Wednesday, 28 December 2011

more about poverty and food

This post is a continuation of my previous post where I am trying to dispel the myth that poor people can't afford to eat healthy food. Zoe Williams stated in a recent Guardian article that a Big Mac is good value for money in terms of calories per penny.

We need a certain number of calories per day. If someone ate 3 Big Macs per day for breakfast, lunch and evening meal they would get 1,770 calories. That would be almost enough for a woman but not a man. Women need 1,940 calories per day and men need 2,550 calories per day. 4 Big Macs a day would give someone 2,360 calories per day. That's kind of an average requirement so let's work with that. 4 Big Macs a day would cost £66.92 a week. Job Seekers Allowance for someone aged 16 to 24 is £53.45, and for someone 25 or over £67.50. So a young person would not be able to afford it and an older person would have 58p left over at the end of the week to spend on everything else. And a man still wouldn't be getting enough calories.

I've just looked on the McDonald's site and it says a Big Mac has 490 calories. I'm sure that I saw somewhere that it has 590. I'm going to have to check that, but if it is 490 that supports my case even better. Here it says it could be 590 or even more.

The more you think about it the more you realise how absurd her advice to poor people is. When I was a child I thought that poor people ate fish and chips. When I became poor I realised I could not afford the fish and that even the chips have to be an occasional treat. You cannot get a bag of chips for less than £1.

It should be obvious that if you cook food at home it is likely to be cheaper than a fast food outlet. They have to pay for staff and premises etc and that comes from the price of the food. These foods tend to be highly advertised, the costs of which can make up a good fraction of the price of the foods.

The processing of food costs a certain amount of money. White rice is barely processed and brown rice not at all. So much so that if you spill some of certain brands of brown rice on the ground it will grow into rice plants (I know I've tried it). Brown rice is more expensive than white rice, but I expect that is because of 'economies of scale'. If people ate as much brown rice as they do white then it might be as cheap or even cheaper.

Meat can never be cheap food. Cheaper forms of meat will come from factory farms where the animals are fed maize and soya, and some wheat and barley. So therefore meat will always be more expensive than maize, soya, wheat and barley. We can eat all these things.

Zoe Williams thinks that people like me 'secretly yearn for a Big Mac'. I am not a vegetarian, although most of my food is vegetarian (vegan in fact). When I want fast food I will have a bacon butty or a salt beef sandwich. I might do that once a week. Big Macs are boring food.

In her article, Zoe Williams mentions the case of a grandmother who fed her grandchildren for five weeks on nothing but eggs, beans, chip and toast. This is supposed to be an example of what poor people can afford. This doesn't really support her argument, however, for two reasons. Firstly, because it's not a particularly bad diet. Secondly, because it is easy to see how the grandmother could have made improvements without additional cost.

This diet is low in saturated fat. Eggs might have cholesterol in them but it doesn't increase blood cholesterol. Eggs are a good source of protein and micronutrients. The main problem is the lack of vegetables and fruit. It is true (as Zoe Williams says) that vegetables don't provide many calories per penny. However, if you use grains to provide most of your calories in the form of starch, then vegetables can bulk it out so you feel fuller. And they have lots of micronutrients. Vegetables are cheap.

There are many ways to cook potatoes. Boiled, baked, mashed, or as bubble-and-squeak. It's not going to cost more to cook your potatoes in different ways each day. Vegetable oil for deep frying usually has too much omega-6 and more calories than you'd want.

By beans, I assume she means baked beans. There are other beans ready cooked from tins. There are many other beans bought dried in packets. There are other pulses like chick peas, peas and lentils. Pulses are high in protein and starch.

Toast is one way to eat wheat. Wheat is consumed in many forms; bread, pasta, couscous, cracked wheat and bulgur. There are other grains, such as rice, maize, oats and barley. Eggs are just one of the cheap ways to get animal protein.

My guess is that the grandmother was putting butter on her toast, in which case it wouldn't have been the low saturated fat diet it might seem. The best quality olive oil is cheaper than even the cheapest butter.

So there is no need for a cheap diet to be a boring one. Or an unhealthy one.

See my table comparing cheapness of foods.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

poor people can't afford to eat healthy food?

There has been another article in the Guardian stating that poor people cannot possibly afford to eat healthy food. They do this from time to time, there was one written a while ago by Julie Bindel. I know it is not true because I am a poor person and I eat healthy food. These are the three main points in the article.
  1. Cheap foods are fatty, and fat stops people from being hungry. Vegetables can't do that, and organic vegetables are especially poor value in this respect. There is nothing cheaper than fatty foods to stop hunger.
  2. People battling food scarcity tend to overeat when food is available.
  3. Poor people have to buy food that their children will eat. If children don't eat the food they are given then it will be wasted, and people can't afford to waste food.
I shall go through each point one by one.

1. The cheapest foods are not fatty. It is wrong for Zoe Williams - who wrote the article - to state that the choice for poor people is between fatty foods and vegetables. The choice is between fatty foods and things like bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and beans. Vegetables can bulk out these and so are valuable, in addition to providing vitamins and minerals. 1 kg of rice costs 40p from Lidl and provides 3,470 calories. A Big Mac costs £2.39 and provides 590 calories, more than half of them from fat. I have done some simple calculations, shown towards the end of this post, and it works out that healthy foods are on average about ten times cheaper than the unhealthy foods that Zoe Williams mentions.

2. I know what it's like to be on Job Seekers Allowance and to run out of money at the end of a fortnight before the next payment. You can buy 1kg of rice for 40p from Lidl and keep it in the back of a cupboard for if you might need it. Or use the loose change in your pocket or ask a neighbour to lend you 40p. You can live off that for days if necessary, especially if you have a few other ingredients in the cupboard. With a few beans and not much else you could make Rice and Peas, which is a traditional West Indian dish, or another rice dish. There's no reason for people to be 'battling food scarcity'. People with children have more money than single people on Job Seekers Allowance because the previous government was so keen to lessen child poverty.

3. When I was a child I had to eat what was provided for me or go without. In most parts of the world that is still true. Children don't starve themselves if they are not allowed to eat only their favourite foods all the time. If they leave food it can be eaten by adults and not wasted. It's wrong to think that children don't like healthy food. Baked beans on toast is reasonably healthy and is something that children like.

To understand the relationship between food and health, it is important to realise that we are talking about three separate things. They are not equally important.

1. Too many calories. Too much fat, sugar and salt. Too many calories results in obesity, which contributes towards diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Saturated fat contributes towards heart disease and strokes. Sugar and refined starch contribute towards diabetes. Salt contributes towards heart disease and strokes.

If people ate 10% less food their health would improve and they would save 10p in every £1. They can do better than that by getting a smaller proportion of the calories they eat from fat and sugar and more from the starchy staples. They can also increase the quality of the fat they eat as well as decreasing the quantity. Saturated fats should be avoided, but some unsatured fats can be a problem too. Trans fats should be avoided wherever possible. Most vegetable oils contain more omega-6 than is healthy. Omega-9 (also called monounsaturated) rich oils are good. Olive oil is high in omega-9. You may think that poor people can't afford olive oil but in fact both Lidl and Aldi have cheap olive oils that have won a taste test. Extra virgin olive oil from Lidl or Aldi provides a lot more calories per penny than a Big Mac or crisps. Omega-3 rich oils are good too.

2. Too little fruit and vegetables. There is evidence that eating fruit and vegetables helps with heart disease and cancer. They contain vitamins and minerals that are needed in small quantities. Some of these are antioxidants. They also contain other things that are valuable, such as lycopene. Beta-carotene (for example) can be obtained cheaply from carrots or green vegetables, or slightly more expensively from sweet potatoes or mangoes. This is why we are told that we should eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

3. Organic food. The reason why people originally chose organic food was because nobody knows the long-term cumulative effects of small amounts of pesticides eaten every day. Pesticides and other agro-chemicals have been tested on animals, but animals don't live very long, vary in how they react to a substance, and don't have a cocktail of different substances in their bodies which interact with each other. Also, people are unhappy with certain aspects of modern agriculture, which could be ecological or animal welfare issues.

Today people may say they prefer the flavour, and there is some evidence that orgainically grown vegetables can be slightly higher in some vitamins. It is not essential for health for people to eat organically grown products.

What is important is that people reduce the amount of calories, fat, sugar and salt. It can save you money too. Eating more fruit and vegetables is of secondary importance. Eating organic vegetables is not important. So when Zoe Williams says that poor people can't afford organic carrots, or that they are not good value for money, she is not saying anything important.

People like Zoe Williams seem to think they are defending poor people against accusations of sloth. I don't think many people are making such an accusation. I'm certainly not doing that. I treat poor people the same as everyone else. People can use information to improve their lives. It isn't helping poor people to tell them that they can't possibly afford to eat healthy food so they might as well not try. It's not true. Such an attitude can only cause a large amount of ill health and suffering.

Poor people aren't just the British working class. They are also people from other continents where poverty is much greater and where people know how to cook cheap food. I have nothing to teach someone from Africa or India in that respect. Poor people are also many middle class people who have recently lost their jobs and are trying to survive on Job Seekers Allowance. We all need to know how to survive these difficult times, and people like Zoe Williams aren't helping.

These are two key statements made by Zoe Williams in her article. I have shown in this post that they are both factually incorrect, and below I have done the calculations to prove it.

"It's more palatable to blame diabetes on lifestyle than accept the fact that, on a penny-per-calorie basis, a Big Mac is simply cheaper"

"Once you accept crap food is an economic choice you have to accept that 24,000 deaths a year aren't related to sloth"

First let's calculate the number of calories per penny for some healthy foods such as rice and olive oil.

White long grain rice from Lidl costs 40p for 1kg. 1kg of rice is 3,470 calories (kcals). That works out as about 87 calories per penny.

White basmati rice from Lidl costs £10.99 for a 10kg bag. That works out at about 31.5 calories per penny.

Italian short grain brown rice from Whole Foods Market in Kensington costs £1.79 per kilo. That works out (assuming the same number of calories per kg as above) at about 19.5 calories per penny. It's probably more than that because I have been using the figure of 347 calories per 100g (read off the back of a packet of basmati) when the figure (looking on different places on the web) could be 350 or 360 or even more.

All of the types of rice above have a medium GI and so don't cause higher blood glucose and insulin levels that contribute towards diabetes. Some forms of rice have a high GI and are not so good.

Extra virgin olive oil from Lidl costs £2.25 for 750ml. Olive oil has 823 calories per 100ml. That works out as about 27.5 calories per penny.

Now let's compare this with the unhealthy forms of food mentioned in the article.

A Big Mac costs £2.39 and has 590 calories. That works out as about 2.5 calories per penny.

A McDonald's cheeseburger costs 99p and has 295 calories. That works out at just under 3 calories per penny.

A packet of Walkers ready salted crisps costs 30p for 25g. Each pack has 134 calories. That works out as about 4.5 calories per penny.

It can clearly be seen that all of the healthy foods above provide more calories per penny than any of the unhealthy foods. Even brown rice from Kensington High Street and extra virgin olive oil will assuage hunger pangs for less money than either a Big Mac or some crisps. Not only is extra virgin olive oil cheaper than a Big Mac in terms of calories per penny, it is more than 11 times cheaper.

Of course, the number of calories per penny (or penny-per-calorie as Zoe Williams would put it) is not the most important criterion for healthy food. But she has talked about how much it costs to overcome hunger. She believes that Big Macs and crisps are better for that and thinks that is why poor people eat these things. She's wrong.

I wouldn't expect anyone to eat just rice, there are so many ways to have rice with other things, including other cheap things. For example, rice with dal and vegetable curry. Dal is an Indian dish made with lentils (about 19.5 calories per penny). We're not talking austerity here. I would prefer to eat food from around the world than foods whose main flavours are fat, sugar and salt. I'm not expecting people to be vegetarian or vegan, there are cheap ways of eating animal protein too.

Even organic food can be cheaper than McDonald's or crisps. Lidl sell a 500g bag of organic whole durum wheat farfalle pasta for 84p (about 20 calories per penny). If you average out the calories per penny of the 6 healthy foods and the 3 unhealthy foods mentioned above then the unhealthy foods are about ten times more expensive.

Talk about poor people should be educated, it looks as if Zoe Williams needs to be educated. Talk about sloth, couldn't Zoe Williams be bothered to do a few simple calculations before saying something incorrect? Does she not think that the health of poor people is important? Has she not considered the effects of her words? Zoe Williams sees things in black-and-white. Either poor people are eating organic carrots or they're eating Big Macs. Either the poor are are totally responsible for what happens to them or they have no responsibility at all. The truth as always lies somewhere inbetween these two extremes.

See my table comparing cheapness of foods.

Monday, 5 December 2011

more meat, please?

In this blog I have argued that the best way to provide food for an increasing global population is for us to feed less grain and soya to animals and to eat more of it ourselves. I'm not the only person who says this, it seems just common sense, but some have argued against it.

I have been listening to two radio programmes as podcasts where this issue has been debated. Recently on 29th of October on BBC World Service there was an episode of The Forum. On 24th of January on Radio 4 there was an episode of Farming Today entitled 'Feeding the world in 2050'.

On The Forum Bridget Kendall asked Jason Clay should we not be eating less meat and more veg. Jason Clay works with the World Wildlife Fund. This is what he said in reply:-

"Let's use science and math to help us think this through. Most animal protein in the world, for example most beef, is produced on pasture. Not in feedlots, not with grain. 85 to 90% of global beef is actually produced on grass. By simply switching away from that most of that pasture would never be possible or should be used to grow food crops because you'd have too much erosion, you'd have too many other environmental problems that come from that. And, while vegetables are very good, let's look at the form we eat those vegetables. Fresh vegetables have spoilage and loss rates of 50 to 80%."

He went on to say how important frozen foods are is avoiding waste and preserving nutrients. What is wrong with his argument is that nobody is saying we should plough up grassland and plant lettuces or cauliflowers. We're not even saying that we should plough up grassland and grow grain and pulses. We are saying that much more of the grain and soya that is already grown should be eaten by people, and not fed to animals who then produce meat and dairy products. That is a much more efficient use of resources.

He said that most animal protein is produced on pasture. It's unclear if he is talking about farm animals generally or cattle. Pigs and chickens don't eat grass, they eat mostly maize and soya. He doesn't mention them, though. He says that 85 to 90% of global beef is produced on pasture. At first I thought those figures are wrong, but I can see that globally that could be true. There are a lot of cows in India, for example.

In North America and in Europe, however, very large numbers of cattle are kept in feedlots. Like pigs and chickens they are kept intensively indoors and fed mostly maize and soya. The population of farm animals is getting higher and they are eating more and more grain and soya. So I don't think that science and math support Dr Clay's arguments, and I think it is patronizing of him to imply that his opinion is the only rational one.

Another patronizing man is Professor Maurice Moloney. On Farming Today he was discussing with Sandra Bell of Friends of the Earth. Sandra was saying how we should eat less meat and dairy. This is what he said in reply:-

"I'm certainly not, as a scientist, prepared to risk the lives of 9 billion people by relying upon the idea that we may be able to change behaviours across a very complex social and cultural matrix that exists in the world. And so we've got to be pragmatic and practical about the other solutions we can offer."

He said that more intensive agiculture is the way forward. There are a number of things wrong with this argument. We need to distinguish between intensive crop production and intensive meat and dairy production. It is difficult to argue against intensive crop production. I think it is a wonderful thing that has saved humanity from a lot of mass hunger. We could talk about the problems of the increasing price of necessary inputs like nitrogen fertilizer and decreasing availability of irrigation water, but on the whole I support it. Intensive meat and dairy production is a different thing altogether.

He says that eating less meat and more grains and pulses would require a change in behaviour globally. That is not necessarily true. A change in government policy would do a lot to help. We could forbid new mega dairies and other CAFOs. Apparently the mega dairy at Nocton is not now going ahead. We could treat grain and soya fed meat as a luxury and put VAT on it. We already have VAT on luxuries like ice cream.

Perhaps Dr Clay and Professor Moloney don't realize how important government policy has been in shaping our eating habits. At one time in America beef burgers were made with pig fat. The beef lobby managed to get this banned. Beef however didn't have enough fat to make the burgers palatable, so farmers started keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them grain. Pig fat is a bit healthier than beef fat, and also pigs are more efficient at converting grain and soya into meat or fat. So we have poorer health and wasted resources because of stupid government policy. And yet if we suggest sensible government policy it is dismissed.

It's not so much that we need to change people's behaviour. Traditionally most people have eaten a starchy staple (usually a grain) together with pulses and vegetables. They have also had a small amount of animal protein. This should continue, but an emerging middle class often want to be Western and what they think is modern.

What is wrong with educating people about nutrition? Nobody is saying that this should be our only method of combating world hunger. It's people like Professor Moloney who seem to be ruling out options. We should educate people that they don't need as much protein as they think they need, that grains and pulses will provide all the good-quality protein people require, and that meat can never be cheap protein compared to something like tofu. While we're at it we can teach them about beta-carotene.

I think both Dr Clay and Professor Moloney believe that technology and the free market will always find solutions to the problems of humanity. The idea that a change in global food policy and mass education are part of the answer is alien to them. They are not being pragmatic and practical about the other solutions and so they are risking the lives of 9 billion people.

Monday, 7 November 2011

weather-damaged apples to be sold in Waitrose

In the Daily Mail last week there was an article that said the Waitrose supermarket will start selling weather-damaged apples at a lower price than their usual cosmetically perfect ones. An EU ban was lifted in 2009 which had meant that 20% of farm produce was thrown away or fed to livestock because it was misshapen or bruised.

A few years ago I started going to Borough Market in London. Chegworth Valley Juices is a company that have their own farm and sell direct to the public. They sell a lot of fruit juices but it is the apples that I am interested in. Apples that are sold in supermarkets and the usual street markets are sold underripe and never develop their full flavour.

Usually when a farmer sees that his apple crop has developed full colour and some sweetness he or she will harvest them. This makes it easier for the farmer and for the supermarket because underripe fruit can be transported with less damage and it has a longer shelf life. However, even if you try to ripen the fruit at home it will never develop its full flavour. Most people don't know what an apple variety is meant to taste like. You need to leave the fruit on the tree for it to develop its distinctive and often delicious flavour.

If you go into a supermarket you may see Asian pears. You might think how wonderful it is that we can have such a wide variety of fruit from all over the world. Asian pears look like big russet apples but are pears. If you try one it has a crunchy texture with some sweetness. You will never know that when an Asian pear is ripe it tastes like a melon. Not an ordinary melon, a delicious melon such as a Charentais.

I know this because I once grew an Asian pear on my allotment. I don't have it anymore but I have several apple trees. My favourite variety of apple is Spartan, which I discovered at Borough Market. It has a wonderful rich flavour. So I have that variety on my allotment. I also have my other favourite variety, Discovery.

People say that Cox's Orange Pippin is the best flavoured variety but it's not such a good one to grow on an allotment because it can be susceptible to disease. So I have a couple of Cox types, Sunset and Kidd's Orange Red. I have had an abundant crop of Discovery apples for several years, and this year my new Spartan tree gave me 3 fruit. Next year I hope to get many more, and of course I leave them on the tree as long as I can so that they develop flavour.

I think that people often say they like a crisp apple because they have never tasted a full flavoured properly ripened fruit. They can't judge an apple on flavour because they all tend to taste all the same, so they judge them on texture. It seems that old varieties of apple are being replaced by new varieties that have been developed to taste better even when underripe. People think that their supermarkets give them wonderful taste experiences but in most cases this is false.

Last year Waitrose had some Spartan apples on sale. This was the first time I had seen Spartan apples on sale apart from at Borough Market and Broadway Market. I bought a bag, but they were underripe and tasted just like any other supermarket apple. They don't have them this year, and I haven't seen these weather-damaged apples on sale either. I can imagine people buying a bag of Spartan apples, getting them home and thinking "I don't think much of these". If only they knew.

Spartan apples are available now at Borough Market and Broadway Market. I have been buying them. Chegworth Valley sell them at both these markets but other people sell them there too. Curiously, whereas supermarkets take great effort to present only cosmetically perfect apples to their customers, at Borough and Broadway Markets they make no effort at all. These apples are small, often misshapen and have blemishes. They would be regarded as poor quality and be rejected by supermarkets and yet they have the most important quality of all - flavour.

So I shall continue to buy apples from Borough and Broadway Markets, because to me flavour is the most important thing. It looks as if I'm not the only one who thinks that way, Chegworth Valley seem to be thriving with new outlets opening in different places. They have a new shop in Borough Market that is bigger than their old one.

The photo below I took myself at the new Chegworth Valley shop in Borough Market.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

butterfly paradises

For a few years I have noticed areas of land in London where buildings have been demolished but nothing has been built in their place. The land has just been left vacant but fenced off. I call them 'butterfly paradises' because often they are completely overgrown with Buddleia. This bush has many small flowers that provide plentiful nectar for insects. Buddleia is often called 'the butterfly bush'.

There is a big one at the southern end of London Road in Croydon where a hospital used to be. I see it when I am going past on the top deck of a bus. It is anoying because all it would take would be the addition of a few bee hives to make the land productive. I often have a fantasy of a local beekeeper trying to find who owns the land and visiting them in their offices in a tower in Canary Wharf or somewhere. I don't think people who earn millions would be interested in a few jars of honey though.

What seems to be happening is something called 'land banking'. Someone buys land with no intention of building on it or using it for some productive purpose. They intend to hold on to it until they can sell it for a big profit. It's an investment. They could keep it for years. I suspect that a plot of land might be sold over and over again by different speculators.

I think this is a very good example of when the free market does not work in the interest of society. Land should be built upon to provide affordable high density housing. It's funny how only poor people are thought of as antisocial. This week the global population has passed an estimated 7 billion. Recently half the world's population has become urban. We can't afford not to use urban land.

There are other uses for this land. Some of them are temporary and wouldn't cause a problem for land bankers. Car parks, dog exercise areas, community parks and food producing areas are some alternatives. Or maybe space is needed for a market.

I used to go to a branch of Lambeth College in West Norwood. This branch was closed down and the land sold. Half the land was use for a self storage warehouse, even though there is another one in West Norwood. The other half was just fenced off and left. I go past it often on the bus.

Not any longer though. An eco-camp has been set up. I read in the South London Press that a group has set up the 'Knights Hill Ecological Peace Camp' and they plan to clear rubbish and make a garden. They have something on YouTube about the eco-camp.

There will be a court case this month. The owners will try to remove the eco-camp. Why? They're not using the land. It should make no difference to them if the eco-camp is removed now or when they're ready to sell. Let the eco-camp stay.

The photo below I took myself yesterday when I went to have a look.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Whey to go

Last month I wrote about a product that I saw advertised on a poster in the window of a health food shop. This is Udo's Oil, a blend of vegetable oils supposed to be beneficial for health. I've had a closer look at this poster and just next to it I've seen another poster, advertising Solgar 'Whey To Go' protein powder. It shows a picture of the product and a 'Whey Of Life' recipe book.

In Britain whey has always been regarded as a by product of the cheese making industry and was fed to pigs. In the Mediterranean world it was made into ricotta. I have noticed for many years that whey has been sold to body builders as a source of protein. Body builders (probably incorrectly) think that they need more protein so they can build bigger muscles.

The poster does not state that people would benefit from more protein. That would be untrue. What it does say is 'As recommended by OK! magazine and Health & Fitness magazine as a must-have product'. Why these two magazines would say that is beyond me. They are giving people the false impression that they could benefit from more protein.

At best they are causing people to waste their money. Most people in Britain get at least double the amount of protein they need. More protein means more calories and so can contribute to obesity, but also there may be other problems. Your kidneys will have to work harder to get rid of the waste products of protein metabolism and some say more protein can make the body more acidic.

So it's another case of a company taking something cheap, processing it, packaging it and marketing it for a big profit. Just like Udo's Oil. I've been looking more closely at the poster for Udo's Oil.

"Udo's Oil - my top tip for healthy, glowing skin!" at the top of the poster followed by "as recommended by renowned make-up artist Jemma Kid" and a picture of Jemma looking very pretty out of doors with the wind blowing through her hair.

At the bottom of the poster it says "Udo's Choice (and then the trademark symbol) Omega 3.6.9 and more!". Omega-9 isn't an Essential Fatty Acid so a teaspoon or two of that isn't going to do much for you. We already get too much omega-6 so more can only harm you. The omega-3 is in the form of short-chain plant derived omega-3 which is of little use to the body. Many of these omega-3 containing products often don't have much omega-3 in them. All of them have calories that can contribute towards obesity.

The poster shows the box that the oil comes in. On the box it says that it is a blend of flax, sesame and sunflower seed oils, as well as a few other oils. It says it is a 2:1:1 ratio of omega 3.6.9 and "the ideal balance for today's low fat and Omega 3 deficient diets".

Sunflower oil is a cheap vegetable oil and like most vegetable oils is high in omega-6 (what we should have less of) and low in omega-3 (what we should have more of). Sesame oil is also low in omega-3. Hemp oil does have lots of omega-3.

The 2:1:1 ratio they mention doesn't make a lot of sense. The ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 is important, but omega-9 doesn't come into it. The more omega-6 we have in our diets the less our bodies can utilise omega-3. A 2:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 would make sense, but only if they were talking about total fat intake. Because we get lots of omega-6 in the form of vegetable oils it would make more sense to take as much omega-3 in a supplement as possible, and as little omega-6.

So hemp oil as a supplement would make more sense. It would be cheaper too. Fish oil is better because it contains long chain omega-3. Vegetarians would not want to take fish oil or cod liver oil though. So don't be taken in by expensive products like Whey to go or Udo's Oil.

It's not just the manufacturers who annoy me. They confuse people about what they need to do to be healthy and make big profits. I am also annoyed by the magazines who recommend a product as a 'must-have product' when there is no evidence they will help people's health and evidence that it will harm them. I am also annoyed with celebrities like Jemma Kid. I am most annoyed by the so-called health food shops. People trust them and they are letting them down.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Udo's Choice Ultimate Oil Blend

Today I walked past a health food shop and I saw a poster advertizing 'Udo's Choice Ultimate Oil Blend'. The poster said that this oil is high in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. In a previous post on this blog I pointed out that we already get too much omega-6 fatty acid.

Although omega-6 is an Essential Fatty Acid, the large amounts we already consume are harmful and more of it will only harm us more. The more of it we have the less our body can utilize omega-3. The type of omega-3 found in this type of oil blend is of very little use to the body.

Good nutritional advice is that we should reduce the amount of omega-6 we consume, by reducing the amount of vegetable oil, and increasing the amount of omega-3, particularly the long chain omega-3 that can only be obtained from eating oily fish or seafood or taking fish oil or cod liver oil.

Curiously, in an web page about Dr Udo Erasmus and his oil, Mary Shomon indicates that he understands this problem of too much omega-6.

According to Dr. Erasmus, since 1900, Omega 6 consumption has increased by about 20 times the previous levels, primarily because of increased use of certain vegetable oils in food preparation, while Omega 3s are now only 1/6 of previous levels. According to Dr. Erasmus, this means that we get too much Omega 6 and too little Omega 3 fatty acids.

And yet he is encouraging people to take more omega-6!

On his site it says that the price of a bottle of his oil blend is £10.99 for 250ml or £19.99 for 500ml. It says Its unique formulation will provide you with an excellent source of the unprocessed, readily utilised omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids that are vital for life. As part of a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet these can contribute to improved cardiovascular and general health. This is misleading. More long-chain omega-3 and less omega-6 will lead to improved cardiovascular health. His blend will not.

I don't like people who make money by confusing people about their health and
selling them expensive useless products. I don't like the manufacturers and I don't like the so-called health food shops. My advice to people is to do what I do and buy fish oil capsules. They will be better for you and save you a lot of money.

And as for that Flora Cuisine, everything that I've said above applies to that too.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

the problem of obesity and food shortage

The Independent newspaper yesterday had a front page article UK fat alert: 26 million will be obese by 2030. A tax on unhealthy food was suggested but the government and the food industry have dismissed this idea.

It is interesting that earlier this month the Ice Cream Alliance appealed to the Treasury for VAT to be taken off the price of ice cream. Poor summer weather and the rising cost of raw materials have hit profits for ice cream producers. I didn't realise that there was VAT on ice cream, I thought food didn't have VAT on it, but luxury foods are charged VAT.

It seems to me that an easy way to help the obesity problem would be to reassess what we mean by luxury food, and start charging VAT on more foods high in fat and sugar. It would also help with another major problem, the global availability of food. It seems strange that obesity (caused by an abundance of food) could have a relationship to hunger (caused by food shortages).

In this week's New Scientist magazine the researcher Yaneer Bar-Yam discussed the increased probability of social unrest in the world due to rises in the price of food. He said that there are two main reasons why prices have gone up.

Firstly, financial speculators have moved investment money from mortgage markets to commodity markets. This has caused a hike in all commodity prices, including crops. This is different from an increase due to supply and demand.

Secondly, there has been an enormous increase in the USA of the conversion of maize to ethanol for biofuel. 40% of US maize is now used for biofuel, which is about 15% of global production.

He doesn't say anything about crops like maize and soya being used in increasing amounts to feed animals. This is an enormously inefficient system that converts large amounts of healthy food (wheat, maize, soya) into a smaller amount of unhealthy food (meat and dairy products) and making it more expensive. If we put VAT on any meat from an animal that was fed on imported maize and soya, and some dairy products, then we would help the problem of obesity in affluent countries while also helping with food shortages.

People think they need lots of meat and dairy produce to get the protein they need, but this is not true. People overestimate how much protein they and their children need. It is easy to get all the protein you need from grains and beans. Meat has iron as well as protein, and dairy products have calcium, but iron and calcium can be obtained from plants.

Egg and milk production seems to be more efficient than meat production, so perhaps they should escape VAT. Fish and seafood are another source of animal protein and should not have VAT. Some animal protein is beneficial in the diet. Meat from cattle or sheep that have eaten mostly grass on a farm where the land is unsuitable for crops should not have VAT. Similarly if animals are used as part of a crop rotation system. Apparently it is more efficient to produce mutton than lamb, so eating mutton (and hogget) should be encouraged. People should be encouraged to eat less popular cuts of meat and offal.

Another thing we can do is refuse planning permission for any CAFOs in this country (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) such as the proposed mega dairy at Nocton.

We should also put a stop to using crops as biofuels. It was a good idea but it doesn't work. There should be more public transport, and densely-populated countries like China and India should be encouraged to develop public transport instead of building multi-lane highways for cars. That way the demand for fuel will not be so great. I would like to see areas in many cities where people don't use cars. Then all of the advantages of a car-free life can be more easily seen. Noise, air pollution, death through accidents, emergency services not being able get to their destination quickly and lengthened journey times are all things that decrease quality of life.

There are a number of things we can do to alleviate the twin problems of obesity in the affluent world and food shortages in the poor world. Putting VAT on certain foods would be an easy step to take and make a big contribution.

Monday, 25 July 2011

famine in Somalia made worse by West

People are starving in Somalia due to the severe drought. It has been known for a long time that fishing fleets, many of them from the EU, have plundered Somalia's fish stocks. This has caused unemployment in coastal regions of Somalia, but more importantly it has taken away from the people of Somalia an important source of food.

Not only have these fleets removed fish, but they have removed so many fish that the ability of fish populations to replace themselves has been removed. The fishing fleets will move on, if they haven't done so already. But they have left devastation behind them. It is shameful that it is permitted for the rich to steal from the poor in this way. The poor of the world are starving, we have made it worse for them, and then we are surprised when they hate us.

There has also been dumping of toxic wasted in Somali waters by other nations.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

the Foresight report into future food supply

Last month a report by scientists was published which attempted to find solutions to the problem of feeding an ever growing global population. The Foresight report, Global Food and Farming Futures suggest a number of different ways.
  1. allowing more genetically modified crops
  2. avoiding food waste
  3. more spending on agricultural research
The report doesn't seem to be recommending that less food in the form of grains and soya should be fed to animals. The article in the Independent newspaper states "This urbanisation in developing nations will be coupled with an increase in wealth and a shift towards diets rich in meat and dairy produce, which require more farmland to produce compared to more vegetarian diets." Yet there isn't any suggestion that this shift should be countered.

In fact 'grain, roots, tubers and pulses' are termed 'poor-quality food', which is nonsense. Grains and pulses, together with vegetables and fruit, should form the basis of a healthy diet. Animal protein isn't necessary at all.

To say that genetic modification is going to be the solution to the problem of world hunger is like saying that nuclear fusion is going to be the solution to energy demand and carbon dioxide production. I hope power stations that use nuclear fusion can be built in the future, and I support governments spending billions of dollars on research into it, but the fact is that it might never happen. There are no genetically modified crops that are higher yielding than conventional crops yet. Just as we need wind turbines and other renewable energy sources now, so too we need non-GM solutions to food production now.

Not allowing big animal farms such as the proposed mega-dairy at Nocton would be a start. Getting rid of all of them is a goal for the future. We could put VAT on all meat where the animals have been fed on grain and soya. This would mean that grain prices would not continue to increase as much as they have done, giving the poorer people of the world the chance to feed their families.

Monday, 17 January 2011

comments on Hugh's campaign on discards

There have been a number of comments on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign to end discards. This is the wasteful practice of throwing back into the sea dead fish that fishermen cannot land because they have exceeded their quota for that species. Most people are outraged by discards and support Hugh in his campaign. Some like me can see the problem with his argument. He is treating the fishermen as if they are innocent of any wrongdoing, and that the problem is with politicians, bureacrats and scientists. See my previous post on this.

I have decided to cut-and-paste these comments here. This is such an important issue I fell that I am justified in doing this.

Leon said on 12 January 2011 at 20:03
The issue is not as simple as Hugh depicts it. For the last four years I've been studying the history of fishery regulations and how fishermen have responded to them. First of all, one has to accept that a complete lack of regulation has, in many cases, led to excessive overfishing with subsequently collapsing stocks. Fishermen are primarily interested in earning money, not in conserving nature. After all, they have to earn a living on fishing. So what would be the best way to regulate fishing such that stocks are conserved? During the last century, several measures have been tried out, and fishermen have always found a loophole. Consider a few of them: - A fishing season: Fishermen react by buying ever bigger trawlers and working day and night to be able to catch as much fish as possible during the season. Thus, overfishing persists, but efficiency declines, because the overcapitalized fishing fleet is useless for the rest of the year once the 'race for fish' is over. - Setting a total allowable catch: Just the same happens as in the case of a fishing season (stocks are preserved, though). - Setting an individual allowable catch: Some comments here propose that fishermen should be allowed to sell all fish that they catch, up to a certain total amount. What happens? They concentrate on more valuable species and throw the rest of the catch back into the sea! - Limiting the number of trawlers: Again fishermen react by upsizing the vessels. Overfishing persists. As you can see, it's not that easy to regulate fisheries without creating harmful incentives. Sure, throwing half of the catch back into the sea represents a disgraceful waste of food. But it is neither the sole fault of EU bureaucrats, nor of marine scientists. Any ideas for an optimal fishery policy will be highly appreciated (but be aware: the simple ones have all failed!).

ROB said on 12 January 2011 at 17:44
Lots of knee-jerk reaction here to the sights of seeing loads of dead fish being dumped but there's no escaping the truth of the matter which is that it's the fishing industry, not the EU that's to blame. The guy who said this before (Neil?) was spot on. Also plenty of you thinking that they could restrict the dayas/hours that the boats spend at sea (it's a nice cosy solution isn't it?) but in reality how could they ever monitor such a policy? Those boats would be out there all hours all days regardless. You need a new Navy in place to try and track them all which would cost $millions which they're not going to spend on this problem. The industry has to change it's fishing methods period. Trawling massive nets is no good and has to stop. They need to rethink, adapt, and be willing to change fishing methods. In truth I think these dinosaurs will be unable to change and thus they may as well pack up now. They ruined the fish stocks, they deserve to go out of business.

Stephen said on 12 January 2011 at 14:20
I was dumbfounded and sickened watching this programme. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall presented the fishermen as victims of the quota system. Whilst I certainly agree that new ways of conserving stocks need to be found, it is the fishermen who are emptying the seas not the EU. The poor fishermen, having to kill all those fish. Sadly, the fish have no choice about being caught. As NEIL said, quota's were introduced to try and prevent overfishing of stocks by the fishing industry. It's their living, the more they catch the more money they can make. They are not going to show restraint. This was confirmed when they were doubting the scientists data about cod being endangered. What possible reason have the scientists got to fabricate it? No mention of the collapse of the Newfoundland cod industry then. The basic position is that we cannot sustain this level of industrial scale fishing. They can complain all they want, but once there are no fish left then there will be no fishermen at all. I cannot understand how they can be so short-sighted. The giving away of dead fish was just TV exhibitionism. Why are they even going out fishing when they know they are up to quota on some fish. It was sickening to see such murder and greed. If they are up to quota on any fish then they should not be allowed out. Whilst appreciating that better methods of making fishing sustainable need to be sought, I found this programme to be far to biased towards the fishermen. I hope many other people saw through it too.

Neil said on 12 January 2011 at 11:17
I was greatly disappointed by this 1st episode in that Hugh presented such an UNBALANCED one-sided view. Ok so he wants to get a point across but frankly it felt totally insulting that you failed at every turn to present both sides of this situation. Key example, Hugh was talking to a fisherman who said if they were allowed to land what they catch then they wouldn't need to spend as many days at sea and could have more holiday and time with the family. What utter nonsense ! If we allowed those guys to land everything, any day, they would be out there EVERY DAY without fail raking the fish in for more and more money. This is precisely why the quota laws came in, to put a halt to the unending greed of the fishing industry. Now don't get me wrong, the quota solution is pretty useless and obscenely wasteful and in itself is damaing fish stocks but it's irresponsible to fly your beliefs and arguments without showing the full picture. The fisherman had to be stopped somehow and indeed STILL have to be stopped otherwise they will continue to fish relentlessly. They care about their profits not the fish. So a better way has to be found to restrict them such as only allowing boats to go out at specific times and so on all of which is a mine field of potential loop holes which will be exploited. In itself, the quota simply restricts the volumes of fish you can catch. Sadly what HAS NOT happened in the wake of that is technology hasn't been introduced to better segregate teh fish that are caught. i.e. The fishermen are still casting wide nets to trawl everything. Why is it that on land an angler can set out to catch specific fish with specific tackle and specific bait but these trawling fishermen can only throw out a huge net? Why can't they line fish with specific baits? Comes back to greed, volume and profit. The enemy here is not the EU directives. It's the fishermen who created the need for some kind of restrictive policy. That hasn't changed. Just look at the guy who is still going out there to catch 1/2 dozen dover sole knowing he'll pull in a net full of cod he has to kill and dump!!!! Why is he doing that? It's awful. IT's like he's saying "I hate this stupid EU law and to spike myself I'm going out there to kill tons of cod just to catch a few sole". pretty stupid. Let's have some proper journalism Hugh that presents properly the problems created byu the fisherman. The "Stop The Quota" campaign makes exciting telly perhaps but it's far too unbalanced and is frankly insulting.

Anna McGregor said on 12 January 2011 at 09:58
This programme was presented in an entirely one-sided way. Fishing policy is a complex issue, designed to protect all parties with interests in the industry, including fisherman, us as consumers and the fish themselves. The reason that quotas are in place is that the fisherman in the past have not regulated themselves in the amount of fish they land, requiring that legislation exists to limit their catches. This system is in the interest of the fishermen, because when stocks become too low and the fishery must be completely closed (as happened in the Canadian Grand Banks) or is entirely gone, no one wins. The fish are dead, fisherman can't make any money, we don't have any to eat. In fact, these quotas have succeeded, because the stocks are starting to recover and fisherman are able to catch more fish. I agree that throwing away tons of fish is an enormous waste. However, no other solutions were presented in this programme. The addition of protected areas where no fishing occurs has been very successful in other parts of the world, for example. Removing the quota system is not the answer. The point behind the quotas is that fisherman stop fishing once they have reached their quota. Maybe quota limits need to be adjusted in the legislation, but that was never mentioned in this program. I would like to commend Hugh et al for making the point that we should not rely so heavily on one or two species of fish (i.e. cod and haddock). It is important for those that feel strongly about this to preferentially buy other species, such as mackerel (which incidentally are better for you anyway...more oils, less mercury, etc.), which will remove some of the fishing pressure from the other more popular whitefish. It's great that this issue is being brought up, but I am disappointed that the story was not presented in a more complete way. I am looking forward to the other episodes in the series, and I hope a much more accurate picture is portrayed.

Kevin Walker-Curran said on 12 January 2011 at 10:08
Discard is a tragic result of a well intentioned policy to protect declining stock. We should not forget that it was overfishing that led to the need for a quota system in the first place. To open up this system to unlimited restrictions over species caught, whilst seemingly solving the discard problem may in fact make no difference to discard. If allowed to take home a given tonnage of any fish, some fishermen would likely focus on the more profitable take and continue to discard less profitable species. Given the more profitable take may be the less common species, the new approach may actually further endanger these fish, whilst having little impact on discard either. I agree that a new approach is needed, however it needs to be done in a rational and scientific manner that takes account of all the issues. Perhaps the biggest factor in this is the consumer. A change in our eating habits would be a start and could have a significant impact. As Hugh addressed, perhaps that starts with a lobbying of Fish and Chip shops or the National Fedaration of Fish Friers.

Taco said on 12 January 2011 at 10:09
I saw the show last night and was appalled. Not by the dead fish being thrown back into the sea, but by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's irritating demagogy. If there is no quota or catch share, fishermen will clean out the seas. The fact that they accidentally catch loads of fish they are not supposed to, is not the quota's fault (or, the EU for that matter, being Hugh's favourite scapegoat) - it is the way they fish. And that yesterday's program failed to point that out makes me wonder why Hugh is so enraged by a waste of 'perfectly fine' dead fish; the fact these beautiful animals are dead, or, perhaps more likely, that he can't fill his belly with them. If the story of fish is so horrifying, don't 'eat more different kinds of fish' as Hugh ridiculously suggests - just don't eat fish at all. I doubt whether these cod care much if they are killed by a quota, or by Hugh's bloody rubber gloves.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

has Hugh been conned by fishermen?

I watched the first episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new series on Channel 4 Hugh's Big Fish Fight. He was talking mostly about the wasteful practice of throwing back into the sea dead fish that fishermen are not allowed to land (discards). We can all agree that something should be done about it, but Hugh's belief that the fishermen are the heroes and the Brussels bureaucrats and scientists are the problem does not stand up to scrutiny.

Let me suggest a sequence of events:-
  1. fishermen get a quota for cod

  2. they catch as much cod as they can, up to their quota

  3. they spend the rest of the year going after other species of fish but with a considerable bycatch of cod, maybe 50%, maybe more

  4. they cannot land the cod because they are over their quota

  5. they throw vast quantities of dead cod into the sea
Is this a realistic scenario? Is this really what the problem is all about?

The fishermen that Hugh spoke to seemed to think that there were plenty of cod in the sea and that quotas should go. He spoke to a scientist who explained that cod were only just beginning to recover in numbers and it would be foolish to catch more of them now. The fishermen didn't want to believe the scientists though. I'm sure that the former fishermen of Newfoundland thought the same way before they destroyed their own fish stocks.

One of the fishermen that Hugh spoke to said that he threw away a netfull of cod for the half dozen dover sole he could sell. They should not be allowed to do this. Maintaining fish stocks are so important that we cannot continue to allow their future to be in the hands of uneducated men who are only interested in money.

There are a number of things we can do. First, stop all subsidy of the fishing industry. Most people don't realize that fishermen are subsidized by the taxpayer. Just like farmers. As far as I can tell, the recent cutbacks are not going to touch them.

Alternatively, as with the farmers, continue with some subsidy but make sure they have to do what we want them to do in return for payment. They're not going to like that, any more than farmers did. Farmers complained about farming being 'nationalized'.

We could ban all new investment in fishing. Especially of the big million pound boats. We shouldn't allow any new boats.

There should be sanctions against fishermen who land vast quantitities of cod all in one go. They should be forced to land smaller quantities throughout the year. That is the best way to avoid bycatch. Not ending quotas. Quotas should be more stringent to allow cod stocks to recover, then there will be many times more cod in the sea.

Another possibility is that if fishermen reach their quota in any species, they should not be allowed out to fish. This will make it difficult for them to earn money, but any effective quota system is going to do that anyway. In some cases they could be financially compensated for this.