Why we’re getting fatter!

Today is traditionally a day on which we make resolutions.  With recent headlines like 10-year-old girl weighs 22 stone, I’m sure many will be planning to loose weight.  Why is obesity such a problem?

I’m very worried that even quite young people are now becoming obese.  A report by Public Health England, on Social and economic inequalities in diet and physical activity, shows us a link between social deprivation and obesity amongst children:

This report tell us that people living in the poorest neighbourhoods will, on average, die seven years earlier than people living in the wealthiest neighbourhoods!  The reasons seem to be poor education and bad diets.  The better off spend more on fresh fruit and vegetables, whereas the worst off spend more on processed foods.  At the same time, people with the least income in general do less physical activity.

It’s also worrying how many people are now relying on food banks in the UK.  According to the Trussell Trust 346,992 people received emergency food from food banks in 2012/13 – a 270% increase on the previous year.

Many food banks don’t accept fresh produce, as they can’t easily handle it.  I’m pleased to see the Trussell Trust is now trying to teach people how to cook when on a low budget, and provides advice on food budgeting, hygiene and nutrition. A report from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, point out that people below the poverty line find it hard to afford healthy food, which they reckon can cost up to 50 per cent more than filling but nutritionally poor alternatives.

So who do I blame for the mess we’re currently in?  Friends who work in the food industry say they’re keen to provide nutritionally sound, affordable meals. However a Consumers Association report on breakfast cereals last year points out that 32 out of the 50 cereals they looked at were high in sugar. In only two cases was this due to the fruit they contained; for the rest it was added sugar.

It’s interesting how big food manufacturers have refused to use traffic light labeling. Maybe that’s why we worry about whether to buy full fat milk (which actually is skimmed to contain 3.6% fat) whilst eating crisps that have over 30% fat!

Teachers try and do their bit – but I don’t think it’s the first thing that OFSTED ask about.

Politicians will love to say they’re doing something about it. However they seem more interested in scoring political points off each other, rather than getting together and making sure something is done.

Many now trust supermarkets more than politicians. Did you watch Dispatches – Supermarket Secrets and Deceptions? It may change your mind about how you shop! The big 4 supermarkets now dominate the market:

According to data from Kantar Worldpanel, they have 75.2% of the market.  Bear in mind that the Co-op, Waitrose, Aldi and Lidl are in my “Others” category.  This means we now buy very little today from small independent shops.  I think this is why we now exist on foods from factory farms, and rely on artificial additives and preservatives to give taste and extend shelf life.  Good markets and greengrocers (traditionally the source for fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables) can be hard to find in many areas.

Our over-worked doctors haven’t got enough time to discuss healthy eating, so prescribe statins etc. to reduce cholesterol, and medications to reduce blood pressure. If you find all this depressing, well they’ve also got tablets to help you with that!

Thankfully organisations like the The Kindling Trust, with projects like Feeding Manchester, and the Plunkett Foundation, who led with Making Local Food Work, are making a difference.  I hope you’ll support initiatives like these.

I’ll finish this post with one of my favourite quotations from Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Farewell 2013!

As it’s the season for reviews, I thought I’d do a quick review of some of this year’s highlights of doing this blog this year.

I’ve been to some great markets, and The Merchant of Hoghton’s Food Producers:

and Orton Farmers’ Market:

were both amazing examples of how could a Farmers’ market can be.

I’m glad we went on a walking holiday in the North East this year, otherwise I might not have discovered  Cross Lanes Organic Farm, near Barnard Castle

with its green living roof, tractor tyre shelves and great food!

If ever your that way, you must also try and visit Robineau Patisserie in Darlington:

I’d go on quite a detour to visit there again…

This year I’ve been to some great butchers, and some fantastic bakers – like Bramhall Bakery:

As bread and cheese go so well together I must also mention the amazing Courtyard Dairy in Settle:

Since my visit they’ve won Best New Cheese Retailer at the 2013 British Cheese Awards, and Best Cheese Counter at the BBC Good Food Show, and at the same event, Andy also won Cheesemonger of the Year – I’m sure he deserves it.

It’s been nice to see cider make a comeback, although my comments refer only to the proper stuff, and not the stuff marketing people promote which is made with imported apples and added water and god knows what!

So I was very pleased to visit the Three Counties Cider Shop in Ledbury  – a wonderful village for food lovers in Herefordshire.  Even better than cider is a good perry, and Tom Oliver:

(in my opinion) makes some of the best you’ll ever find.

In fact, if you want the perfect meal, what could be better than a proper crusty loaf of bread, some tasty cheese and a glass of good cider or perry?  If you buy them from these people you’ll be consuming natural products and not artificial additives.

A big thanks to all the producers, for allowing me to write about them, and to you for reading this blog.

Happy 2014!

Some New Year’s Resolutions for Food Lovers

1. Eat more pulses

As a child I used to hate butter beans etc. that were unimaginatively served in school dinners.  But now I really enjoy trying different pulses and they’re good for your health.  Using pulses also means I can pay more for meat that has bean reared in an acceptable way, because adding pulses to stews and other dishes makes a little meat go a long way.

If you’re not sure about cooking pulses, there’s some help here and more recipes here.  It’s easier to use tinned beans, but cheaper to buy dried ones.  A pressure cooker saves a lot of time.

2. Eat more fruit and vegetables

I’m sure my doctor will approve of this one!  These days I much prefer a vegetable curry to a meat curry and it’s more authentic.  It’s time to rediscover fennel, red cabbage, and turnips.

3. Eat more seasonally

Why do we buy tasteless strawberries in December?  Eating according to the seasons is cheaper and better for the environment.

There’s plenty of advice on the web about how to do this, like the BBC’s Food Seasons and Eat Seasonably.

4. Eat more sustainable fish

It’s alarmed me how many species of fish seem to have gone (or become very scarce).  Why are we catching fish like mackerel and then feeding it to salmon in horrible fish farms?  I’d rather eat mackerel than salmon, and it takes about three pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of farmed fish

Find a good fishmonger and use the Good Fish Guide for guidance.

5. Drink less alcohol

My recent course at Cheshire Wine School reminded me that spending a bit more on a bottle gets a lot better quality wine so if I drink less I can improve the quality of what I drink!

I can’t stand low alcohol wines, but drinking a nice English cider or perry (like those made by Once Upon A Tree or Oliver’s Cider and Perry) rather than a glass of wine will also help cut down my alcohol consumption.

6. Buy more real bread

Real bread may cost a little more than the mass produced cotton wool sort that many of us eat, but I think it’s well worth paying a bit more for proper bread.  Watching Britain’s Best Bakery reminded me how passionate bakers can be, and I look forward to visiting as many as possible this year.

It’s easy to find a good baker:

www.sustainweb.org/realbread/bakery_finder

It’s always nice to visit a proper bakery, bakers are some of the nicest people I know!

7. Buy more local foods

I’m delighted that local foods seem to be making a comeback.  According to the Food Ethics Council food accounts for 25% of the distance travelled by lorries in the UK, and 12 billion miles driven a year by consumers.

I’m pleased that small artisan producers are starting to use some of the tactics used by supermarkets and are now doing loyalty cards etc.

8.  Exercise more

The easiest exercise you can do is to not do a one stop shop at your supermarket!  Instead walk around your town or village and do more shopping at the small independents.  You can build up a relationship with them.  If you ask, they’ll often get thing in if they don’t already stock it, and they will advice you on what’s good at the moment and if you’re on a budget they’ll find you a bargain!

Going on a nice walk means you can eat more, and not put on the calories.  The endorphins produced by exercise beats taking drugs!  The Ramblers and the National Trust make it easy to find some nice walks (and here are some I’ve done).

9. Discover old recipes

There’s lots of new recipes on the internet, many of highly dubious providence.  This morning I saw a recipe for Champagne and Curry Soup with Oysters!  What a waste of good ingredients.

Instead why not have a look at some of the recipes our grandparents used? For inspiration there’s fantastic sites like  Great British Kitchen and The Foods of England.

I feel, having made a list of 9 things, that it should be 10! What have I missed out?

Incredible Edible Wilmslow

Just over a year ago I visited Incredible Edible Todmorden.  Like most people who visit this fantastic project I came away impressed and inspired.  The idea is now spreading (Todmorden gets visitors from afar away as Australia and Chile) and similar initiatives are beginning to bloom in France (see here).

I thought I’d visit Wilmslow to see how it’s going there.  I wanted to be green, so went by train:

and found herbs, edible flowers, and even strawberry plants growing on the station platform.

Outside the station I gather Community Payback had helped to create beds:

there’s wild flower meadows and apples, damsons and blackcurrants.

A sign:

explains about the shared town centre growing space and encourages you to help weed water and plant spare edible plants.

I then used their map to visit some of the other plots in the town.  My first stop was the King William pub:

to admire the edible flowers at the front, and the edible courtyard around the back.

Then it was on to Waitrose, where I found herbs growing outside their store:

Helen, from Incredible Edible Wilmslow, had suggested I visit when it was the Artisan Market, and I was glad I did.  Here I met Transition Town Wilmslow

where a very helpful lady told me what they’re doing to help tackle climate change, fossil fuel depletion and economic contraction.

The man at Growing Places:

besides selling stylish garden tools, was also actively involved in the project.

I didn’t get as far as Shenton Farm Shop in Handforth (where they have a herb bar), but they also had a stall in the market:

There was a composting area:

and a few planters helped make this area look better:

Off South Drive, four large raised beds are packed with herbs and vegetables:

Even outside Sainsbury’s they were doing something different:

The Incredible guide told me to find trolley attendant Mark, for more cookery ideas than Jamie Oliver!

Even businesses with no land had managed to grow hanging baskets with edible flowers:

and two opticians and a dentist are also involved:

You can see all the places I visited here.

I didn’t manage to get to the community orchard site as I spent longer than I’d intended in the Artisan Market.

They’re just making a start at Wilmslow Health Centre, which I think is great. A better diet had obvious benefits for our health, and I suspect the psychological benefit of communal growing are even greater.  Everyone I spoke to about the project was so positive about it. They’ve achieved a lot in a very short period and I left Wilmslow feeling a happier person.

Webwww.incredible-edible-wilmslow.co.uk

Happy Easter

When I first started writing this blog, I struggled to find rare breed eggs – like these beautiful ones from Ladymeads organic farm in Sussex.  Happily it’s a lot easier now, but this made me wonder what proportion of the population would be eating such items this Easter?

My research left me feeling rather depressed.  I spent my Easter holidays walking in Swaledale, visiting Farmers’ markets and buying food from small independent retailers, as featured in this blog.   I suspect my activity is relatively unusual.  I see that markets are still in decline, with less than 0.5% of food purchases being made in all markets (not just Farmers’ markets).

DEFRA have just released their family food survey for 2010 here.  This report provides statistics on purchases, expenditure and the nutrient content of food purchases in the United Kingdom.  We’re spending less on items like milk and cream, fish, fruit and bread, and spending more on soft drinks and alcoholic drinks.

5 A DAY purchases peaked in 2006 and have fallen back to approximately 4.0 portions purchased per person per day in 2010.  More worryingly poorer households reduced their purchases by 20 per cent between 2007 and 2010, down to the equivalent of 2.7 portions per person per day:

Trends in 5 a day purchases

The report shows that lower income families also consume lower levels of fibre and higher levels of NMES (non-milk extrinsic sugars).

I’ve just watched Doctor Robert Lustig’s video Sugar: The Bitter Truth.  It’s nearly an hour and a half long  – but well worth watching if you want an insight into what’s going wrong with what we eat.

Better education is clearly needed.  I don’t think we can rely on the politicians or big businesses to properly promote healthy eating.

Loaves for Lammas

Over this weekend Real Bread bakers and traditional millers around the country are taking up the Real Bread Campaign’s call to help Britain to rediscover the joys of the real thing by baking and buying Local Loaves for Lammas.

August 1 is Lammas Day (loaf-mass day), the festival of the wheat harvest, and on this day in the past it was customary to bake a loaf made from the new wheat crop.

Good Food Shops loves traditional bakers (see here) and is delighted to support the Real Bread Campaign, associated events are listed here.

Web: www.sustainweb.org/realbread