Wednesday, 29 August 2012

changes in food supply due to climate change

Drought in the US has wiped out 45% of the maize and 35% of the soya bean crop in the worst harvest since 1988. Pig farmers are using more anchovies because maize is now too expensive. Salmon farmers are using more anchovies because warmer seas mean the salmon are growing faster. Anchovies are increasing in price because pig and salmon farmers want more of them, but also because of storms, Peruvian government quotas, and organic farmers wanting more fish meal as fertiliser. Anchovies should not be used for animal feed, let alone fertiliser; it is a complete waste.

Salmon prices have dropped dramatically. Fish oil, used as a nutritional supplement, will increase in price. Burgers will increase in price. Mackerel are being overfished because warmer waters mean that they're moving further north into Icelandic and Faroese waters. All this I have learned from this Guardian article Anchovy price leap causes food industry chain reaction. Elsewhere I have learned that the price of lobsters has plummeted because of warmer seas.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

more on sugar in savoury foods

Since writing a post about the unfortunate addition of sugar to savoury foods by manufacturers, I have found another example of it. This is in a food that is marketed as being healthy. I was in Waitrose yesterday and I bought a Chilli Bean Wrap, 'packed full of vegetables and wholesome beans'. The pack also stated 'selected by our nutritionists and chefs to give you tasty and nutritionally balanced food to fall in love with'. It sounded good to me so I bought it. If you have been reading this blog you will know that I believe a combination of grains, pulses and vegetables is cheap and healthy and tastes good.

When I started eating it I thought it tasted like it had sugar in it. I looked on the label and there is sugar in the chilli sauce and also in the wrap. One of the reasons I bought it was that I try to eat foods with a low Glycemic Index (GI). This means that the carbohydrate in the food will be digested more slowly so that you don't get a lot of glucose entering the bloodstream all in one go. If you eat more low-GI foods you are less likely to get diabetes and heart disease. A combination of grains and pulses is good for that, but sugar is not.

I feel that I have been conned by Waitrose. I feel that we are all being manipulated by manufacturers and retailers. They want to climb on the healthy food bandwagon to make more money for themselves while confusing their customers and contributing to ill health. Who are these 'nutritionists' anyway? Why would a nutritionist say it's just fine to add sugar to an otherwise healthy food? They're not doing their job properly.

this is how it's supposed to be

Monday, 13 August 2012


The issue of hunger has been prominent on our TV screens recently. Yesterday was David Cameron's world-hunger summit. The main purpose of the summit is to is to highlight child malnutrition and its resulting physical stunting as the main problem in world development. There will be discussion of how the worst drought in 60 years in the US mid-west is pushing up global food prices and increasing hunger in Africa. Wheat prices rose by 19% on international markets last month alone.

On Friday there was the first in a three part series of documentaries on ITV1 London about rising food prices in Britain and the effect on poor people. The documentary series is called Tonight: The Food We Eat and part 1 is called The Hunger Shame. It showed a mother who said that she couldn't afford to feed herself until she was able to go to a food bank. I have every sympathy with her but it confirmed what I already believed, that people spend their money on rubbish food that isn't that cheap.

What seemed to be happening with her is that she was cooking her family sausages and buttery mashed potato, and then when she ran out of money she went to the food bank to stock up on tins of frankfurters and packets of biscuits. It isn't surprising that she is overweight. The sorts of food that she is eating are not the cheapest and are full of saturated fat and sugar, as well as salt.

If you believe Michael Mosley's documentary last Monday you might think that this mother's hunger might have done her some good. Horizon: Eat, Fast and Live Longer on BBC2 started by discussing what we already know, that restricting calories can make people live longer. It showed a man in America who eats only 1,600 calories a day.

Then we were told about research into how intermittent fasting may be just as good as continuous calorie restriction. There are different ways that this can be achieved. You could occasionally have a 3-day and 4-night fast where you eat nothing. You could reduce the amount of protein that you eat. You could fast one day and eat normally the next. Or you could eat normally 5 days a week and then fast for 2, although you can have 600 calories per day on your fast days.

What this seems to do is to reduce the amount of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) that your body produces. You will age slower and will be less likely to develop cancer. There will also be inprovements in blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol.

I'm not going to be doing any fasting. I already try not to eat too much food and I shall continue to do so especially as I had my BMI measured recently and it was on the upper limit of what is healthy. My waist measurement is a couple of inches over what it should be. Mosley said that restricting protein is one way to bring down the level of IGF-1. I already eat considerably less protein than most people. Current estimates of how much we need each day are 55g whereas what we British eat is 85g. So we eat just over one and a half times as much protein as we need.

It's a strange world we live in. Millions of people eat more food than is good for them. Millions of others could eat well on the money they have but have lost the knowledge of what normal food is. They try to continue to eat lots of processed foods high in fat and sugar. Millions have their height stunted by lack of food. The poor can't afford to buy the grains and pulses that could keep them healthy, but the affluent can afford to feed grains and pulses to billions of farm animals so that they can continue their unhealthy high-fat way of eating.

Friday, 10 August 2012

sugar in savoury products

Yesterday I was in a supermarket and I saw some tins of bouillabaisse soup. I have had this soup many times before and it's delicious. If you like seafood then you'll like bouillabaisse. I don't have it often because it's expensive. I've never had the authentic bouillabaisse from the south of France and I've no idea if the tinned stuff tastes anything like the real thing.

When I ate it I thought that it tasted as if there was sugar in it. So I looked on the label and sure enough sugar was on there. I was annoyed because I really don't have a sweet tooth and I don't like the taste. Also, they've turned what should be a healthy food into something different. I've been trying to avoid lots of fat, sugar and salt. I know that it has always contained 'modified starch' (whatever that is) but adding sugar is something recent.

A few weeks ago I started buying sushi from Sainsbury's. It was cheap and seemed quite healthy. Then I thought it tasted as if it had sugar in it and looking on the label I could see that it did. I have known for some time that cooked pasta in tomato and herb sauce from supermarkets often contains sugar. I know that chefs sometimes add a small amount of sugar to savoury dishes, often in surprising ways. Sugar can be used as a flavour enhancer to bring out flavours, but this is different. I really don't like the taste of soup, sushi or pasta with sugar in it. It's not in the original recipe and it doesn't improve the flavour.

It could be that the amount of sugar in these savoury foods is small. Or it could be a lot of sugar, people are surprised by the amount of sugar that goes into processed foods. Often there's lots of sugar in something but you can't taste it, it might not taste sweet or unbearably sweet. This seems to be a trend that has come from America. The problem is that as the population gets used to savoury foods tasting sweet then people will get a taste for it and manufacturers will add more and more over time. We should be having less and less sugar and instead we are having more and more, even if we want to avoid it. Obesity and tooth decay are big problems, especially in children, and the more this trend continues the more ill health we will have.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

why some people think healthy food is expensive

I have written two posts contradicting people who think that healthy food is expensive and that poor people can't afford healthy food, poor people can't afford to eat healthy food? and more about poverty and food. I have also compiled a table comparing the cheapness of foods in terms of calories per penny. This is an important issue because unemployment is very high now. People need to know how they can best spend their money.

Just recently I have been looking at a web forum where people have been discussing this issue. I can see why some people believe that healthy foods are more expensive. I can see where they are going wrong. Eating healthy food doesn't mean you have to buy organic food or eat wholegrains or any of the expensive stuff.

Let's take one food as an example. White rice. People ask 'What is the healthy alternative to white rice?'. The answer? - brown rice. And brown rice is more expensive than white rice. Therefore the healthy food is more expensive than the unhealthy food. But white rice is the healthier alternative to processed foods. Both brown and white rice are healthier - and both cheaper - than burgers or crisps. So, it's not true to say that healthy foods are more expensive. Here are more points, usually in response to what people wrote on the forum.

  • fresh or organic vegetables are more expensive than frozen vegetables, but frozen vegetables are just as good or nearly just as good
  • organic foods are more expensive than non-organic foods but you don't need them, if they are healthier then they're not much healthier
  • fancy breads are more expensive than a cheap white loaf, but the cheapest form of bread is in the form of chapattis you make at home
  • free-range or organic chicken is more expensive than cheap chicken, but not if you eat a smaller amount; people eat far more protein than they need
  • free-range or organic eggs are more expensive than cheap eggs, but cheap eggs aren't that much less nutritious, if at all
  • cheap cheddar from the supermarket or cheese triangles are cheaper than fancy cheeses from a farmers' market, but all cheeses are much the same in terms of nutrients, cheap cheese isn't less healthy
  • tofu may be more expensive than cheap chicken, but you don't need that much protein and the cheapest form of protein will always be beans, peas and lentils
  • blueberries and other 'superfoods' are more expensive than more common fruit but you don't need them; you can get most of your vitamins and minerals from vegetables
  • fish is often more expensive than meat, but you don't need either
  • soya milk is more expensive than cow's milk, but soya milk isn't much healthier than skimmed cow's milk
  • fruit juice is more expensive than soft drinks; do what I do and drink water from the tap
Another thing is, you have to ask yourself why is brown rice more expensive than white rice. After all, they don't have to process it so much, and processing costs money, so you would think it would be cheaper. The only thing I can think of is economies of scale. People buy so much white rice that it's produced on a much bigger scale, and people aren't going to buy overpriced rice. If more people bought brown rice then it would be as cheap, or maybe even cheaper, than white rice. Having said that, brown rice can still be cheaper than processed foods, as my comparison table shows. So, I think I am justified in saying that even poor people can buy brown rice.

Other issues that came up in the forum were availability of healthy food and the amount of time needed to prepare healthier foods. These are different issues from affordability, but they're not big problems. I have lived in different parts of London and different parts of England and I have never had a problem with availability. I have lived on council estates. Supermarkets and street markets have always been nearby. I'm sure that if you're a journalist and you can spare the time then you could find a housing estate in Britain where there aren't any supermarkets or street markets nearby, but to pretend that this is representative of how the majority of poor people live is wrong.

As for preparation time, I don't spend hours in the kitchen. I don't soak beans, but although it takes hours for them to soak, you don't need to stand over them while they're soaking. It takes only 15 minutes to cook rice or pasta. Same with lentils or frozen vegetables. You put them in a saucepan, pour on boiling water from the kettle, bring them to the boil and simmer. Pasta sauce and other sauces from a jar are cheap and aren't going to push up the cost of the meal a lot.

People tend to be cash rich and time poor, or time rich and cash poor. Either way you can eat healthy food. If you are cash poor and time poor then you've got a big problem. You have to work out for yourself what you're going to do about that one. But buying burgers and crisps is not the answer. Not only will you be making yourself ill, but you will be wasting your money.

If you wanted to cook elaborate dishes like macaroni cheese then it would take more time, but I don't bother with the complicated and less healthy stuff. If someone buys a cheap macaroni cheese from Iceland, they might think that it would cost more to buy a marginally more healthy one from Marks & Spencer. So what? They might think it would cost more to make one from scratch at home in their kitchen using marginally healthier ingredients, and take a lot more time. So what?

Pasta doesn't need to have cheese added to it. You can get a kilo of pasta for about 60p. It doesn't take much more money to make it palatable. A tomato-based pasta sauce is cheap and healthy. If you think about that then the £1 macaroni cheese doesn't seem so cheap.

If people insist on eating rich food full of cheese and butter and cream then they can do so. Or they can think about what poor people all over the world have been eating for thousands of years, a starchy staple with some pulses and lots of vegetables, flavoured with herbs and some spice. It's cheap, tasty and nutritious, and it doesn't result in ecological or animal welfare problems.