Food, Glorious Food?

I’m waiting on something that will result in a side-by-side post, but it’s not here yet.

So, instead, I’m getting on the bandwagon and doing a post related to food.

This arises out of a few things over the past week.

First, the other day, we finally managed to do my son’s birthday lunch at the only independent local Japanese restaurant. Every time we go there, we eat way too much. I had meant to take a picture but clearly got distracted.

So, we ate our way from seaweed salad through vegetable tempura, sushi and sashimi for him (I no longer participate in raw fish), and udon. Lord, I love udon noodles. They are such a perfect texture.

And then ice cream from the farm shop on the way home. Where we finally got to taste the hay ice cream. I had to ask for it. They were only offering it at one of the restaurants – not, strangely enough, at the ice cream counter. Anyway, it tastes gently hay-like (ie, sort of dry grass and sugar) and very sweet – indeed, sweeter than most of their other ice creams. Now that I’ve done that I don’t need to do it again.

Secondly, someone I’ve known for decades – never really a friend but more than an acquaintance – is doing one of those two-week fasting diets where you remove everything that might be a ‘trigger’ from your diet and then slowly add things back to see what causes issues (I think this is the second time she’s doing it – not sure why she’s doing it again). She’s a sharing sort of person so I’m looking forward to hearing about what causes issues for her. I’m not being snarky – I’m genuinely curious.

Finally, I’m almost finished reading a fascinating and horrifying book about food and the non-food foods we eat (ie, UPF – ultra processed food). It’s called Ultra Processed People and it’s by a guy named Chris van Tulleken (who is a scientist and a doctor, a food campaigner, and some other things too).

As you might guess from the title, the books focuses on the things we eat that aren’t really actually ‘food’, what these ‘not-really-foods’ are made up of, and the proportion of our diets that these ‘things’ now account for. Plus, how these sorts of things cause certain specific health issues, including immunological issues due to a mucked up gut.

Now, I can see some readers going either ho-hum or not-for-me, don’t wanna know – bye bye.  I get that. But, while some of what this guy writes about is unsurprising and we’ve likely known about it for ages, other bits were eye-opening for me, and these sent me on a food tizz.

Some of the non-food ‘things’ (additives, things that are included to give something ‘structure’) are just gross (I’m not going to give an example, but he talks a lot about textures and how companies get them). Others relate, for example, to things like soy. I try hard to stay away from this for specific health reasons and I know it’s a hard one, given it pops up in loads of things in loads of places. But one thing he discusses that was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me is that most chicken is now fed on a diet that is largely made up of soy. Meaning many of us ingest up to 60kg of soy a year simply from eating chicken fairly frequently. Most of my chicken comes from up-market grocery stores but I’m going to have a convo with the butchers at the farm shop about how the chicken they sell is fed and may well have to 1) move exclusively to their pricier stuff and 2) cut down on chicken all together. Sigh.

And don’t get him started on the margarine vs butter issue; the low-fat products where sugar replaced the fat content; and the changes in UPF when it became clear that one additive had to be removed for health reasons to be replaced with yet another, different sort of additive.

Plus, there’s a seriously hilarious, but also hugely unsettling section on Pringles.

I generally eat reasonably well, and cook or assemble most meals from ‘real’ food. But there have been the short cuts (eg, store-bought hummus which is waaay too smooooth – I have yet to figure out if there is a way to make my own hummus have the texture of mashed potatoes).

The biggest thing running through the book, though, is how these industrialised items are developed in such a way that they’re meant to be very hard to stop eating (there’s even a chapter entitled ‘UPF is designed to be overconsumed’). It isn’t only the sugar and salt (and fat) content – it’s what their chemical makeups do to the parts of your brain that in normal circumstances with ‘real’ food tell you you’re full. These ‘foods’ are able to override that.

As noted above, I know this isn’t a new story in food, but reading this book has had a major impact on me now for some reason. I guess – as I manoeuvre through middle age – I really do need to be much more conscious about what I’m putting into my body (vs, sigh, those early experiences of TV dinners, fast food fries, and Hostess Twinkies for lunch as a teenager). Conscious is, I guess, the operative word here.

Of course, this isn’t going to keep me away from Sara’s bakery on Saturday. Or the gourmet pizza van at the garden centre once a month. But these sorts of things are actually real food, made from real food things – it’s just a matter of staying away from similar things which definitely aren’t real food.

What about you and your relationship with food? How do you eat? Do you think this sort of material is the overreaction of pretentious weirdos and doom-mongers? Are you at the other end of the spectrum and very careful about what you eat? Somewhere in-between? Do tell.

Pics: Pexels and mine

  • Tara C says:

    I look forward to reading that book because I’m quite interested to read how scientists and marketers manipulate us. I like to bake but not cook. Fortunately my mother trained me well on how to eat healthy, so I know what to do although I don’t always do it. What I’ve noticed a lot lately is when I am feeling a bit anxious I think about eating something, but then I realize it’s just an attempt to soothe myself, so I have a cup of tea or go for a walk instead. Often I’m just dehydrated and need more water, not food. I try to avoid heavily processed food because I know it’s bad for me but my husband doesn’t care and will eat anything, which is a bad influence. Need to be more careful as my body is starting to change in ways I don’t like at 57.

    • cinnamon says:

      It’s a very useful book. I have noticed the different — both in how I feel and how much I want to — regarding real food and UHF, and if I’m watching the difference is stark. Indeed, the irritating things our bodies do as we age.

  • Christine says:

    I’m a big meh on food stuff. I have a daughter with major food issues due to autism and right now I’m more concerned with her getting adequate calories v whether there are fillers in the one variety of chicken finger she will eat. She hilariously loves Japanese and Chinese noodles (thank god) but won’t touch pasta of any variety from home, meanwhile my mom is from Sicily. Im hoping that like my son, she’ll start expanding her palate in the next couple of years. The reality is I’m likely to get Alzheimer’s no matter what I eat. Also from my mom’s side and all they ate was a fish heavy, olive oil heavy Mediterranean diet. So ????? I’m curious about gut stuff (although I don’t know how much I subscribe to), try to make sure we get reasonably balanced meals, and the rest will fall into place.

    • cinnamon says:

      I think dealing with kid eating is different from adult stuff (as well as dealing with a child with specific issues), and getting food into a child is key. My older brother (this was decades ago) wanted nothing but hotdogs for around a year. So, that’s what my mother did — breakfast, lunch, dinner: hot dog on bun. One day, she said, he turned green when she plunked down his lunch dog and he never touched them after that. Just ate different foods.

  • Tom says:

    Ugh- I am going to ge that book on Kindle but I know it won’t make me happy. I think I likely know a fair bit already, but no harm in learning more I guess.

    I’ve been on a small crusade to eliminate sugar. It is in EVERYTHING, even where you don’t expect it to be. (I actually think that quite a few people considered alcoholics are really addicted to sugar, but that is my wacky, uninformed opinion) Lucklily I don’t drink soda and prefer tea and coffe unsweetened, but you have to watch everything- bread, salad dressings, condiments, everything. Then there’s lord knows what else in the rest, and now soy-stuffed chicken? And when you add in (at least in the USA) that the term “organic” means practically nothing I guess we will need to subsist on home-grown veggies and our own toenail pairings for sustinence.

  • Dina C. says:

    For medical reasons — migraines and GERD and asthma — I have a lengthy list of foods I have to avoid, or I’ll pay the consequences. It’s extremely limiting. I try to eat healthy, and stay in my guidelines, but it’s exhausting. A lot of convenience foods are off limits, and I feel like throwing up my hands.

    • cinnamon says:

      Yes, I have overlapping health issues that make a list of foods off-limits. Something that is fine for X is a no-no for Y. Which means in some ways a fairly narrow diet. I have an ongoing (rather ironic) joke with a friend about wanting a chef who could at least do more interesting things with my sort of limited set of ingredients than I do.

      • Dina C. says:

        Yes!! A personal chef would be great! Glad to know someone else relates. Hugs to you, my food-restricted friend.

  • Musette says:

    This is a great post, cinnamon – thanks for bringing this up! I was just talking with my (1st ex-DH) about this last night, how so many of us are addicted to so much ‘convenience’ food (we didn’t even try to discuss junk food because we would’ve been there all night!). I eat somewhere in the middle; I’m a relatively decent cook and live at the back of beyond so … probably 85-90?% of my meals are cooked from scratch – but I don’t get too involved in the parsing of what’s IN those meals. Luckily I do not have tooooo many gut issues, so… yeah, somewhere in the middle.
    I have never understood Pringles.

    • cinnamon says:

      I’m a decent cook but I get bored with my cooking. In that regard I’ll sometimes just go, ‘oh, hell, ok’ and use a store-bought stir fry sauce which has things in it I shouldn’t eat. I don’t have gut issues really — it’s simply there are a fair number of foods I need to stay away from (eg, infrequent cruciferous) because they muck with either hormones or are a no-no regarding a medicine I take. The addiction thing regarding the chemical additives is both interesting and frightening.

    • Tom says:

      I have to admit I like Pringles. Of course they have as much to do with actual potatoes as Diet Pepsi does to Dom Perignin, but every once in a while..

      • Musette says:

        and that’s the part that mystifies me, Tom. Of course, when they first came out I was intrigued because New! But they don’t taste like potato chips, which is the dealbreaker for me. I love ‘Lightly Salted’ chips because they allow the potato taste to come through – and I LIKES that!

  • Portia says:

    Hey Cinnamon,
    Hello from the worst eater ever. My love for junk is unrivalled and many of my partners and friends have asked why I’m not the size of a Goodyear blimp.
    Fortunately I also mix in a fair smattering of cooked from scratch vegetable rich meals and love a salad. There is probably too much meat in my diet also.
    Bread and biscuits are the things I crave most heavily. Bit of a problem for a diabetic and probably the key reason I am one.
    It’s interesting that chickens are fed with soy. WOW!
    Also, I think Australia’s deep love of GMO wheat is causing us all sorts off problems.
    Why no raw fish?
    Portia x

    • cinnamon says:

      Cravings are fascinating. And yes a bit of an issue for you what you crave 🙂 I think soy is cheap, cheap, cheap. I am looking forward to hearing from farm shop butcher what their chickens eat. If they too eat a lot of soy (bird flu here currently so most fowl live indoors — sadly for them) a rethink is going to be necessary on protein intake. Raw fish … I do eat a little but very cross-over medical/drug issues make too much a no no.

      • cinnamon says:

        that should have been ‘various’, not ‘very’ in last sentence. sigh.

      • Portia says:

        Maybe it’s time to get your own chooks? Feed them how you like, eat them when you’re ready. Eggs for ever.
        I don’t like much fish at all but a bit of raw with loads of wasabi and soy goes down .

        • cinnamon says:

          uh, no, on chickens. not with the dog and bird flu around here. agree that raw fish and a load of wasabi is wonderful. I had a couple of pieces at lunch last week but a full plate is no longer on the cards.

  • Kathleen says:

    I’m definitely with you with eating clean, always been that way. I was raised on the same “paupers” diet that alityke describes. I try to eat food in its most natural state and avoid UPF. I also have backed off chicken for the reason you described. We are what we eat, right?

    • cinnamon says:

      I grew up mostly eating decent food at home. However, come junior and senior high lunch/snacks were almost all junk. And ‘treats’ at home (ie, when being babysat) were junk (eg, those TV dinners). Indeed, we are what we eat. But there is irony there too. My older brother, who had been very critical of our family diet and went mostly veggie as a young man, now has issues with his thyroid (there’s a genetic component here too) because of all the tofu he’s eaten over the years rather than having a broader protein intake.

  • March says:

    I remember Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food and the impact it had on me (it coincided with having kids at home and all the processed stuff targeted at them.) It’s just me here, now, and I mostly eat very simple meals I’ve prepared at home, which might be something like a whole plate of roasted veggies, or eggs of some sort. Sweets are definitely my weakness, especially when it’s cold out. I’m conscious I use sugar to self-medicate, so I keep an eye on that. After a LOT of ice cream and dessert in Maine I did a week of no added sugars; I notice the difference in my skin right away. Trying to make those items more a special occasion and not every night. Re: the hay ice cream, I love trying oddball flavors! There’s a lot of spicy ice cream here (green chile, wasabi, etc.) which is always fun to try.

    • cinnamon says:

      Will have a look for that book. As to sugar, there does seem to be some proof that it has similar additive properties to certain drugs… But apparently the UPF ingredients definitely look to attach to certain brain receptors and ‘push for’ higher consumption. Yes, I ‘medicate’ with certain foods and I’ve also found that if I’m out and about and hungry I have to think very carefully (which isn’t easy for me when I’m hungry) about what I snack on.

      Wasabi ice cream … oh, my. I will have to suggest it to them.

  • alityke says:

    Back in the 70’s we were asked to keep food diaries for a week as a biology project. The teacher told me my family ate a paupers diet!
    All our food was made from scratch, veg & potatoes featured heavily, meals had a small portion of meat, fish or cheese. Bread & toast had a scrape of butter & breakfast was mostly eggs or porridge. Stews we’re frequent as was offal.
    Processed food just wasn’t offered. The only takeaway was fish & chips.
    Meat came from local butchers who got supplied by local farms, veg from the market or local greengrocer, fish from the fishmongers.
    I look back & think the teacher didn’t have a clue.

    • cinnamon says:

      Sigh. Teachers can be awesome but they can also behave like idiots. As to how your family shopped, that’s what happened to me largely when I moved down here. I do two deliveries from grocer a month but everything else comes from farm shop, greengrocer, local fishmonger. Thing is shopping that way is no longer cheap. Cheap seems to be Lidl and Aldi (the things my son told me about shopping at Lidl during uni make me sooo twitchy), Iceland and Tesco (visiting the big Tesco here is soul destroying — and I think they do that on purpose).

      • alityke says:

        My youngest worked at Asda whilst at Uni & for a time after as they encourage “Benidorm leave”. It’s just annualised hours but retired workers & students can exploit it to travel or winter abroad. Also steak for 1p? His household ate like kings & queens!
        DH works for Aldi & he can’t sing their employment policies highly enough!
        Sadly our greengrocers changed to a gym & it’s now a real ale bar, the bakery & butchers was demolished & houses are being built on the site. The fishmonger is long gone too. Now it mean a trip to the market in the town centre, but since it was “re-imagined” as part of a long term redevelopment not all the stall holders have returned.
        I order from Ocado monthly, largely for ingredients not easily available locally.
        I still cook from scratch most days & bake sourdough so I can eat bread.
        My weakness is Chinese takeaway I admit but my favoured dishes tend towards veg & noodles

  • Shivawoman says:

    I’ve always been aware of real vs fake food, having grown up in a rural area with a mother who canned and preserved, and we grew and raised much of what we ate. We even kept bees for a while. Sugar was rare. I became a very strict pescatarian at 25 and stayed that way for 20 years, rarely drinking milk, the occasional egg, some cheese, rarely alcohol. In 2012 my mom died, two years later, my dad, a year later our family home was in a devastating fire, house saved but damaged and our forest gone, a month after aunt died. There was a divorce somewhere in there, a few accidents, pet deaths etc. Chips (crisps) suddenly became a daily thing, along with a bit of drinking, treats, meat, and more fake food. I’m now getting back on track. It’s amazing what life stressors can do and how the brain/body attempts to “heal” itself, albeit with sugary, high fat food etc., actually making us feel worse in the long run. Thank goodness I’m not too into sweets. Salts, fats, and crispies are my downfall, but I’m back to more conscious, thoughtful, healthful eating.

    • cinnamon says:

      It’s no wonder you were comfort eating due to all that hurt and loss. I noted above on the March post comments I think about how all these things are indeed likely to be addictive and mess with the brain. I have found that the more I move — whether simply walking or walking around town, etc, yoga — the less my brain seems to fixate on food. A decade ago I was very poor and in a lot of debt. The only way I could manage the anxiety was to walk. So, the dog got walked three times a day. That isn’t so possible now (due to work structure, but thankfully I’m in better shape financially and thus much less anxious).