Last week, I went to a 5 x 15 event called Food Fight.
There to talk about health and obesity were heavyweight illuminati A A Gill, Jamie Oliver, Prof. Phil James, George Monbiot and Michael Mosley. It took place at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington and not surprisingly the place was rammed.
Together the speakers took a powerful stance against big agro, the sugar industry, deceitful food marketing and advertising and the hobbling of consumer choice by targeted government policy. They thumped their chests and demanded a war on sugar, a war on white bread and cereals, a war on processed foods – they demanded a revolution.
And they meant it! Everyone in the hall seemed to feel the same: we applauded vigorously and left the talk feeling a call to arms, to justice, to protect people from themselves and to protect the planet.
As we filed out of the hall we were met by a smiling tall man in a grey suit who offered us little packets of crisps and snacks to take home.
Crisps, you say?
Well, you know, the ‘healthy' kind of crisps, the kind with packaging proclaiming low calories and fats alongside high protein and fibre.
However, if you turn the package around and look carefully at the ingredients list you can see that these particular crisp thins from The Food Doctor contain salt, soya proteins, tapioca starch, corn and wheat flour, corn starch, sugar, “flavouring” and sunflower oil.
Let me break that down for you. Even though the packaging claims these crisps are healthy because they are high in protein and fibre, that is not necessarily the case. Whole and naturally nutritious food does not need to be fortified and bulked with “soya blend”. (Ironic really, having just left a talk which highlighted the meat industry’s and by extension the soya industry’s disastrous contribution to deforestation and the loss of ecosystems.)
Starches, which are converted to glucose in the body, are useless empty carbohydrates on their own and will only clog up your body.
White bread and cereals were the two foods most thoroughly bashed during the talk and these foods largely contain refined wheat flour which are also found in the ‘healthy' ‘wholesome’ and ‘balanced' crisps we were given.
Sunflower oil, like all polyunsaturated vegetable oils, are refined and so prone to oxidation that they will be rancid to some degree even before they are bottled and sold as pure oils. When they are added as an ingredient to a processed food, they have undergone even more heat treatment which creates incredibly unstable free radicals that are just hanging out in your bag of crisps, highly reactive and waiting to attack your body. Alzheimers disease, cancer, diabetes (the most targeted disease of the evening) and a host of other “new” diseases, too numerous to list here, are all connected to free radical activity in the body.
As for “flavouring”, we cannot know for sure what delights hide behind that word, but it has been demonstrated time and time again that companies will hide the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, behind ingredients even listed as “natural flavourings”. It’s interesting that The Food Doctor did not even bother to use the word “natural”…
Lastly I come to the ingredients salt and sugar that in my opinion should never be present in a manufactured product that labels itself as health food. The owner of The Food Doctor, Michael da Costa, is a serial entrepreneur in the food industry, specialising in building restaurant and food brands. I do hope that in the drive to grow this business he will keep a watchful eye on his company slogan of ‘honesty and integrity in what we do’ and diligently follow the core principles of good eating.
Many of the speakers, Michael Mosley in particular, touched upon the need to bring to account the big food companies that hide salt, sugars and fats in foods and market them to people who don’t know any better.
Jamie Oliver spoke about how a bar of chocolate, for instance, is at least “honest sugar” and that the problem of obesity really lies in the misinformation fed to the public. He remarked that we, the people in the hall, were the “enlightened ones”, because we had made the effort to come to this event, and we all preened ourselves with delight. Yet minutes later most of my enlightened fellow audience members were grabbing packets of crisps on the way out home, many munching them as they left the building so breaking virtually all of A.A. Gill’s ten Commandments that they had sagely nodded to just thirty minutes earlier! For starters - Always eat at a table, never eat standing up, do not eat outdoors, only eat three times a day (do not snack) and so on.
According to Prof. Phil James, when all factors are taken into account we really only have a 5% say in our own decision-making when it comes to buying food. Clever advertising and convenience food have largely seen to that.
If we are indeed the so called ‘enlightened ones’ then I think we have a duty to be extra diligent with own habits as we offer guidance and re-education to the rest of the general public. Peering behind the behind the veil of big agro carries with it a serious responsibility.
If we are going to change decades of bad eating habits and reverse the alarming growth in chronic diet-associated illnesses then we need to be patient, be vigilant and most importantly, to lead by example in our communities.