Another day, another inflammatory article about Britain’s eating habits. This time it’s in the Daily Mail (shock horror), and concerns a new book entitled The Obesity Epidemic by Zoe Harcombe.
In her book, Ms Harcombe supposedly blows the traditional myths of what makes us fat wide open, advising that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight, carbohydrates are the dietary bad boys, and that the modern lifestyle is not to blame for our collective expansion.
Is it just me, or is the fad diet bandwagon simply groaning under the weight of the self-righteous and their bulging files of questionable research?
I think the problem seems very simple. A lot of people don’t know how to cook, and ready meals and junk food are the cheapest things you can buy. The manufacturers of these products pump them full of additives and sweeteners to compensate for the inferior ingredients. People eat them, develop a taste for over-sweetened and artificially-flavoured foods, and so keep eating them. Because the nutritional content is minimal compared to the sugar and fat contents, they eat more to keep feeling full, and the weight piles on.
I don’t know exactly when this series of events began, but it’s certainly been going on for many years. Frozen ready meals were around in the fifties – the era of the eponymous ‘TV Dinner’. When I was a child in the eighties, my all-girls high school had recently dropped home economics from the syllabus as it was considered, and I quote ‘not in-keeping with feminist principles’. How feminism dictates that there should be a generation of women who don’t know how to feed themselves is anybody’s guess. Whether or not for the same reasons, I know that most schools now don’t offer home economics, and subjects like ‘Food Science’ are often more concerned with teaching students how to market ready meals, than with how to cook basic dishes.
And, contrary to what Zoe Harcombe says, I do believe that the modern lifestyle is having an impact on our weight levels. With fewer and fewer women staying at home during the day now, the concept of a home-cooked family meal in the evening has dwindled alarmingly. There seems to be very much a grab and go attitude to eating which I find rather sad. Although my mother worked a (very) full-time job when I was growing up, she still insisted that we all ate together in the evening, and what she cooked was proper food. Not fancy, not time consuming, but balanced, filling and nutritious. This simple act of taking time to eat and appreciate what we were eating has stayed with me, and I believe is one of the secrets to maintaining a healthy diet. The times I find myself putting on weight are when I’m rushing around from one thing to another, grabbing a sandwich here and a croissant there, snacking all day to keep my energy levels up. It’s surprising how quickly you notice the difference.
So how can we help matters? I’m rather in the Jamie Oliver camp with this one. I think children need much more education about cooking and food, and they need to be encouraged to take an interest. And the prices of ready meals have to be raised. It’s absurd that you should be able to buy any complete meal with meat in it for £1. Where are they getting their meat from?!
And please, please, the next time you read an article claiming that it can change the way you eat, take it with a very large pinch of salt. As long as it’s not over 6g of course. We don’t want you getting heart disease…