Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Leave the chefs alone! Their recipes are not responsible for our obesity crisis

recipes without eggs
Couldn't get a pic of Nigella or Jamie (copyright) so here's a pretty pic instead

It's Christmas, so I'm allowed to go completely off piste. Here goes...

Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Hugh and Lorraine are in the spotlight today after a report by public health experts at Newcastle University. The report analysed some of the celebs' popular recipes and compared the nutritional content to a random selection of ready meals. It found that the celeb recipes contained less fibre and more energy, protein, fat and saturated fat than ready meals.

And because of that, they would be more likely to attract - gasp! - red 'traffic light' warning symbols. 

Oh. Dear. God. Haven't we missed the point here?

The real issue is not about the fat content of a home-cooked recipe; it's about gently educating those who consider a bucket of cake bites to be an appropriate meal for a five-year-old. And how should we do that? By casting doubt on the wisdom of cooking from scratch? Durr....

Scarcely a week passes without Jamie/Hugh/someone waving a bunch of green stuff at our screens and enthusing about its goodness. Should we frown on that enthusiasm for fresh veg simply because they then add a béchamel sauce with - horrors - some salt, pepper and a sprinkling of gruyère? 

Should we ask Lorraine stop with the butter? How dare you show people how to make pastry from scratch; get thee to Morrisons and buy some in a packet containing  Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids!

It's nonsense isn't it?

Yes, occasionally home cooking will be higher in fat than ready meals. Occasionally. 

But the point of home cooking is that it is a way of life. Sometimes it's plain, sometimes glamorous, sometimes complete overblown gluttony, hurrah!

What would you rather we taught our children? That ready meals are the way to go? That packaging is just an unfortunate side effect, but it's OK because your meal has an amber traffic light? And - hello - the salt content of ready meals? The preponderance of glucose-fructose syrup?

Gah - health experts - what planet are you on?

The way to a leaner nation lies in educating people about food (and exercise) and showing them that cooking at home with real ingredients - and yes sometimes they'll be high in fat - should be the norm. And that a ready meal from a microwave is not healthy just because experts say so.

So leave the chefs and bakers alone! Let them wax lyrical about the roux method and poaching and other skills that we are learning to forget. 

Maybe then we'll raise a generation that can rub fat into flour and can whip up a - salty - onion gravy should the need arise.

Do I hear an amen?

© Pig in the Kitchen All Rights Reserved


Emma Louise said...

Here Here! I couldn't agree more. Although I am possibly healthier because I don't have as many dairy calories I put my healthy diet down to good old fashioned home cooking. Having to exclude dairy, lactose and gluten means I simply can't go out and buy fast food, ready meals or processed products. We indulge in yummy treats but they are almost entirely homemade and balanced with simple meals created from a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and unprocessed meats. I was taught how to cook at school, encouraged by my parents and I haven't stopped as an adult, I will do the same with my little boy x

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Emma Louise, Hurrah for home cooking! I also avoid dairy where possible, but if I had to choose dairy over corn syrup, it would be dairy all the way. I also learnt at school and I rant on and on to my kids about it now.

This will probably backfire and they'll become Iceland-loving food junkies, but at least I tried!

Alex Gazzola said...

It misses the point in many ways.

Which meal is more satisfying? One you buy in a plastic container, or one you cook from scratch from minimally processed or unprocessed ingredients? A few hours after which are you going to be hungry again? The day after which meal are you going to eat just a modest salad, because you ate so well the day before?

None of this seems to have been taken into account. It was a straight examination of the physical content - fat, calories - of the food, not satiety, not the 'soul food' aspects that come with it.

Another point: the gathering, shopping and preparation of food (and the clearing up afterwards) requires calories. Putting a readymade meal into the microwave uses up (probably) one calorie when you respond to the ping by dragging yourself off the sofa!

So yes, amen and hear, hear!

Emma Louise said...

Haha, thanks Alex I have just noticed my incorrect spelling of hear hear. I blame the small child for stealing my brain cells!
I agree that ready meals do not have the same comfort or fulfilment as homemade meals. As usual the people who are supposed to be in the know are actually misleading the general public and exacerbating the problem!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Excellent supplementary points Alex! (Had not thought of the calories burnt during prep and clean-up; no wonder I'm always so knackered.)

And 'soul food', I love that phrase.

Thanks for your comment (feel v. honoured that you stopped by!)


thelittleloaf said...

The article about Jamie and Nigella made me so sad. This is exactly the kind of thing people will fixate on as a justification for buying rubbish ready meals with no nutritional value. Yes, the celeb chefs may be making some high fat and high calorie recipes, but as you say the major issue is educating people about food in general, not a few celeb recipes.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

thelittleloaf, I also worry about the implications of this kind of report. Just another nail in the coffin for proper food.

And the chefs are - to a certain extent - damned if they do, or if they don't. If they preached a diet of steamed veg and boiled rice, would anyone listen? you've got to get the hearts, minds (and guts!) first.

And they are not JUST suggesting high fat recipes!!! *shakes fist at 'health experts'

I'm all riled up today!

WizzyTheStick said...

Amen to your rant. Everything in moderation so there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little fat. Funny but obesity isn't a problem in countries eating whole foods that include natural fats. It's only in developed nations where scientists have convinced people that they have unlocked the secrets of food composition and make meals that look more like a science experiment. Bah! I'll continue eating like my grandparents did. They all lived with good health to their nineties. "As for butter versus margarine, I trust the cows more than chemists".Joan Gussow

Recipe Junkie said...

Oh AMEN to that, Go Pig, go. You have to get enthusiastic about home cooking, and that's what Hugh, Nigella and Jamie do - people who don't already cook at home certainly aren't without that kind of enthusiasm encouraging them. As the others have said, the report just concentrates on a scientific dissection of the meals. So sad. And (may be I'm mis-remembering) but if you actually read the books that these chefs write, most of them do actually make the point that balance is required.

kellie@foodtoglow said...

I so agree with you. As someone who teaches healthy eating to cancer patients and their families I see a lot of different food behaviours and attitudes. The healthiest people (despite cancer I should add) are the ones who cook from scratch most of the time, know where their food comes from (not a plastic ping the micro container) and has what they want in appropriate portions. It's rubbishy non-food, out of control portions and sitting around on their bottoms that are getting people fat. Great article

Expat mum said...

As we all know, everything in moderation. We can't eat fatty, rich food all the time, but neither can we live off food that comes in plastic cartons.

Diane NZ said...

And you know it's a 100% Amen from me. Merry Christmas from NZ.