsanto filed lawsuits against many farmers in Canada and the U.S. on the grounds of patent infringement, specifically the farmers’ sale of seed containing Monsanto’s patented genes. In some cases, farmers claimed the seed was unknowingly sown by wind carrying the seeds from neighboring crops, a claim rejected in Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser.[8] These instances began in the mid to late 1990s, with one of the most significant cases being decided in Monsanto’s favor by the Canadian Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote in late May 2004, that court ruled that “by cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without license, the appellants (canola farmer Percy Schmeiser) deprived the respondents of the full enjoyment of the patent.” With this ruling, the Canadian courts followed the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision on patent issues involving plants and genes. Source

The main effect of this is that farmers are not allowed to keep seed from their crop to plant next season, which significantly raises costs for the farmers in question.

On top of all this Monsanto’s seeds are linked to a range of new superweeds that have evolved (remarkably quickly) to be resistant to Roundup and other weed killers.

A lot of us Geeky/Techie types have been known to go on about Microsoft / Google / Apple / “flavour of the week” are pure evil and are out to control the world for their own demonic ends but those guys are amateurs compared to Monsanto, who are looking to control the food chain and in the US at least they are almost there. Think about it, Monsanto provide the corn seed, which (thanks to the processing industry) gets processed into roughly 25% of all products in US Supermarket chains (Source) and while we all know supermarkets sell more than food these days, US supermarkets take that to a whole new level with a product range that exceeds what’s available in most Irish shopping centres. So how much Monsanto GM corn is in the food?

Corn (because there is now such an excess) is now used to feed the majority of US beef cattle even though cattle are not designed to live on it. Corn feeds a lot of the chickens that are reared in the US as well, both for meat and eggs. Hell, even farmed salmon in the US are now being trained to eat corn.

So if the people eat the corn and the farm animals eat the corn and are then eaten by the people, who has majority control of the food chain… The people? The government, the farmers or Monsanto?

And these guys want to “give” all this seed “free” to Haitian farmers? With their track record, I think most will forgive my scepticism, but in my opinion there just might be a very sinister ulterior motive in play and I for one both respect and admire the Haitians who are taking this stand as the heroes they truly are.