Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fattening children

One of the things that has fascinated me since I started blogging a year and a half ago is the synchronicity that pops up so unexpectedly. I mentioned in my last post that I had a swag of food-related ideas for this blog that had died a death in draft form because they were ending up as rants, so it wasn't until that post that I really did get my head together enough to respond to the Jamie Oliver expose of McDonalds without going overboard. The response to that post has been amazing - it rocketed up my list of all time most viewed posts on Dragon Mother - EVER. Thanks to everyone who came to read!! And then there was this cartoon that a friend posted this morning that I couldn't resist popping on here, because it relates to that last post and what you're about to read:
So, this morning while cruising around Facebook, I found a link to a blog post that a friend had put up that was absolutely chilling. The blog is called The Well Fed Homestead, and I have every intention of going and having a good wander around to see what else the writer has to say, but this post, How to Fatten Pigs and People - the title is indicative of where it's going - is both disturbing and VERY confronting. 

From my brief look at the blog, it is the chronicle of a family going back to farming for themselves in order to eat and live healthily, the way we used to before the world got so speeded up, industrialised and urbanised. How many of us dream about that? I know I do... Family discussions at home over the last year or so have come back a few times to what we might do when we hit a financial place where we don't necessarily HAVE to live in the city for work and school reasons, and while Young Stepson thinks where we're heading consistently in these conversations shows that either his father has totally lost his marbles or I've pulled some evil magic spell over him and bewitched him, my partner and I are both leaning strongly towards land and a rural option rather than a beach house. What the stepson doesn't understand is the pull land has on someone who grew up on it, as his father did, and as I partly did, and also, he's at an age where city life holds all the potential excitement that he's looking for, while we're looking for something more peaceful where we can start to think again and have space just to BE.

But, I digress. Part of that imperative for me is certainly about being able to grow our own food, raise free range eggs, eat seasonally more than we do - the temptation of a ripe fresh tomato in a fruit shop in July can be hard to pass up, even if I know instinctively it's NOT going to taste of summer... And certainly, to be in a position where the bulk of our food does come out of our own garden, and there are less trips to shops where the other temptations of packaged convenience foods beckon from the shelves.

And this is where the blog post that spurred THIS post hits hard. These people raise their own food. They do it small scale, primarily for their own consumption, but from the post, they've clearly done their homework on the methods used to raise meat commercially, and the direct comparison they draw between the supplements used to fatten pigs FAST for market and the trends in current eating habits in the USA - and Australia, as well as most of the modern West these days - is disturbing and eye-opening to say the least.

The first point is the comparison between skim and full milk products. It is well documented that children shouldn't be fed skim milk, that full milk is better for growing bodies. The same can be said for full milk cheeses, yoghurts and other milk products. However, it's skim that's been used to feed pigs for generations, and current health trends have demonised whole milk products because of the fats in whole milk. This is the point - where if you haven't already done so, you should take a moment to go read the other blog post for the details of why this is bad, because I'm just summarising... There are many excellent reasons to feed children whole milk, and from what's in that post, even more for those of us who consume dairy products to continue to do so, and avoid the skim products even as adults. Among other things, those fats in the whole milk products satisfy our body's cravings for sugar in a way that the skim product can't, so we're less likely to reach for something to supplement that craving in addition to the milk! Who knew??

The next is corn. Now, corn is one of my all time favourite treats and there is nothing to compare to that first juicy mouthful of fresh corn on the cob picked straight from the garden, stripped of its husk and dropped into boiling water for about three minutes and then lightly buttered and salted. Really. And even when we manage to get lucky at the fruit and veg store and get corn that's just come in, it's still at the very least, 12 hours from being picked and the sugars in the corn have already changed, so it's just not the same as what you can get straight out of a garden. My kids LOVED growing corn, and used to watch the silks as it ripened, waiting for them to be dry and brown enough to signal they were ready to pick - and then we'd have a wonderfully messy meal of it! Corn in itself, like any other fruit or vegetable, is good food. The ubiquitous byproducts and supplememts produced from corn to alter, extend, sweeten and colour other foods...they're the problem. They're in everything, and it has been found in numerous studies that they are a major contributing factor in the obesity epidemic.

And then sugar - the latest demon. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, so I've never really had an issue with high sugar consumption. My partner, on the other hand, always checks the dessert menu in a restaurant before he orders. I do have sugar in my tea and if I make porridge for breakfast, I can't resist the luxury of brown sugar and raisins on it... I eat the odd bit of dark chocolate - the good stuff, and I'm not proof against the tiny handmade biscotti that are handed out free with a coffee at the coffee cart near my work. Having said that, I don't eat packaged food, I don't use packaged shortcuts, and until age and hormones stepped in, I've never really had any significant weight issues - so now, it's about dealing with the inevitable changes and modifying quantities of food I eat and the exercise I do. However, our bodies are programmed to want a certain amount of sugar. It's one of the foods that give us energy. Breastmilk is naturally sweeter than cow's milk, so to mimic that flavour, cow's milk baby formulas have extra sugars added. We all know, those of us who've had children, that it's much easier introducing sweet solid foods to them than savoury ones - their faces when they get their first salty or acidic foods are hilarious! But you only have to read labels on cans and boxes in the supermarket to realise just how excessive the extra sugar levels are in processed food now - once you get going with added sugars, the body gets tripped into craving more and more and more... And there's the problem - start THAT cycle early and we're potentially setting our children up for a life long struggle.

The food industry is no small adversary if we're to start claiming back better eating habits. Those processed products and fast food are staple conveniences for many people and with busy lifestyles, I get that it's easier to just grab something already made or that just needs a few packets to be ripped opened and combined. It takes time, consideration, energy and a different attitude to what we spend out money on to eat fresh and well. In the long term though, surely it has to be a better use of our funds than the medical costs that we're already facing that only stand to get higher as these quick fix habits become even more entrenched.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Jamie Oliver and McDonalds exposed

I mentioned in a recent post that I had a whole host of food related posts I could write, and have started to write then binned because they turned into rants... This is one that is close to my heart - courtesy of a Facebook post that just popped up on my feed close on the heels of a huge protest that is currently underway in a small country town in Australia called Tecoma to prevent a McDonalds being opened there - right opposite their kindergarten, when there is one five minutes drive away already...

Here's the text that accompanied the photo on Facebook, for those readers who aren't on Facebook (I actually do know people who aren't!!):
Hamburger chef Jamie Oliver has just won a battle against one of the largest fast food chains in the world. After Oliver showed how McDonald’s hamburgers are made, the franchise announced it will change its recipe.

According to Oliver, the fatty parts of beef are “washed” in ammonium hydroxide and used in the filling of the burger. Before this process, according to the presenter, the food is deemed unfit for human consumption.

According to the chef and presenter, Jamie Oliver, who has undertaken a war against the fast food industry: “Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest way for dogs, and after this process, is being given to human beings.”

Besides the low quality of the meat, the ammonium hydroxide is harmful to health. Oliver calls it “the pink slime process.”

“Why would any sensible human being put meat filled with ammonia in the mouths of their children?” asked the chef, who wages a war against the fast food industry.

In one of his initiatives, Oliver demonstrates to children how nuggets are made. After selecting the best parts of the chicken, the remains (fat, skin and internal organs) are processed for these fried foods.

The company, Arcos Dorados, the franchise manager in Latin America, said such a procedure is not practiced in the region. The same applies to the product in Ireland and the UK, where they use meat from local suppliers.

In the United States, Burger King and Taco Bell had already abandoned the use of ammonia in their products. The food industry uses ammonium hydroxide as an anti-microbial agent in meats, which has allowed McDonald’s to use otherwise “inedible meat.”

Even more disturbing is that because ammonium hydroxide is considered part of the “component in a production procedure” by the USDA, consumers may not know when the chemical is in their food.

On the official website of McDonald’s, the company claims that their meat is cheap because, while serving many people every day, they are able to buy from their suppliers at a lower price, and offer the best quality products.

In addition, the franchise denied that the decision to change the recipe is related to Jamie Oliver’s campaign. On the site, McDonald’s has admitted that they have abandoned the beef filler from its burger patties.
When No.1 was very small, I started a massive brainwashing campaign against the fast food chains. Every time we drove past a McDonalds, Hungry Jacks or KFC, I'd growl something along the lines of, "Yuuuuuck, McDonalds!" in a funny voice, and full of giggles, No.1 would join in. As he grew older, it became totally normal to just bypass them. We made burgers at home. I created my own (KOFC - Kaz Oven-Fried Chicken) with my own 'secret' blend of herbs and spices and crunchy little potatoes - recipe HERE - and once in a blue moon, for a special treat we got real fish and chips wrapped in paper, just like when I was a kid.

And then my mother hijacked the brainwashing campaign... She had No.1 for the afternoon one day and dropped into the garden nursery where she worked for something, with a McDonalds right next door. Because it was getting late, and they'd been running around all afternoon, she dashed in there and bought No.1 a small fries - and he made the fatal discovery, at age four, that 'Yucky MacDonalds' had CHIPPIES!!! I cannot emphasise just how betrayed I felt - by my own mother at that, who forswore all junk food when we were kids... And so, the battles began, and increased when No.2 was getting old enough to join in - memorable moment, someone having begun this by giving him a sip of Coke without my knowledge when he was just barely toddling, when he planted himself in the middle of the living room when we had friends over (who had brought Coke), raised his finger in the air and, through gritted teeth forced out, in a strangled tone, "I NEED Coke!!". He was three at the time, and hugely hypersensitive to caffeine... The incident had its amusing side, but it really wasn't funny. 

So, back to McDonalds. If we look at the spread of these chains across the country, it's insidious what is happening to our food culture. They say they don't do this, but they are targeting lower socio-economic areas and offering deals that are quick and cheap, adding to a cycle of poor nutrition and life long health issues for many lower income families. I live in an affluent area of Sydney, and apart from our local mall fifteen minutes away, you do have to drive some distance to find outlets... Head west or south, however, and they get closer and closer together. It's pretty obvious, regardless of what they say. The case in Tecoma is another instance - when there's an outlet already five minutes drive from the town, WHY is there a need to open one there? Especially when the town council and the whole town's population have been fighting against it for two years now. No doubt they have sundry small businesses who are already providing them with take away options, and providing local employment as well. And clearly, the good people of Tecoma just don't want this particular food option to be so easily available to their children.

These chains may well provide our young people with employment opportunities - how many of us had our first jobs at one of them, after all - and that's all well and good. However, at what cost to the health of our children? Obesity is becoming an enormous issue in this country. What we need to do is campaign for sustainable, affordable FRESH foods, and go back to eating simply and well, as our grandparents did. If the bread we buy from the supermarket can stay soft and fresh in its plastic bag for up to a week, then there is stuff in that bread that I don't want in my body, because bread that is made from flour, water, yeast and salt (which is all that actually should be in bread) goes hard and dry in a day or so - and then you make panzanella (Italian bread and tomato salad) or breadcrumbs to freeze and coat your next batch of schnitzels with, or whatever... 

Likewise, if McDonalds, to maintain their bottom line, are prepared to manufacture their meat products out of the scraps that would usually be ruled out for human consumption, using toxic chemicals to make the end product look like real have to ask yourself if that is what you want going into your bodies, or your children's, or your grandchildren's? I know I don't. And thankfully, the brainwashing had its effect. Neither of my boys are big fans of the chains, and when he left home and set up on his own, one of No.2's first recipe requests was for the crunchy chicken drumsticks, which he makes regularly, and which still feature frequently on the menu here at home.