I should warn you before you begin reading – this is a subject that is very close to my heart and I could talk about it for hours. There’s a reason I’ve called this my Food Manifesto. Let the wordy post commence!
We all seem to be obsessed with what and how much we’re eating and whether it’s healthy or not, leading to much one-upmanship and food shaming on blogs, Twitter and Instagram. The media world has happily taken up the crusade with programmes that play on our body and diet insecurities such as the Biggest Loser. I believe that this leads to even greater confusion and disillusionment with what “healthy” is for the general public and I think the narrative needs to change.
Most people are unsure about what they are eating and whether it is right for them – there would hardly be such an appetite for healthy living and exercise information if this wasn’t the case. I’ve discovered this for myself. I used to be a couple of stone heavier, but you couldn’t tell that much on my body because luckily the extra pounds spread out well. I lost the weight that I mainly put on due to depression and too many takeaways. I started reading health and exercise blogs and websites, trying to figure out what a natural, normal and healthy diet for a standard human should look like, but the same questions kept cropping up. Is fat or sugar the big bad wolf, or both? What’s wrong with carbohydrates and gluten? How much is a normal portion size? Will all these so-called superfoods do what they say on the tin or even help with weight-loss or management?
I’m not a scientist or a health coach. I don’t have any qualifications in these areas. But most people don’t and we all need to be able to find our balance when it comes to our diets. The problem is that our viewpoint, or the one that we’re fed via the media, is essentially very narrow. I believe that some of the TV programmes and articles we digest just reinforce our bad habits and false doctrines when it comes to food. They look at food from a constricted standpoint because they have to keep it snappy and engaging for today’s audiences who can easily just flick over to the next channel or blog post. We have a short attention span… I forgive you if your attention span means you don’t read on, you’re only human!
I’m afraid that the simplistic view of wholefoods that comes across in the media is confusing and pricing people out of eating healthily. For example, I recently watched a programme on superfoods that investigated the health benefits of quinoa. Their experiment consisted in making a group of people eat a bowl of quinoa and another group eat the same quantity in white rice after which they measured the participants’ blood sugar. I could hardly believe what I was watching! To me, it seems completely nonsensical. Of course white rice would spike blood sugar more than a wholegrain like quinoa. Why couldn’t they have compared it to something that is more nutritious, like brown rice or millet, just so we’re on a more level playing field and people have a larger frame of reference for a “healthy” grain? I mean, comparing quinoa to white rice is like comparing salad leaves to French fries nutritionally speaking. How about showing people a variety of healthy grains as alternatives to white rice or pasta? Let’s educate people and not promote one particular type of food which everyone will then run out and buy. Which leads me on to a point that’s close to my heart – the sustainability and affordability of nutritious food.
A lot of the foods that are portrayed in the media as being healthy are what I would call luxury items and are prohibitively expensive for a normal family to consume regularly. They are often also not grown locally which raises sustainability questions! Let’s take quinoa – before its rise in popularity the crop was mainly grown in South America and eaten by South Americans. I’ve been led to believe that it was quite a cheap grain that most people could afford. Its rise in global popularity has meant that that demand was outstripping supply and the product got more expensive, potentially pricing South Americans out of a crop their diets would rely on. Quinoa is beginning to be grown more widely, primarily across North America and India, and there is now also a UK-based quinoa farm, hooray! Hopefully this will mean that there will be more of it coming down in price and becoming more affordable for anybody who wants to eat it.
Let’s stand up against the superfood fads and restrictive diets. There are a hell of a lot of people on this planet and populations are only projected to grow. So let’s eat more of what is grown nearby rather than taking food away from people halfway across the world. There are also a lot of people without access to nutritious food. Let’s stop wasting food, such as bread crusts that have gone slightly stale, to ensure there is enough to go around. Let’s pay our farmers a decent price so that food production in our countries continues and prospers so that we and our family are less dependent on the fluctuations of the global food markets as to whether there are apples available in our local shop and how much they cost.
Let’s stand up for our diets. I refuse to starve myself and will listen to what my body is telling me. If I want cake, I’ll eat cake. I will try to bake one myself that is nutritionally valuable and more special than something standard from the supermarket (for example, lowering the sugar in the recipe, using organic ingredients, swapping plain for wholemeal spelt flour). But I’ll also have a piece of supermarket bought cake if there is something to celebrate.
I guess what I’m saying is let’s have some balance and variety in our lives! Learn to read your body, listen to what it’s craving and have it. Sometimes that might be salads, sometimes that might be a burger. Go with it, savour each bite, stop when you’re full.
Do you ever get frustrated with the way food is portrayed in the media? Do you follow a particular diet or are you fed up with restricting yourself to other people’s version of healthy? I’d really love to hear your views!