Friday, 27 March 2009


image People all over the world eat different foods, but when it comes down to it, there are only things from animals and things from plants. You may like chilli sauces, soy sauce, tomato sauce or a good gravy. You may season your food with salt or pepper or oregano or lemon juice or coriander leaves or rocket. You may like seaweeds and sushis or pate and caviar or lollies or vegemite. You may eat Mexican food or Japanese or Middle Eastern but they are all either of animal or plant origin. Even our drinks are just clever uses of plants. Do you drink coffee, peppermint tea or rooibos or even sake,  gin, vodka, wine, lemonade or, horror of horrors, coke? Whatever the case, it all originates from animals or plants.

Way, way, way back in time, people only ate what they could pick or grow or catch. Life was hard work and the human life span was often short but not usually because of what they ate. Usually death came through disease and lack of hygiene, hunting injuries or fighting. (The single most important cause of the increase in world population was the discovery of hand washing, to reduce the spreading of infection. Hand washing has saved more lives than every medication ever discovered, combined.) People knew what they were eating because it still looked like the raw ingredient until they cooked it.

imageWhat has happened in my lifetime, is that what a lot of western people eat has stopped being food. Or at best, is so thoroughly disguised and prepared for consumption that its origins have been long lost in packaging. Although a chiko roll or hotdog or a can of coke once had its origins in something plant or animal, it has been processed down to a piece of coloured, flavoured, preserved, and often deep-fried mass and remade into a shape and colour and flavour that market research has deemed attractive to consumers. Look at this photo I took in a French supermarket of thousands of tiny plastic pots different types of yoghurt etc.....where are the 1 kg containers? Not available anywhere.... and so many flavours.... I felt sick just looking at them. Better to make your own yoghurt.

A boxed, frozen dinner is the ultimate con. The picture on the box is usually of a hot meal. There is no way you can choose the product by feeling the freshness of a raw potato or seeing the colour of the broccoli and in some cases the ingredients have travelled from faraway countries and over long periods of time and cannot have any goodness left in them, never mind the numbers you will be eating to ensure its stays looking edible. You might as well eat the box. In a less extreme way we can take the example of steak. These days, in supermarkets, they are wrapped in plastic on foam trays, hidden under labels proclaiming their low fat content or advertising the supermarket's low prices.

Meat is Murder by slabsofabsence.I remember, as a child, going into a butcher's shop with my mother to buy some T-bone steaks. Behind the butcher, on a rack stretching half way across the room, hung animals, undisguised, and from one of these the butcher would skilfully cut a section of meat. From here he would take it to a band-saw and cut the bones and then sharpen his knife and carve out 4 T-bone steaks, placing some more into the display shelf. They would be wrapped in paper and handed to you to put into your shopping basket. There was no doubt that this was meat and no doubt how it got to be on your plate for dinner. He would advise you how to cook it and tell you how long it had been hanging and where it had come from and I would learn about the seasons and their effects not just on growing vegetables but also on animals and on my dinner.

At school I learned about cuts of meat by studying posters depicting sheep and cows, mostly, carved up into sections, while they were still "on the hoof" so to speak. We learned which bits were for grilling which for slow cooking and which for roasting. You were expected to have skills to deal with food, to prepare it with this understanding and women, mostly, learned how to feed their families with real food. Mine was an old-fashioned school, I guess, but it stood me in good stead. That, and cooking with my mother. Show me a 15 year old today who would know much about where milk comes from, let alone which part of a sheep their microwavable, marinated shasliks, vaccuum sealed to keep their freshness, came from!

What about preservatives and all those numbers that you see on packets of processed foods? And medications and dietary supplements? Some of them are processed as an extract from a plant, and concentrated then made into a pill or a powder or a liquid. A lot of medications start as an extract of a plant or even animal in its testing stage and then some are synthesized, or artificially made, whatever that means. Usually I would say go and eat a decent diet and forget the supplements. Asian medicines seem to only use the original organism and this causes not only the depletion in the numbers of wild creatures but also a wastage of the rest of the organism. For example, millions of sharks are killed for their fins and often the rest of the fish is thrown back to sea, such is the lure of getting more fins and therefore more money than can be gained from shark meat. I doubt whether anyone buying shark fin soup, however, in a western country even thinks about where the shark's fins have come from.

My rule of thumb is only buy raw ingredients and avoid anything that comes processed but if you have to buy things like dried fruit or breakfast cereal, buy one ingredient at a time. For example, when I buy sultanas I do not want sulphur to make them dry faster or oil to keep them separated or preservatives or a resealable, heavy plastic bag. I buy plain, sun or air dried sultanas from a shop that sells them in bulk and put them in a jar when I get home. The fact that I can get them locally grown and organic, for a good price, from a local shop (or from my garden or a friend's) is a bonus for me. As for breakfast I don't eat cereal much but I prefer to buy oats and other grains, nuts, sunflower seeds and dried fruits and mix them myself. Most of these things are produced in South Australia. It is different for other places but I would use whatever grows nearby in preference to buying something readymade.




If we all do this, the world will be a better place.... of course I do make exceptions.... this walnut tart was superb!

French patisseries....oh la la la....


mandi said...

great post!
i am always shocked when people 'don't understand' what i eat. i tell them, 'i eat food. just REAL food'. yet they remain confused.

gardengal said...

I loved the bit about the butchers! I'm 43 and have no idea which cut comes from where ... pretty sure chicken necks come from the neck though :)

I have a funny friend who is always trying to lose weight and just gets bigger and bigger. He eats things like "lite" flavoured milk and then tells me apples are not nutritious because they just contain sugar and water! At one stage he would only eat low fat foods, which pretty much meant rice crackers because fat is bad for you. "So this avocado I'm eating is bad for me?" "Absolutely!" That's when I realised something was really wrong with the way most of australian's relate to food.