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Some home-eating truths

28-Aug-2006

As food manufacturers inch closer to the holy grail of low-calorie, trans-fat free flavor-fantastic products one has to ask how we veered so far from the common sense of fresh home-cooked meals.

Why not save both industry and consumers the time, money, hassle and environmental resources and go right back to where healthy eating began - in the garden and market?

To satisfy a desire for convenience, fresh foods were replaced by processed foods lacking a spectrum of nutrients. And new characters - like trans fats or preservatives - were introduced.

 

In an effort to have a happier ending, we find ourselves jumping on the supposedly healthy bandwagon as food companies pare down harmful ingredients and re-inject nutrition into their products through fortification.

 

Food companies, who follow the curve of market economics, are scapegoats in a tale where society is to blame. Now nearly one third of the US population and well over one fifth of the population in the United Kingdom is obese, according to National Institute of Health and British Heart Foundation statistics respectively.

 

At the mercy of modernity, domestic activities such as the loving preparation of meals with fresh ingredients or reading a child a bedtime story can get overlooked. Yet it's hard to imagine a more productive use of time.

 

Something's definitely gone awry if productivity in the workplace, for example, earns more respect than productivity in the kitchen - where a healthy foundation for all other aspects of life begins.

 

Perhaps we've become too emotionally distanced from our food and its origins. We don't notice a tradition and value system slipping away, being replaced by a grab-and-go lifestyle that leads to over-eating because we're not even paying attention to what we're biting into.

 

But let's not paint all societies with the same brush. Those of us who grew up in North America or the British Isles, for example, certainly seem to approach food with a lot less reverence than other cultures.

 

As I stood in my apartment in front of my open fridge one evening before embarking on some mindless grazing, I was enlightened to this cultural difference. My French friend was appalled I was snacking before bedtime.

 

Of course I know snacking isn't great for the figure, but - along with many Americans, Canadians, British and Irish - I've come to see the refrigerator as having entertainment-value. Just like a television, it can provide mindless distraction.

 

Have I taken the ritual out of meals and shed all the common sense values my ancestors took for granted about eating only at the table after lengthy preparations and surrounded by good company?

 

Mireille Guilano, president and CEO of champagne giant Cliquot, cashed-in on the unhealthy paradox of our supposedly simplified modern lifestyle with her bestseller "French Women Don't Get Fat".

 

"Why don't French women, or men, for that matter, get fat?" writes French-born Guilano. "The reason is that we have adapted traditional eating to modern living, which typically includes less than traditional levels of exertion."

 

Guilano's recipe for healthy living is simple: buy fresh ingredients, cook your meals from scratch and eat them with a sense of occasion so as to savor every bite.

 

Sounds like a job well done, or, a story with a better ending.

 

Clarisse Douaud is a reporter with NutraIngredients-USA.com and has lived and worked in Canada, Ireland, Argentina and France.If you would like to comment on the piece, send an email to:clarisse.douaud@decisionnews.com .

 

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