Samui Wining & Dining
One Man’s Meat

Have we reached the point where we’re all so worried about our health and eating healthy food that it’s making us ill?

­p21Our grandparents had a much simpler life. Although the War Years couldn’t have been much fun for them, society was much more straightforward in their day. Teachers and policemen were respected, people went to church on Sunday, holidays were spent in the countryside or on windy seaside promenades, everyone listened to the ‘wireless’, rode bicycles and ate every scrap of food they could get their hands on. Wartime rationing had had a profound effect and dairy products were prized along with (real) eggs, sugar, bacon and beef. In those days, this was the ‘healthy’ food that had been in short supply for almost a decade and everyone was eager to enjoy it once again.

Ah, but,” I hear you say, “in those days people weren’t so aware; they weren’t so educated.” Which, of course, is true. But they were certainly much calmer and more content, and most still managed to live to a ripe old age. The tension and stress of ‘modern life’ had yet to be created and therapists and psychologists were only ever to be found behind the bleak walls of what were then known as ‘mental asylums’.

And, yes, I know that everything’s different today. But how many times do you hear people wondering if their food is fit to eat? I don’t mean spoiled or rancid (!) but simply unhealthy in some way. Today, even though we live longer and have a much better food supply, few of us can honestly claim to be confident about what we eat and drink. We are no longer relaxed about our food; rather we somehow feel uneasy or threatened by it. Eating is a basic need, a pleasure and occasionally a delight. But have we now reached the stage where this normal, happy function seems so fraught with pitfalls and peril that it’s making us all neurotic? Surely not!

During the last 25 years it seems that one food scare has followed another. Probably the first rumblings of this began in Europe in 1988, when the then UK Junior Health Minister, Edwina Curry, cheerfully informed the public that, “Most of the eggs now produced in this country are infected with salmonella.” This was the first of many large-scale scares. Ready-cooked poultry and soft cheeses were the next victims, with the listeria outbreak of the following year. And a few months later there was a nationwide botulism scare after the discovery of just one contaminated batch of less than 100 hazelnut yoghurts.

By now the stage was set for the legions of journalists, columnists and television producers who all recognised ‘news’ when they saw it. The media increasingly began to fill with more horror stories, governments were anxious to appear responsive to the public concern, and more intensive laws and regulations were brought into play – which in turn all served to further fuel the public concern. In 1995, this caused the European Commission to advise everyone to peel all vegetables before cooking them because of the possibility of phosphates being used as fertiliser. The following year, after nine leading brands of baby milk were alleged to contain ‘unacceptable’ levels of phthalates (‘gender bender’ chemicals) the same Commission pointedly stated there was no harm here at all. But, by now, the damage had been done and the public was too frightened to agree and sales of baby milk plummeted.

One problem has been that, in the midst of all the possible aspects of what some food treatments might do to us, some very real flames have flared amongst all the smoke. The mother of all of these blazes was beef, and specifically the link between BSE in cattle and the associated variant in humans, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. UK statistics reveal that, between 1985 and 1995, in excess of one million cattle were destroyed because of BSE. But in that same period less than 100 people a year died from the human strain. Certainly a very real concern. But, I can’t help wondering, what’s happened to our sense of perspective in all of this. In that same decade there were 5,000 people killed on the roads in Germany alone each year and the worldwide annual deaths from malaria exceeded three million. But nobody seemed to be boycotting driving to work or cutting out holidays abroad.

Which is quite unlike the obsession that people have with their food today, and the ongoing fear of additives and preservatives that goes with this territory. Today, unless food is bannered as ‘organic’, it’s somehow seen to be suspiciously inferior and, by inference, therefore it must be health-threatening. Also, where it was produced and how far it’s had to travel is now of grave concern, too. England has its ‘food miles’ yardstick and in Japan shoppers can scan a barcode to find out where the produce came from and when it was produced. Which actually might be for the best as, for instance, the ‘permitted’ gas, methylcyclopropene, halts the release of ethylene, the natural ripening hormone in fruit. Which means that the apples you buy can be up to one year old because this chemical makes them retain their ‘just-picked’ looks and flavour!

Even something as simple as tap-water is not beyond suspicion, as for many years the addition of fluoride was universally thought to be beneficial. However, it’s actually a toxin, a by-product of the fertiliser industry, and one of its original uses was as a rat poison. It impairs the usual metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins and depresses the immune system, lowering resistance to disease. And it has now also been shown to affect the brain’s pineal gland, leading to emotional instability and anti-social behavior. It’s a wicked world we live in!

But, to come back to where we began, the stress from all of this is slowly killing us! What we need to do more than anything else is to relax a little more and try to get it all into perspective. We need to do the healthiest thing of all and find a balance, both in our diet and our attitude. So, if you’re reading this, then you’re in the right place. Because you’re here on Samui, you’re already relaxed and there’s also a satisfying balance of a thousand great places to dine – and that’s a combination that grandma and grandpa never had!

 


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