Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Institute for Fiscal Studies report on food and poverty

"Struggling households are turning to cheaper, fattier food in the wake of the recession." So it says in this newspaper article. This comes from research on food and poverty done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. However, if you look at the report (Food purchases and nutrition over the recession), the facts don't seem so alarming.

The report says there has been an increase in the calorie density of food eaten by 2.6%, less for poorer people. Fat density has increased by 2.4%, less for the poorer people. Sugar density has increased by 2.1%. So we have increases of between 2% and 3%, which doesn't seem to be a big change. What's more salt density has decreased by 7.5% and fibre density has increased by 4.1%, which is quite a good thing. So the food we eat has become slightly fattier and slightly more sugary, but at the same time less salty and with a higher fibre content.

At the same time people have been spending less on food and eating fewer calories. The amount of fat, sugar and salt eaten have been decreasing. One way you can interpret the statistics is to say that people are eating slightly less food overall, eating the same proportion of processed food, but eating cheaper processed food. Cheap processed food does seem to have more fat and sugar than the more expensive processed food.

What people don't seem to be doing is turning to the cheaper less processed foods such as rice and pasta. The assumption that the Institute of Fiscal Studies are making is that calorie dense foods are cheaper. It might well be that a macaroni cheese from Iceland is more calorific and cheaper than the equivalent from Marks and Spencer. However, less processed foods such as rice and pasta are much cheaper than the cheapest processed foods. So to say that the poor have had no option but to turn to more calorie dense foods is wrong.

Monday, 14 October 2013

continent of the pigs

I've been looking for accurate statistics for the number of farm animals for a while, and this page seems to have them. I didn't know that for every one of the 7 billion people on the planet there are almost 3 chickens, 19 billion in total. Chickens are better converters of animal feed (maize and soya) than other farm animals, perhaps especially when they are used for egg production.

There are 1.4 billion cattle. Cattle can eat grass that we can't eat, and some areas can't be used to grow crops but produce grass. Many cattle, perhaps the majority these days, are kept in feed lots and fed animal feed. There are 1 billion sheep. As far as I know sheep only eat grass although they might get a supplement of feed.

There are 1 billion pigs on the planet. They are not efficient converters of animal feed like chickens, neither can they eat grass like cattle and sheep can. Traditionally, pigs were fed on food that we can't eat, waste food or stale food. Nearly all pigs today are fed on a high-calorie high-protein diet consisting mostly of maize and soya. Pigs are about the same size as us, and I think they are the best example of how crops are being wasted by being fed to farm animals.

A billion is a big number. If you think about the entire population of North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America combined, that doesn't come to a billion. If you think about the 6 giant cities in the Americas, each of which is bigger than any city in Europe, it makes you think. The global population of pigs is bigger than the entire human population of the Americas.

Of course we do end up eating the pigs, and they do sometimes eat what we would not want to. Nobody would want to eat pig food, but people have been eating maize and soya for thousands of years and enjoying it, along with wheat, barley and fish. Fish, especially anchovies, form part of animal feed. This is no way to feed the world.

According to the Economist site, in China there are 0.35 pigs per person. So for every 3 people there's a pig. No wonder they have to import grain. That's 451,000,000 pigs. In Denmark there are 2.24 pigs for every person, the only country where there are more pigs than people. There is no geographical reason why this should be so. Denmark is nowhere near where maize and soya are produced. You could understand it if countries like America, Brazil or Argentina had that ratio of pigs to people. I imagine vast fleets of ships carrying animal feed from the eastern coasts of North and South America to northern Europe. It seems a strange way of doing things, but then the global agricultural system has never made much sense.

Imagine a maize and soya farm in Brazil. Imagine if most of the maize and soya was exported to feed people, but some of it kept on the farm to feed a relatively small number of free-range pigs. Pig slurry was put back onto the land. The pigs could be slaughtered on site. Livers could be frozen and exported. Ham and bacon could be made on site providing employment and exported. Seems sensible to me, so sensible that you kind of know that nothing like this happens or will ever happen.

Instead we have pigs, one of the most intelligent animals, kept in horrible conditions. Slurry that can't be disposed of. New viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria breeding away. One eighth of the world's population starving while an equal number grow fat. It's crazy, and no amount of GM technology or badger killing is going to make it better.

Monday, 30 September 2013

instant noodles

I listened to the recent episode of Thinking Allowed on Radio 4. Laurie Taylor was talking to Deborah Gewertz about her book on instant noodles.

She had this to say.
"... they will allow poor people to be sustained in contexts of extreme poverty. I would very much like a world in which extreme poverty did not exist but it does and it looks like it's going to get worse as the population of the world increases to 9 to 10 billion by 2050 and the question that we contemplate in our book is how are these people going to be fed. Of course we would love it if people had healthy food to eat but since it's not likely that poverty will decrease instant noodles will remain a proletarian hunger killer."
The problem with this is that if you do the calculation and work out how many calories per penny instant noodles provide then it isn't much compared to other foods.

Tesco Everyday Value chicken flavour instant noodles cost 15p for a 65g pack that has 260 calories.
Lidl long-grain white rice costs 40p for 1kg and has 3,510 calories.
Lidl organic whole-grain farfalle costs 99p for 500g and has 1,685 calories.

instant noodles: about 17 kcals/p
rice: about 88 kcals/p
organic whole-grain pasta: about 17 kcals/p

This means that rice provides more than 5 times the number of calories per penny as instant noodles, whereas the very much healthier organic whole-grain pasta is slightly cheaper. So it is wrong for Deborah Gewertz to state that poor people can't afford to eat healthier food than instant noodles. It is not only wrong but it is misleading people into making poor choices about how to feed their families and keep them healthy.

It is possible that instant noodles may be cheaper in some parts of the world than in Britain, but I wouldn't expect the relative price of instant noodles and rice to be much different. I think since writing this the cost of Tesco noodles is now 20p which makes them even less value for money. Looking at the information on the back of packets of noodles, it does seem that there is some confusion over how many calories they have. I'm going on the information provided on the Tesco site. It may turn out that instant noodles may be a bit cheaper than organic whole-grain pasta, but there is no doubt they are more expensive than rice.
instant noodles
Deborah Gewertz is one of many people who believe that unhealthy food is cheapest, and that's why poor people eat it. They all seem to disagree on what it is that poor people are condemned to eat. She believes that it is instant noodles. Danish food writer Katrine Klinken believes that is it cheese and butter. Zoe Williams and some of her fellow Guardian journalists believe it is burgers and crisps. They have all got it wrong, and it is easy to show that this is true. Just by looking at the facts. If anyone deserves to be likened to Marie Antoinette it is these three women, not people like me.

They seem to believe that poverty in Britain today is the same as poverty in Britain decades ago or poverty in countries like India today. It isn't. Nobody today is in the same situation as mining families in the 1920s. The problem with all these people is that they have to believe in one extreme or the other. There are some people who believe that poor people are totally responsible for the situation they find themselves in. They tend to be on the right of the Conservative Party. Then there are others who believe in the exact opposite, that poor people have absolutely no control over what happens to them whatsoever. They tend to be on the left of the Labour Party. They think poor people are victims, and that to suggest there are ways to eat more healthily and spend less money is blaming the victim.

The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. We can all learn more about nutrition. We can all learn what we need to eat and what we can cut back on.

Monday, 12 August 2013

tuberculosis and the importance of meat

This weekend I listened to the BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions?. Benjamin Zephaniah was one of the guests. He is a vegan and had some interesting things to say on the question of diet. This was prompted by a question about lab-cultured burgers.

Benjamin seemed very up to date on the subject of how much protein people need and the importance of meat. The other contributors continue to believe the old-fashioned idea that people need large amounts of protein and that the only easy way to get that is through eating meat.

I was especially perturbed by what was said by Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Aberdeen University.

I believe that the biggest factor in getting rid of tuberculosis in this country ... has been that people can buy cheap chicken. And chicken is the big big protein source. Herbert Hoover ran an election campaign ... on 'a chicken in every pot' but it was successful. Now you may not like the way the chickens are grown but it is very cheap very good protein, and that has saved lots and lots of lives. And white meat from chicken is good for you. Beef is a bit of a luxury. So that's where I stand. Chicken, eggs, milk and that sort of stuff.

It is true that when people are trying to recover from tuberculosis, or many diseases, that they should eat good quality protein. But, as it says on this site under the heading High quality proteins to repair the damaged tissue
  • The best and easily digestible proteins are from egg whites and milk. About 2 eggs and 3 glasses of milk are required in a day.
  • Other good sources of protein are chicken, fish, meat, cheese, nuts and seeds, pulses.
So it looks like vegetarians can very easily get the protein that they need to recover from tuberculosis. They can have egg whites and milk. Or cheese, nuts, seeds and pulses. It also looks as if vegans can easily get the protein they need too. They can have nuts, seeds and pulses. So I really don't know why Professor Pennington is going on about chicken.

Another guest on the programme, Matthew Sinclair said It's hard to get the full mixed proteins you need without meat. This is simply not true. This belief stems from the time when scientists overestimated the amount of protein that people need. Now the scientific recommendations for the amount of protein that people need is much lower. I know that plant proteins tend to be slightly deficient in one or more of the amino acids, but when you have protein from different plants - such as grains and pulses - they make up for each other's deficiencies. That's not so important anyway now that we know people's protein requirements are more modest.

The other thing that Matthew Sinclair said I didn't like is what the audience member who asked the question also said. They said that scientists have done wonders in breeding crops to benefit mankind, so isn't it wonderful that now they are turning their attention to proteins. As if proteins only come from animals. Farm animals do not create proteins, they can only take protein from plants and very inefficiently re-organize them into their tissues. Soya and other pulses are the cheap proteins. It's about time people realized that, because if they don't we're never going to be able to feed the world.

People should not worry about whether they are getting enough protein. In Britain people, even poor people, get about one and a half times as much protein as they need. Even if they are recovering from an illness, such as TB, they wouldn't need to have more. Although, if they want to be on the safe side, they could have eggs and milk. If they want to worry about getting enough of any nutrients, it would make more sense if they worried about getting more vitamin D.

Vitamin D has been linked to TB, among other things, and it seems if you take more vitamin D then you are less likely to get TB or more likely to recover from it. It's difficult to get enough vitamin D from food sources or from sunlight, so I would take a vitamin D tablet. Not chicken. Eggs have got some vitamin D. Oily fish do too. So if you eat oily fish you get protein, omega-3 (another nutrient we could do with more of) and some vitamin D. Cod liver oil has omega-3 and some vitamin D.

The irony is that chickens are fed on animal feed that often contains anchovies. Anchovies are being overfished. This Guardian article is very interesting.

Betrand noted that despite accounting for the biggest stock in the world, anchovies are seldom used for human food, crushed instead into a fine flour to make animal feed for fowl, pigs and farm-raised fish.

If people fed less anchovies to animals like chickens and ate them themselves they would have cheaper protein, they would have more long-chain omega-3 and they would have more vitamin D. There would be less TB in the world. When anchovies are fed to chickens about half of the protein is lost, and nearly all of the omega-3 and vitamin D. It's not so bad if it is egg production and not meat.

Anchovies in the supermarket are expensive, but there should be a way of getting anchovies to people all over the world cheaply. You might say that people don't want to eat anchovies, but if instead of 'a chicken in every pot' for Americans we tried to get cheap protein in the form of soya and sustainably fished anchovies to everyone that would be a much better way of feeding the world.

Soya in the form of tofu and tempeh has a bland flavour but miso is delicious. Anchovies could combine quite well with miso, even in the form of anchovy flour, to make a tasty soup or stock. There may be other ways to use anchovies.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

kidney stones and diet

On the BBC Radio 4 programme Inside Health on 16/07/13 Dr Mark Porter was talking about kidney stones. He said that they affect one in ten of the population and the pain can be worse than childbirth. Surgeon Bhaskar Somani said that to avoid kidney stones we should drink lots of water and have a diet low in salt and low in red meat. He also said that it can be a good idea to avoid plants high in oxalate such as spinach, beetroot and rhubarb.

This interested me because I have been reading about low-oxalate diets since reading this article in the Daily Mail. I have tried a low-oxalate diet to see if it has an effect on me. I have suffered from tiredness and poor sleep all my life. It didn't seem to have any effect. Despite having a great interest in nutrition, I had no knowledge of the low-oxalate diet before reading the Daily Mail article, and I thought that not many people believed in it until I heard this episode of Inside Health.

Unfortunately, many healthy foods have considerable amounts of oxalate in them. Whole grains such as brown rice have. Some common vegetables such as cabbage do. Some nuts such as almonds do. I avoided these things for a while, but no longer. However, after listening to Inside Health I shall avoid spinach, beetroot, rhubarb and Swiss chard which are all particularly high in oxalate. I already have a diet low in salt and red meat. I intend to drink lots of water and drink it frequently. If kidney stones affect one in ten of us and the pain is worse than childbirth then it makes a lot of sense to do this.

I shall also take calcium and magnesium citrate in pill form. This helps to remove oxalate from the system.

Most people are not sensitive to oxalate but some people are. Most people don't have to worry about their oxalate intake, but it seems to make sense for all of us to avoid the very high-oxalate foods such as spinach. There's no point in taking any chances when it comes to kidney stones.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

eat less meat or face food shortage

The Commons international development committee said farmers should rear more animals on grass because livestock is land and energy intensive and grain should be saved for humans.

This is what it said in this Daily Mail article. This is what I have been saying all along. The farmers seem to be up in arms about this statement. Nobody is saying that we shouldn't use land that can't be used to grow grain or other crops to grow grass for cattle or sheep. We're saying that we shouldn't import vast quantities of maize and soya to feed cattle, pigs and chickens. We should be eating more grain and pulses ourselves.

The article also said:-

The committee raised concerns about the impact of biofuels – derived from plants such as sugar cane and maize – on the environment and on food prices.

Vast swathes of agricultural land are set aside to grow fuel crops, pushing up the price of staple goods. By law, at least 5 per cent of petrol and diesel sold on British forecourts must be biofuel.

The MPs called on ministers to consider using domestic stockpiles of food to protect against price hikes.

As well as claiming grain should be fed to humans instead of animals, vegetarians and green activists tell steak lovers livestock farming is a major source of harmful greenhouse gases.

At the end of the article it mentions the Cranfield University research that seems to show that meat substitutes are not better than meat. I've looked at this research and it doesn't seem to make sense. It seems to be saying that if British people eat more soya, chickpeas and lentils then, because they are grown abroad, more land abroad has to be cultivated. So maybe forests abroad will have to be cut down to grow soya etc.

This seems to me to be complete nonsense. What we are saying is that vast quantitites or maize and soya are grown abroad and used to feed farm animals. If we eat less meat, then most of the maize and soya that is grown abroad will be available for human consumption. We could use that land for other crops too, such as chickpeas and lentils, and also farm less intensively. No extra land would be needed.

I'm annoyed with farmers and Cranfield University with trying to muddy the waters here. This is an issue of the global food supply and personal health. It's as if they want people to believe that when British people go to the supermarket and buy meat it will come from an animal that will have grazed on a Welsh hillside or something. The reality is that most farm animals are fed on maize and soya grown in tropical countries. If we used that soya for tofu instead of feeding animals then we would need LESS cultivated land and not MORE.

Another recent Daily Mail article says that recent research shows that vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters. That doesn't necessarily mean that vegetarianism causes good health because it is a correlation not cause-and-effect, but it makes the vested interests of the farming lobby seem even more immoral in their attempts to make people believe that British meat is all natural and healthy.

In any case, the Cranfield University 'research' is talking about the value of meat substitutes. People don't need to replace meat with a substitute. They don't need as much protein as they think they do. I could agree with the statement below, found here.

Donal Murphy-Bokern, one of the (Cranfield University) study authors and the former farming and food science co-ordinator at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “For some people, tofu and other meat substitutes symbolise environmental friendliness but they are not necessarily the badge of merit people claim. Simply eating more bread, pasta and potatoes instead of meat is more environmentally friendly.”

Monday, 20 May 2013

Polly Toynbee playing at being poor

I have been reading Hard Work by Polly Toynbee. Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee tried living on a council estate and tried different low-paid jobs. I was interested in Chapter 4 Spending where she recounts trying to buy food cheaply. She went to Lidl, seemingly for the first time in her life, and bought what she thought was cheap food.

Looking at the list of foods she bought, my first thought is that she's including rice, pasta and yellow split peas. That's good, rice and pasta are really the cheapest foods that you can buy, and yellow split peas are a cheap source of protein. There was something a bit strange about this list though. She wrote that 1 kg of rice cost 55p, even though it was reduced in price. However, in Lidl and a number of supermarkets cheap rice has been 40p a kilo for a number of years.

The other strange thing is that she wrote that Lidl doesn't sell lentils. She wrote that she went to Sainsbury's to buy lentils. Lidl do sell lentils, and have done so for years. I remember that they were 88p per half kilo for years, and now they are 90 something p. The book was published in 2003 but I find it difficult to believe that cheap rice was 55p per kilo and they didn't have any lentils.

She was quite pleased with her efforts. She wrote:-

I add it up and it totals £8.05! How clever! I feel like one of those smug people who sometimes send me letters responding to pieces I have written about poverty, boasting about how they brought up family of six on lentils and home-made bread - and jolly good it was for them too.

She doesn't comprehend that when someone sends her letters like this it's not because they are boasting, it's because they are angry. If a journalist writes something - that poor people can't possibly afford to eat healthy food - and a poor people knows that this is false, then they want to show that the journalist is wrong. It makes them angry that journalists are not helping poor people by telling them they are condemned to eating unhealthy food for the rest of their lives when they know damned well that this is not so. They know it's not so because they have been eating healthy food for years on little money.

Perhaps Polly Toynbee would think that Jack Monroe is smug too. Jack Monroe is a single mother who writes a blog where she shows people how to cook for little money. There's a section on her blog detailing budget recipes. I think that Jack Monroe is more of a help to poor people than Polly Toynbee will ever be.

Polly Toynbee ends chapter 4 by saying that if you're poor you might as well go into debt because they've got nothing to lose. I suppose if I was to suggest to some of my neighbours in my council block of flats that they would be better off going to a credit union than a loan shark, she would consider that smug too.

In my estimation, there's nothing more smug than a middle class Guardian journalist who goes to Lidl for the first time in her life as material for her book but doesn't stick around for long enough to find out where the cheap rice and the lentils are.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

nitrogern fertilizer

In this month's National Geographic magazine is an article titled Fertilizer Curse Could agriculture destroy our planet?. It is about artificial nitrogen fertilizer - it's benefits to humanity but also the problems that it causes. It is made in giant factories from the nitrogen in the air and hydrogen from natural gas. It helps crops to grow abundantly but it is also 'suffocating wildlife in lakes and estuaries, contaminating groundwater, and even warming the globe's climate'.

In the article it is stated 'Nearly half the people on the planet wouldn't be alive if not for the abundant food made possible by nitrogen fertilizer'. I don't believe this. If industrial nitrogen fertilizer had never been available then agriculture would be different in two ways. Firstly, we would be growing more pulse and less grain. Pulses do not need so much nitrogen because they can get it from bacteria in their roots. We would be eating more peas and lentils and less bread and pasta. Secondly, we would not be feeding so much grain and soya to farm animals. We would be eating that grain and soya ourselves. Eating more pulses, we wouldn't need the protein from farm animals. Also we probably wouldn't be eating more protein than we need.

I'm not saying that we should try to do without nitrogen fertilizer. As this article suggests, we should continue to use it, but more intelligently and sparingly. In intensive rice-growing areas of the world, they don't feed much grain or soya to farm animals. So they need fertilizer more than wheat/barley/maize growing areas of the world. Half of the world's wheat, and even more of the barley and maize, are fed to farm animals. African soils often have little nitrogen, so they benefit a lot from it too. However, many Africans can't afford nitrogen fertilizer.

Overestimating the importance of industrially-produced nitrogen fertilizer by writing that half the population of the planet would not be alive without it is not helping the debate. The (human) population of the planet is 7 billion, the pig population of the planet is 1 billion. I doubt that these 1 billion pigs (and however many billion chickens and cattle) would be alive today without nitrogen fertilizer. That would be a good thing, though.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

mega-farms and insects

In this week's Independent newspaper there have been 2 articles of interest to me. The first one is Forget badgers. If we really care about animal welfare, it's time to put a stop to mega-farms. I agree with nearly everything that Terence Blacker writes - that mega-farms are a threat to animal welfare. The one point where I disagree with him is where he says that poor people will get cheaper food because of mega-farms. "The arguments against this utilitarian approach can seem footlingly middle class – the fretful concerns of those who have never had to worry about the cost of feeding a family."

Mega-farms may produce cheaper meat but don't provide cheap protein. Feeding soya and anchovies to farm animals is a waste of protein. People can eat soya and anchovies. Millions of poor people do, and millions more would do if they could afford it. They can't afford it because the more affluent half of the world want soya, anchovies and grain to feed their farm animals. The demand from affluent countries means that the price has risen beyond the means of poorer people.

People don't need as much protein as they think they do. In the affluent countries of the world people eat far more protein than they need, and with that comes saturated fat. In poor countries many people don't get enough protein or enough calories. So to justify mega-farms on the basis of cheaper food for poor people is completely wrong. And that's not saying anything about animal cruelty, the ecological problems of disposing of the waste of millions of animals, the problem of soil degradation and the increased risk of disease and antibiotic resistance.

Here is another recent article from the Independent about mega-farms and an editorial.
Campaigners warn against rise of the 'mega-farms': Could massive pig, fish and dairy units harm the environment?
Editorial: Who needs mega-farms?

The other Independent article is about eating insects. UN has a new nutritional, sustainable diet for a hungry world: insects.
"As cold-blooded creatures they are “very efficient” in converting feed to protein, needing 12 times less feed than cattle in order to produce the same amount. They also feed on human and animal waste, and can transform this into protein."
This shows a lack of understanding of basic biology. Animals don't convert feed to protein. The feed that they eat contains protein, which is broken down then re-assembled in their tissues. It is true that cold-blooded creatures are more efficient at converting plant protein into animal protein, and if instead of feed they're converting human and animal waste that sounds good too. However, I would prefer to eat crayfish tails than insects.
"The UN acknowledges that “consumer disgust” remains “one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”."
It seems to me that it would be far easier to persuade people to eat more grain, soya, anchovies and other fish than it would be to persuade people to overcome their 'consumer disgust' and eat insects. People already eat lots of maize in it's most boring form, cornflakes. Why would it be so difficult to get people to eat more maize, in the form of polenta and tortillas? Get people to eat more soya in the form of tofu, miso and tempeh. And get them to eat more anchovies and other fish. Instead of feeding these things to farm animals then eating them. Then we wouldn't need mega-farms. Then we would have genuinely cheap food and genuinely cheap protein. Why can't the UN say that?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Woolton Farmers' Market

I went to Woolton Farmers' Market in Liverpool on Saturday. I bought a bag of pork scratchings. When I got them home I looked on the list of ingredients on the packet. It's got 4 different E numbers in it (E621, E635, E330 and E160(c)). It's also got hydrolysed vegetable protein, rusk, dextrose and sugar.

I thought the whole point of a farmers' market is that it gives producers a chance to sell directly to the public. Obviously these were made in a factory not by the people who were selling them at the farmers' market. On the packet it says Traditional Black Country pork scratchings and Authentic Black Country MS pork snacks.

I Googled Woolton Farmers Market and the first site to come up said this:-
When you shop at a farmers market you can be sure that the person selling you fruit, vegetables and meat is the person who has grown or reared it.

All traders in the market must come from a 30 mile radius, so you are supporting your local community as well as buying fresh first class produce.
This product doesn't come from within a 30 mile radius, it isn't made by the people selling it, so what is it doing at a farmers' market? It's just a con. Why would I go all the way to a Farmers' Market to buy something which I could probably get at a pound shop?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

the easiest way to make bread

There's been an upsurge in baking recently because of TV shows. The Great British Bake Off and Paul Hollywood's Bread showed what can be done. Paul Hollywood's Bread has just ended, and in the penultimate episode he showed us how to make soda bread. He said that it's the easiest way to make bread.

I don't believe that. I have been making the Grant Loaf. This is a method of making bread that does not use kneading and does not require flour all over your kitchen surfaces. There are lots of recipes on the Internet, this one is from the BBC. It uses more water than traditional methods. You mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and warm water together (with a spoon, not your hands) then pour/spoon into your baking mould. Leave to rise in a warm place for a time then put it in the oven.

If you buy the flour from supermarkets that are intended for breadmakers then you don't even have to add yeast and sugar, they're in there already.

The new silicone baking moulds are fantastic. The bread does not stick at all. They look like plastic and are flexible. They come in different colours. You can get them from £1 shops. They come in all shapes and sizes, including bread baking tin shapes.

my home made bread - the 'Grant Loaf' method - in silicone moulds

Monday, 25 March 2013

should you cut back on pasta for your kids?

On Saturday (23/03/13) there was an article in The Times called 'Five foods you must cut back on' by Rachel Carlyle and Melissa Little. This was in the Child Health section. Number one of these five foods is 'Refined carbs'. They are including pasta and white rice as among refined carbs. It is true that some starchy foods are not so good to eat. They are digested rapidly whereas it is better to have starches that are digested more slowly.

I agree with them about mashed potato and white bread. However, I do not agree with them about pasta and rice. It is not true that eating pasta or white rice (if it is long-grain) is 'a bit like tipping a packet of sugar straight into the bloodstream'. Pasta and rice are cheap foods that a lot of parents rely upon to feed their children and themselves. They are quick and easy to prepare and do not require any skill. Children love them. So if they are telling the parents of Britain to stop feeding their children pasta and rice that is a big deal.

The way that we can see how rapidly a carbohydrate is digested is by looking at the Glycemic Index. The higher the number on the Glycemic Index of a food the less valuable it is. Below I have given the GI values for a number of starchy food, with the lowest GI at the top.
  • pasta (depending on how cooked and shape) 40 to 60
  • brown rice 55
  • white long-grain rice 56
  • basmati rice 58
  • sugar (sucrose) 68
  • white short-grain rice 72
These figures are averages. It can be seen that white short-grain rice is indeed as bad as sugar. However, other forms of rice, and especially pasta are nowhere near as bad as sugar. I think that they are assuming that only wholegrains are good for you in terms of how rapidly a starch is digested. There is some truth in that, wholegrains tend to be digested more slowly, but that is not the only factor.

So, I would say to the parents of children don't stop serving pasta and rice to your children. Instead cook your pasta for a shorter time and choose a shape that is thicker. Choose brown/long-grain/basmati rice instead of white short-grain. A variety of different types of rice is more enjoyable anyway.

Pasta and rice are cheap and easy to prepare. It doesn't take much to make them palatable. You can use pasta sauce from a jar, but I have found out recently just how cheap and easy it is to make a pasta sauce from a tin of chopped tomato and a few other ingredients. I have made an arrabiata pasta sauce - the recipe is widely available on the web.

The big problem that I have with this article is that people are always saying that healthy foods are expensive. They recommend wholegrain pasta and brown rice. These are more expensive, although not always as expensive as you might think. Ordinary pasta and (long-grain) white rice are fine though, and they are cheap and children love them.

Another thing that they recommend is small amount of carbohydrate (of any kind). I disagree with this. I think that the bulk of our calories should come from low-GI starches. If not from them, where are most of our calories going to come from? They mention fats. They say saturated fats are bad but unsaturated fats are good. Not all unsaturated fats are good though. Omega-6 rich fats are not a good thing even though they are unsaturated.

They seem to be a bit confused about guidelines. They state 'The guidelines say that fat should make up approximately 35% of your calorific intake' and 'Children do need a bit of saturated fat, but only 10 per cent of the total fat intake should be saturated'. In fact, the guidelines say that total fat limits for children/adolescents from the age of 4 to 18 should be 25% to 35% of total calories. So they should be having less than 35%. The guidelines say consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats. So these figures of 35% and 10% are upper limits and not how much we should be eating. We should be having less than these amounts, considerably less. Children don't need any saturated fat, but 10% should be the upper limit.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

can vegetarianism be unhealthy?

There was a very interesting article in the Independent newspaper on Thursday (21/02/13) titled From vegetarian to confirmed carnivore where John Nicholson stated that when he was eating a low-fat wholefood vegan diet he felt ill. He became obese and had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, fatigue and headaches. His partner, who shared his way of eating, had depression and mood swings.

They decided to ditch the wheat, rice and potatoes and eat lots of meat, butter, cream, lard and goose fat. He felt better straight away and lost lots of weight. His cholesterol levels went down. This seems on the face of it to contradict everything that I have been saying on this blog, about people eating less meat and more starchy foods and vegetables. However, I think I can understand what is happening here.

John seems to have gone from one extreme to another. From veganism to eating lots of meat and animal fat. When people make radical changes in the way that they eat, often excluding whole food groups, they often gain weight or lose weight without trying. They may be getting more calories or fewer without knowing.

The placebo effect might explain some of why John started to feel a lot better straight away. I don't want to dismiss what he says though. It is possible that John had an iron or zinc deficiency which was rectified as soon as he started eating meat, especially as his first meat was ox liver. It might even be that he wasn't getting enough protein, although it's not that difficult to get enought protein on a vegan diet. Another possibility is that he was suffering from an allergy to wheat.

If he had been eating soya products, that might have caused problems. Soya contains phytic acid which reduces our ability to absorb iron and zinc and trypsin inhibitors which reduce our ability to digest protein. This might not be a problem with traditional foods like miso, tofu or tempeh, but might be more of a problem with other ways of eating soya.

John seems to have moved to what is in effect the Atkins diet. In the Atkins diet people do not try to control calories but eat as much meat and animal fat as they like. The main thing they are trying to avoid is carbohydrate. It is a low-carbohydrate diet. When you digest carbohydrate, glucose enters the bloodstream. If you have too much glucose in your bloodstream your body needs to remove the excess or it will cause problems. Your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin which tells the body to remove some glucose.

In most people insulin and glucose levels rise and fall. Too much of this causes problems though. Obesity is only one problem that can happen when we have big rises and falls of insulin and glucose. Obesity can give rise to other problems. It is now recognised that this is one of the biggest causes of ill health.

People on the Atkins diet tend not to eat vast numbers of calories because the diet is less varied than a normal diet. They can easily get bored with it or even a bit nauseous contemplating the prospect of yet more meat and fat. It is often said that people crave fat, but a lot of the fat we eat is hidden. If you eat a slice of cake, you don't realise how much fat is in it because the flavour is masked by sugar or something acidic such as lemon. We eat so much fat not because we love it so much but because we don't know it is there.

I don't have a problem with the Atkins diet. It does seem to work at helping people to slim. I do wonder about the long-term effects of staying on the Atkins diet though. I'm not just worried about heart disease and strokes, reducing protein has been linked to increased longevity.

I wonder if it would work just as well if instead of meat they ate fish, and instead of eating butter and lard they ate avocados and olive oil. In Crete people traditionally got lots of their calories from olive oil and far from harming them it seems to have contributed to health and long life.

Also, there are some forms of carbohydrate that are better than others at not flooding your bloodstream with glucose. Starch is better than sugar, and the amylopectin form of starch is better than the amylose form. You can measure the effect that a food has on your blood glucose levels. A low glycemic index (GI) is better than a high glycemic index. Long-grain rice is better than short-grain rice. Brown rice is better than white rice. Pasta and porridge are good too. If you eat some low GI forms of starch it won't have too bad an effect on your blood glucose levels.

Vegetables can seem to have a high GI but really they are mostly OK. Baked potatoes are not good though. So I shall continue to eat my long-grain rice and pasta, together with my pulses and vegetables. I do eat meat, cheese, fish and eggs sometimes but not every day. What John Nicholson has said in no way invalidates what I have stated on this blog about the problems of trying to feed everyone on the planet with lots of meat. We can't feed 7, 8 or 9 billion people with a diet high in meat.

A good point that John makes is that not everbody is the same. People vary as to what sort of foods they thrive on. I think it is likely that some people digest starch more readily than others. If so, they are less likely to thrive on a high starch diet even if it is low GI.

In case people are thinking that they can just add butter and cream to their normal foods and get away with it, it doesn't work like that. If you want to eat lots of meat and fat and lose weight then you would have to go on an extremely low-carbohydrate diet, or you will just put on weight.

Friday, 22 February 2013

reducing meat consumption

In this week's New Scientist magazine (23/02/13 page 5) it tells us that the UN Environment Programme has revealed that 80% of the fertiliser use in farming globally is for meat production. Pastures are fertilised to boost grass production and for fodder crops. I guess that by 'fodder crops' they mean maize and soya, and also wheat and barley (I'm not sure if soya requires nitrogen fertiliser, as a legume perhaps it does not).

Half of the fertiliser put onto the land isn't used by the crops. It runs off the land into the rivers and seas and causes environmental damage. The solution, according to the authors is for fertiliser to be used better and for us all to eat less meat.

This figure of 80% is a surprise, and it fits in with what we already know about how much of the crops grown - mainly maize and soya - are fed to farm animals. It's also mentioned in the Guardian article about this UN report (18/02/13).

In the Guardian article it says that the authors of the report are not suggesting that we give up eating meat. They are suggesting we become demitarians - eating half as much meat as we are used to. I agree with this, but there are a couple of points I'm not so sure about.

The lead author, Professor Mark Sutton, says we should replace most of the meat on our plates with vegetables. Meat provides us with protein and calories, and although we could do with less of both of these, we're probably going to need something to make up for the shortfall if we replace meat with carrots, broccoli etc. Vegetables don't have much in the way of protein or calories, but pulses are a cheap form of protein (and have some calories) and grain in the form of rice and pasta are the cheapest form of calories (and have some protein).

One of the problems in asking people to eat less meat (or less junk food) is that they think they're going to be expected to live off celery and lettuce. They don't have to, they can have tasty rice and pasta dishes. Vegetables are thought of as too expensive for poorer people, which isn't true, but it's easy to see how rice and pasta are the cheapest foods, much cheaper than any form of meat.
Professor Sutton also says that people in poor countries should be 'allowed' to increase their consumption of animal protein. It is true that in some countries people don't get enough protein, although in other poorer countries people do get enough - it's just that they like the idea of eating more meat. I don't see why it has to be animal protein though. Since the UN changed it's official estimate of how much protein people need downwards in 1985 we've known that people don't need that much of it.

People who aren't getting enough protein are usually people who aren't getting enough food. If someone gets enought calories from rice they will be getting almost enough protein. It doesn't take much in the way of beans, peas or lentils to give someone both the quantity and quality of protein that they need. In Indonesia people were encouraged to eat less tempeh (a traditional food deriving from soya beans) and more chicken. I think that was wrong. Protein from tempeh or tofu, or beans or lentils, is just as good as animal protein. It's more efficient to convert soya beans into tempeh or tofu than into chicken and pork.

Professor Sutton says that chicken and pork are the meats that cause the least amount of environmental damage. "Chicken is one of the most efficient [meats] as it grows very quickly and you can collect the manure," he says. Chickens have one of the best conversion rates of grain and soya to meat. Better than pigs, so let's not encourage more pig keeping. I would expect eggs to be an even better way of getting cheap protein than chicken meat. Also, freshwater fish and things like crayfish are even better than chickens. Mammals and birds use up a lot of their calories in generating heat internally, so cold-blooded animals are even better converters of plant protein into animal protein.

So I agree with the principle of demitarianism, but there should be more emphasis on grains (like rice and pasta) and pulses. We shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that food falls into a spectrum with affordable junk food at one end of the spectrum and unaffordable fruit and vegetables at the other end of the spectrum. Also, I don't think we should encourage the poorer countries of the world to produce more animal protein.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

food mislabeling

Food mislabeling is an issue that's been in the news a lot recently. This post isn't about horse meat though. It's about something less important but it does say a lot about the attitude of retailers. Yesterday I went to Borough Market in London. I wanted to see what it looks like now all the building work has been completed. I also wanted to buy a few things, like blood oranges.

Blood oranges come from southern Italy and Spain and are available at some markets now. They have a different colour and taste from the usual oranges. There are different cultivars, the Moro being the best flavoured. There are several places in Borough Market where blood oranges are sold. The first one I came to didn't label the blood oranges on display with the name of the cultivar. I picked up two and asked the assistant at the till if she knew what the variety is. She didn't know.

The next place I went to I could see that the name on the box was Moro. This was the tiny lettering that the grower puts on the box that the fruit are transported in. Again, there was nothing that the seller put on his label to say what cultivar it is.

The third place I went to was the biggest of the fruit and vegetable sellers. It is called Turnips. There were a number of boxes of blood oranges, and they had placed on top of them a laminated information sheet. This sheet was all about the Moro cultivar. So I assumed they were all Moro. Until I looked on the box and it said Tarocco. So what are they, Moro or Tarocco? I think what they do is to put the same information sheet on their blood oranges, irrespective of what cultivar they are.

Bear in mind that what they say about Borough Market and similar places is that if you're not sure then you can ask the vendor and they will tell you all about the produce that they are selling. All the people working there were busy, but if I had asked I would probably have got the same response as at the first place.

It's not important if someone like me can't get my Moro blood oranges. In fact, I can get them, elsewhere. What is important is that even at somewhere like Borough Market they can't even be bothered to get their labeling right. I can't work out if they are stupid or if they think we are stupid. Another thing I don't like is when I ask for something, they tell me it's out of season, even when I know it is available elsewhere.

I've been getting my Moro blood oranges at 4 for £1 from Berwick Street market in Soho. So they're not some kind of expensive item that ordinary people can't afford.

I've got 3 more examples of casual labeling, all from Sainsbury's. A couple of years ago I bought a cheap camellia plant. It was labeled as the variety Debbie, a variety that I am familiar with and I like the form of it's flowers. It's in flower now, for the first time, but it's definitely not Debbie. It was quite cheap to buy, and if they had said that it could be any variety, or if they said it was had pink flowers, I might still have bought it. But I don't like being told that it is one thing and then finding it is something else.

I was in the bakery section of Sainsbury's recently and there were 4 round loaves in a basket. They all looked exactly the same, they all had the same packaging, but 2 were labeled 'sourdough' and 2 were labeled with a fancy French name that I didn't recognise. I think that they were just all the same.

In some of the bigger Sainsbury's they have a café. I like their filter coffee. But if I ask for filter coffee, one of 3 things happens. They either pour some coffee out of a vacuum flask. This seems to taste the best. Or they have a machine with a tap. Or they use a similar method as when they're making latte or cappuccino. I think this is technically called an Americano. I don't mind so much but I would like to know what I'm getting.
blood oranges

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

horse meat, burgers, asthma, eczema and salt

Listening to the radio yesterday evening proved to be very infomative about the food that we eat. I turned on to Radio 4 at 9 pm and heard the news. It said that horse meat has been found in burgers, including Tesco burgers. This is up to a third of the meat in burgers being horse meat.

I think I heard someone mention 'cross contamination'. This is not cross contamination, this is systematic fraud. Horse meat is intended for pet food and is unfit for human consumption. Horse meat in itself is not a bad meat to eat, but you need to understand that meat that is intended for human consumption is handled according to certain standards, including hygiene standards, and meat that is intended for pet food is handled with much lower standards. Horse meat is not intended for human food, and will have been handled to much lower standards. And don't think it is just horse muscle tissue that is in burgers. It's going to be lots of stuff, including the genitals. Officials have said that human health is not in danger, but how do they know that?

It's not surprising so many people have become vegetarians. They must be glad they did.

The irony is that most people would not eat a cow's heart. And yet they eat cow's heart every day in their burgers. If I was in a restaurant in France and cow's heart was on the menu, I might have some. If horse meat was on the menu, I might have some. If I thought it was quality meat and not something that died riddled with disease and has spent a week in a skip outside an abbatoir because it was originally intended for pet food.

I don't eat cow's heart or horse meat because I don't eat burgers. Yet I wouldn't turn up my nose at cow's heart or horse meat. Most people would turn their nose up at them, yet they eat them every day in burgers.

After the news was the Inside Health programme. They talked about a few things, but most interesting to me was the research linking junk food to asthma and eczema, and experts talking about salt and all the uses that salt is put to in junk food. I was aware that excessive salt intake leads to heart attacks and strokes, and I was aware that most of the salt that people get is from junk food. I wasn't aware that salt is used to bind to polyphosphates in meat and fish products to create a jell that binds them. Without lots of salt they would just fall apart.

Bon Appétit!

My Lidl Pony
 I found this on a forum:-

Horse is a perfectly edible meat, but plays no part in the legitimate meat processing routes in the UK or Ireland - so where was this horse meat from and how can anyone be sure that it was slaughtered and stored in accordance with current regulations?

he or she makes a number of important points below:-
  • where were the horses from?
  • were the horses healthy or did they die of old age or disease?
  • were they slaughtered in accordance with regulations?
  • was the resultant meat stored at the correct temperatures in accordance with regulations?
  • was it cheap knock-off past its use-by date horse meat from a country where horse meat is eaten?
If anything was not done properly with the last four points it could mean that there are public health concerns due to the risks associated with contaminated meat.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

global food waste and factory farming

I read a letter in today's Daily Mail that expresses the most important points that I have been trying to make in this blog. Food waste is an issue prominent in the news recently, and Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming wrote that feeding so much grain and soya to farm animals is another way that we waste food. I would have liked to place a link to this letter (Feed the world) in this post but couldn't find one, so I shall link to a post in his blog that has the same message.

I shall give a few of the facts stated in the letter
  • a third of the world's cereal harvest is fed to farm animals
  • 90% of the world's soya beans are destined for factory-farmed animals
  • for every 6kg of plant protein such as cereals fed to livestock, we get back, on average, only 1kg of meat or other livestock products
  • for every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in meat and milk
  • factory farms are food factories in reverse, they waste food rather than make it
There were two letters in New Scientist recently that interested me. The first was a response to a review of a book 'One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world?' by Gordon Conway. The review said that we need to double global food production by 2050 (Separating the wheat from the chaff by Fred Pearce New Scientist 13/10/12).

Alistair McCaskill wrote a letter (10/11/2012) saying that if today's population stands at 7 billion and is forecast to rise to 9 billion by 2050, why would it take a doubling of food production to feed this extra 2 billion? Fred Pearce answered, and said we have to allow for rising demand - especially for meat.

Clive Semmens replied to this (01/12/12) by saying that it would be much better to try to reduce consumption - especially of meat - in the more affluent. That would be good for the global environment and for health too. He went on to say that he's not advocating vegetarianism, merely moderation.

This is exactly my point of view. It seems to me that trying to double global food production is just not going to work. It doesn't matter how much genetic modification you have, it's simply not going to happen. Making meat more expensive by taxing it and refusing to allow the opening of more factory farms will help enormously. We tax ice cream and put VAT on it because it is a luxury. We should recognize that meat is just as much a luxury.

That is not going to harm poor people. Firstly, the really poor are the 1 in 8 of the global population who go hungry. Secondly, if meat is twice as expensive but people eat half the amount it isn't going to cost them, and it won't affect them aversely in nutritional terms - just the opposite. The same is true of cheese and butter. Meat, cheese and butter are not and can never be cheap calories or cheap protein.

Maize, soya, wheat and anchovies are the cheap calories and protein. That's why they're fed to animals, after all. The almost billion people who go hungry would be quite happy to have extra calories and extra protein from whatever source. They have the knowledge of how to make these things taste wonderful, whether it's traditional Mexican cuisine or the traditional East Asian cusines. The more affluent of the world might desire burgers and other processed foods, but they should be encouraged to move away from the flavours of fat, sugar and salt. I know what I would rather eat, especially now that we know what goes into beefburgers, and I'm not just talking about horse meat.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Life on benefits: starving?

I've just been reading this article in today's Independent. Charlie Cooper tries getting by on £175 a week. He says poverty made him eat lots of pizza. It's a pity that poverty didn't make him go to supermarkets with a notepad and pencil and make him write down the price per kilo of different foods. If he had done so then he might have come to realize that healthy rice and pasta are much cheaper than unhealthy pizza.

Charlie said that some of the time he went hungry. Many people do go without food. So what is the cheapest possible diet that is reasonably healthy? My calculations are that if you eat two thirds of a kilo of long grain rice and one third of a kilo of frozen mixed vegetables, then you will get all the calories that you need in a day, all of the protein, and also your 5 a day.

That would not be an ideal diet, and it certainly would be boring, but you could live off that indefinitely, and it costs 52p per day. I'm not suggesting that poor people should eat just this, but it's better than not eating anything.

One kilo of long grain rice costs 40p (from Lidl and others) and has 3,550 calories (kcals) and 70g of protein. Two thirds of a kilo costs 27p and has 2,367 calories and 47g of protein.

One kilo of frozen mixed vegetables costs 75p (from Sainsbury's) and has 310 calories and 23g of protein. One third of a kilo costs 25p and provides 103 calories and 8g of protein.

Two thirds of a kilo of rice and one third of a kilo of veg together costs 52p, provide 2,470 calories and 55g of protein. Men need 2,500 calories per day and women need 2,000. People need 55g of protein a day. This may astonish some people who think that to get enough protein you need to eat meat, fish, cheese or eggs. Rice and veg are low in protein but people really do not need as much as they think. People in Britain, including poor people, usually eat 85g a day.

Sainsbury's basics frozen mixed vegetables have peas, broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. Peas contain protein, and this protein balances the protein from the rice in terms of amino acids. So, you can be pretty sure that you're getting both the quantity and quality of protein that you need. As far as your '5 a day', you will be getting most of your vitamins and minerals. You don't need to have both vegetables and fruit, vegetables by themselves are good enough.

I think most people can afford 52p a day. What seems to be happening is that people spend their money on expensive rubbishy foods then run out of money and go hungry. If they ate more cheap healthier food then they wouldn't run out of money.

The cheapest pizza I could find is Tesco Everyday Value cheese and tomato pizza. It costs 60p, has 647 calories and 26g of protein. So it is more expensive and has fewer calories.

If someone had slightly more money, then I would suggest porridge for breakfast, a pasta dish for lunch, and a rice dish in the evening. Porridge and pasta aren't much more expensive than rice. Pasta and rice dishes are healthy, but the more cheese, butter and cream that you add the more expensive it is and the less healthy.

If you have more money then you can start adding fruit, some olive or rapeseed oil, and some animal protein. This may sound like a hypothetical exercise, to try and find the least amount of money that it costs to have a reasonably healthy diet. But it is not hypothetical at all. People are going hungry. And they can do something about it with a small amount of effort and information.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

smugness about science

A few days ago there were articles in a couple of newspapers about celebrities and their pseudo scientific ideas. There is a campaign group called Sense About Science. They did something on their site about celebrities and fads and some of the newspapers did articles on it, including this one in The Independent.

I don't think they've checked their facts though. It's as if they've already made up their minds that things like vitamin pills and fasting must be pseudoscience and they aren't interested in recent research. Don't get me wrong. I believe in science. I just can't accept the lazy smug attitude of some people who claim to have a monopoly of rationality.

After slagging off a lot of celebrities about their health tips, the campaign group commends Jennifer Anniston and Al Murray for what they think are their more rational ideas. Jennifer Anniston is praised for saying that fasting is 'bad for the body'. Al Murray is praised for saying that 'popping vitamin pills is a waste of time and money, apart from perhaps cod liver oil'. Ursula Arens and Lucy Jones, both from the British Dietetic Association, are quoted in support of each of them.

Is Sense About Science not aware of the research publicised by Dr Michael Mosley about fasting? As this news article shows 'Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight, as Michael Mosley discovered'. I have posted on Dr Mosley and intermittent fasting a while ago.

When it comes to vitamins, there is more and more evidence that vitamin D is very important in a number of different ways, and that it is difficult to get enough through a balanced diet or though exposure of skin to sunshine (some vitamin D can be synthesised though sunlight). In this news article it says 'Writing in Scrubbing Up, Prof Blair said: "Vitamin D can be found in some foods such as oily fish, eggs and mushrooms - but only 10% of a person's recommended daily amount is found naturally in food. Put bluntly, eating more fish and getting out in the sun a bit more won't make much of a difference to your vitamin D levels". I have posted on vitamin D a while ago.

There is vitamin D in cod liver oil, although that's not what it's mainly used for. Most cod liver oil has added vitamin D and it often has added vitamins A and E too. I prefer to buy fish oil and then buy my vitamin D separately. If anyone has the right to be smug, it would be someone like me who has been taking extra vitamin D for years. That seems perfectly rational to me. As each new piece of research comes along showing the value of vitamin D, I am pleased that I have been taking supplements for years. I'm glad I didn't listen to these people.

If it is unscientific to believe that vitamin pills are anything but 'a waste of time and money', why is it that so many foods are fortified with vitamins? Why aren't scientists complaining about that? Not only don't they complain about it, they think it is a clever thing to do.

Another thing I didn't like is this paragraph 'Gary Kemp, former singer with Spandau Ballet, came to the aid of medical science by declaring that acupuncture as performed by his chiropractor didn't do much for him and that "hardcore science" should be everyone's first port of call when dealing with a serious illness'. I don't know much about acupuncture. I'm not interested in alternative or complementary medicine and it's outside the scope of this blog. But my understanding of acupuncture is that it is a valuable method of pain relief. 'Hardcore science' has shown that this is true. I don't want anyone in pain to dismiss something that could help them because of the cynics.

Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science said "we have had more examples than ever sent to us of people in the public eye who clearly do check their facts". Well, Tracey, perhaps it is you who should check your facts.