Negotiating The Food Obstacle Course

08 May 2007

If you are pregnant, eat more fish And at least four pieces of fruit a day. But don’t overdo it —fructose is still a form of sugar after all. It isn’t true that coffee is bad for your heart, on the contrary it is beneficial; chocolate stimulates endorphins and protects your arteries. Women in menopause need milk, but it isn’t always good for their colon…

Since we lost our ability to listen to our bodies and the rhythm of the seasons, and religious prescriptions no longer dictate when we should control our eating, it is media hype which tells us what to put on our table. We are bombarded with articles, advice and surveys—all supported by the latest scientific research, expert’s advice or doctor’s opinion.

If you actually visit a dietician, you get a table of calories but aren’t necessarily much the wiser. So much meat, vegetables and carbohydrates—it’s a nice puzzle to work out.

If I have to have white meat, I choose chicken. But if it has been raised in a cramped space, fed prophylactic antibiotics and forced to eat in perpetual artificial daylight, will its meat be wholesome and healthy? That fruit picked while unripe, the lettuce swollen with hormones, are they what is needed? We have never had so much information as today; there have never been so many uncertainties.

But something is moving in the research world. There is an emerging new awareness. In the document ‘Food and Health in Europe’ (World Health Organization) they define it as a ‘challenge’ to find a way of mediating between nutritional guidelines, food production and environmental sustainability. They note that too many agricultural resources are being dedicated to producing animal protein.

The Journal of Nutrition sounds a warning about the accumulation of contaminants in farmed salmon; other research shows how animal living conditions affect the composition and quality of their meat. The dietician’s table is shown to be inadequate.

So what can guide us? On May 3 2007, Slow Food will sign a protocol agreement with the Italian Ministry of Health to implement the so-called ‘Gaining Health’program. It is a recognition and a support for food education programs implemented among members, in schools and in hospitals.

We realize how bewildering the food system now is and have provided a thread so people can find their way out of the maze: the key guiding principle is pleasure. Simple, aware pleasure that respects cultural diversity. Practicing it can only be good for us.

First printed in La Stampa on April 29 2007

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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