Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gordon's seasonality campaign & Delia's chicken comments

Gordon Ramsay caused a bit of a flutter by proposing that out-of-season fruit and veg be outlawed in Britain. A little light counter-attack from readers of his restaurant menus, but aside from the dessert menus he seems to be sticking pretty well to his principles. I was glad to see him coming down on ex-saint Delia Smith who has been flogging a re-edition of an old book of hers from the seventies which promotes use of ready-made food, which by now we should know is less healthy and more expensive than learning to cook from scratch.

She also made some rather ill-advised comments about supermarket chicken which made feathers fly. Supporters say it's her working class roots, and that she was just showing sympathy for people who simply can't afford organic food. But although she concedes she doesn't like "the way battery chickens are reared," it strikes me that in describing battery chickens as "nutritious food" she doesn't seem to grasp the public health risks - increased and dangerous overexposure to antibiotics that come to us through chicken meat, the salmonella and e. coli risks - and the issues around over-consumption of meats by Western consumers.

Most of the cookbooks we've all grown up with are meat-based, and so it's unsurprising to find someone who's made a living writing them (though her Vegetarian Collection cookbook is excellent) promoting that same unimaginative thinking about feeding the poor.

So my rhetorical question of the day: is it better to invite low-budget shoppers to buy cheap (because inhumanely reared with unhealthy production standards) meat or to point them towards other ways of cooking which use more economical sources of protein?

2 Comments:

Blogger MEDITERRANEAN KIWI said...

i read about Ramsay's drive to ban imported food in restaurant menus. i'm not totally against imported food, but i don't think anyone deserves the luxury of eating, say pineapple, right throughout the year in a country like britain. i support his interest in local produce, although i know that i live in a place which offers a great deal of variety right throughout the year in terms of locally produced food.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Rhona McAdam said...

Phew, good point. I know what you mean about the pineapple, but... it's a hard thing to unwind.

In a time-honoured tradition (think new world produce like tomatoes and potatoes to Europe) we've spent the last century or so introducing new foods to places that have never had them, satisfying the omnivore's quest for variety in diet, and because we had the means to transport them rather than grow them in the new markets, we did.

How do we undo the tastes we have cultivated? How do you tell someone in Canada who's grown up on oranges, mangoes, limes and papayas, not to mention pineapple and bananas, that they have to do without, while the means to provide it are still nominally in place?

And no end of middlemen wanting to make a profit providing it.

And developing world farmers who've switched their arable land from traditional or subsistence crops to export ones.

It takes time and money to switch your crops back, and there's seemingly no incentive as long as it pays better to grow the export crops.

I think the ban on imported out of season fruit and veg could be made to work, in restaurants, but it will be interesting to see how long we are able to buy such things in the supermarket. How would you persuade people not to buy what they're used to buying. And within what limits? If buying fresh mangoes isn't ok, is processed mango juice? What would modern life be like without lemons?

And I wonder what diet we expect people to eat if they're living in, say, northern Canada - where diets consist of largely imported (or flown in from other parts of the country at least) and where local fruit and veg are severely limited at the best of times.

And if they're faced with an intolerably dull diet, might they move to places where they can get more variety, and what would that mean to areas where precious farmland is always at risk of loss to property developers - again I think of Canada, but tropical climates are attractive too.

Much to ponder, and how much time do we have to decide what to do about it all?

5:54 PM  

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