grow it cook it preserve it eat it wendy pillar blog gardener grow your own in dorset


Having a pop at Jamie Oliver - October 2015

I've been watching Jamie Oliver's Super Foods recently. I'm all for promoting healthy, tasty, real food, but I can't help thinking that Jamie is missing the point, and the information he is working from about what comprises healthy eating is a little outdated.

 For a start, he's pretty into counting calories. Now it surely has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that counting calories is not the way to lose weight? There is so much more to human metabolism than calories in vs calories out. The calorie counts of his meals is way too small as well. The total of the three meals he presents as a day's food is only 1000 calories. That's nowhere near enough for an adult, even one trying to lose weight. If you try to restrict calorie intake this much, it's just going to trigger your body's 'starvation mode', because the human body is so much better adapted to surviving famine with fat stores intact than dealing with an oversupply of food, since a shortage of food has been the major threat to our survival throughout evolution until a few decades ago in the West. Jamie's also trotting out the standard line against fat, especially saturated fat, and new evidence is making that idea look very shaky indeed. After all, the explosion in obesity numbers pretty much coincides with the arrival of the low-fat diet.

 I love seeing the super long-lived populations Jamie visits in Costa Rica, Greece and Japan, but their diet is only part of these people's lifestyle. For a start, they are nearly all outdoors, growing their food, foraging it, processing it themselves, cooking it. Not one of them is sitting in front of a computer screen or doing a daily commute in traffic fumes. Their environments are clean, the food production is local, organic and artisanal, being produced and eaten by the same people or those personally known to them. It is seasonal, fresh and minimally preserved, consumed in a relaxed social environment, as an important part of the day.

 This just doesn't translate to the Western lifestyle. You can live entirely on tofu, blueberries and chia seeds, but if they have been produced intensively, and chemically, on another continent, transported in plastic, their shelf-life artificially extended, then eaten quickly in front of the TV after a stressful day in the office and a commute full of traffic fumes, well, it's better than a takeaway donner kebab, but you're not going to get the miracle benefits advertised.

 You won't hear that in mainstream food media, because the superfood industry is part of the food industry and tied up in the Western industrial food supply model. And Jamie Oliver, with his vast fortune made from the food industry and supermarket tie-ins, is not independent enough to challenge it, however well-intentioned, and however much good he  does (neither of which I am disputing). Carrots that you have grown yourself, or blackberries that you have foraged from the hedgerow yourself, have far greater 'superfood' properties than goji berries imported from China.

 The Western diet and lifestyle are killing us. If we want to live long, healthy, active lives, we have to face that this is the truth, and change it. We have to break our love affair with the supermarkets and processed food, and start cooking from scratch local, organic ingredients, and putting food at the centre of our family and social lives. We have to address our daily stress levels, which probably involves working less, earning less and spending less. That's a very inconvenient truth, and it's taken many years of little steps for me to get to a place where that kind of approach is starting to become habitual, but the truth is that it's not a hair-shirted chore to live like that, it's liberating, social and fun. The Western lifestyle and diet very much involve being cogs in industrial machines that exist for the benefit only of a few very rich people, whatever their slick, cuddly marketing tells us.

 The superfood diet might involve not buying tofu from your supermarket, but instead visiting a greengrocer, ordering a veg box, or buying some meat from the person who reared it or some cheese from the person who made it. It involves growing some of your own food, even if only on a windowsill, and it involves making food a central part of your life, not something you do as quickly and cheaply as possible, before doing something else. It's about enjoying real food, not chewing on something bland because it is an industry-branded 'superfood'.

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