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Food fads, or the impossible things to eat: our unhealthy health obsessions.

Tue, 24 April, 2018

In the beginning there was avocado. It spread like wildfire or ivy, emigrating from where it belongs (in Mexico; in guacamole, mashed and tasted up with jalapeno and tomatoes) to the tables of all the hipster cafes of this world, onto toasts of the trendy world and Instagram.

avocado toast

Next there was kale. Basically cabbage, only woody, fibrous and tough. Out it jumped from a bag of various vegetabley odds and ends normally used for cooking chicken soup, straight onto assorted blogs. It didn’t quite conquer Pinterest because it would invariably be turned into unsightly green sludge.

green sludge

Quinoa! Who ever thought of cooking and eating quinoa when you have wheat available? The grain is grown in South America, especially its parts where soil is poor and rain infrequent; so more demanding (read: better) grains refuse to grow. Needs must – I can bet anything that native Peruvians and Bolivians would go for wheat, given half a choice.

Next came the courgette and it coincided with the era of spiralisers. Wonderful! Because courgette, zucchini, marrow or call it as you wish, is the famously firm-textured vegetable with strong taste which just screams to be cut into ribbons and pretend it’s pasta. You could think of a better choice of a vegetable but clearly carrot’s PR agent was sleeping on the job.  Zucchini fritters turned out to be a fantastic invention too – a less watery, wilty and limp object to be coated in breadcrumbs is hard to imagine.

courgettes

Spiralisers brought along weird devices called Nutribullets, designed to pulverise food into baby goo. Grazing on carrots with the useful fibre intake? Leave it now – whizz it to a smoothie so you have none of the fibre and all of the sugar for lunch. Add a handful of kale to make it taste like sick. Or hold the carrot and blitz just the kale with a few other non-comestibles like collards, dandelion and hemp.

Meanwhile, the list of superfoods seemed never ending, with chia, acai, goji and other unpronounceable items but it did eventually run out so what followed? You’d never guess: good old cauliflower. The humble, stinky vegetable for some obscure reason rocketed to the top of the food chain. Not that there’s anything wrong with this brain-lookalike; it’s a nice enough vegetable when buttered and served with a roast. It is NOT the roast. And it never ever wanted to pretend it was steaks, let alone rice.

cauliflower

When we ran out of impossible things to eat (like Red Queen, only eating rather believing in them before breakfast) we started to NOT eat things. First they came for grains; for indeterminate reasons gluten became public enemy, even though less than 1% of human population are genuinely intolerant to it. Next they came for the dairy with the fairy tales of East Asians living long, long lives without a whiff of cheese. That indeed is so but they live as long in the Mediterranean on a diet of ricotta and Vacherin. The Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are dairy-averse through tradition and plenitude of soy which they have turned to curd for centuries while Europeans used what was available in their region: milk.

And finally the day dawned when we were supposed to stop eating anything tasty and go vegan.

I don’t argue with the moral side of meat abstemiousness but we are precisely where we are and so are the pigs and the cows which need to be milked. Hens probably won’t stop laying no matter how many vegans talk to them in a persuasive manner. I eat meat, fish, eggs and all but buy the ones sourced from happy animals; isn’t that better than wanting to suddenly let all herds of battery pigs loose in the forest and perish there?

Cleverer and more knowledgeable people have written and spoken about that so my five pence will be about another aspect of the vegan fad. Where food is cheap and abundant, does it not make a mockery of people deprived of basic meals to pick, choose and eliminate available nutrients? Do the Peruvian peasants know that affluent western Europeans can’t get enough quinoa and spurn wheat? Are Mongolian nomads aware of the kefir and (any minute now) kumis fermenting in gleaming western kitchens? Wouldn’t they laugh and tell us to keep milk in the fridges which, unlike them, we possess? Isn’t that what cultural appropriation really is about?

Humans have always turned to weirder and weirder things to eat – or not to eat. The Romans wanted lark tongues. The medievals looked down on oysters as poor people’s food. There are always trends and fashions, but what staggers me is why the affluent choose to eat what the less privileged wouldn’t if they had the option? Quinoa is not healthier – it’s all there is.

I don’t believe you are what you eat. There are undisputed basic, rudimentary dietary rules like aim for a balance of nutrients; iron deficiency will make you faint and vitamin deficiency will make your teeth fall out – in the long run. Eat loads and you’ll get fat; eat less and you’ll lose weight.  

But eat kale instead of animal protein and you’ll live 30 minutes longer? Even if it is the case, which it blatantly isn’t, I’ll give that half an hour a miss.

 

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