A friend and regular reader shared a link to the cookbook Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown with me last week. The book was created as part of her Master’s Thesis and is available for free under a Creative Commons licence. According to Brown, the cookbook was designed to be affordable for people using SNAP (formerly food stamps) in the US. However, I’m sure that most of the recipes would be equally affordable for Canadians on a budget. In addition to being affordable, the recipes are nutritious and appealing. Even if you’re not on a tight budget there’s likely something in here you’d like to try: pumpkin oatmeal, broccoli apple salad, or brussels sprouts hash and eggs perhaps.
I went to see the movie Fed Up last week. I think that the overall message was a good one: cook more, avoid highly processed packaged foods. Because of this, I feel a little bit torn about being critical of it. However, I feel that it’s going to be “preaching to the choir” anyhow so bringing up my issues is probably unlikely to do much to impact ticket sales. And even with my issues, it’s worth a watch.
First issue: why did they have to include so many people with quackerific tendencies (such as Mark Hyman and Robert Lustig)? Fortunately, there were some credible people with backgrounds in nutrition (such as Marion Nestle). Why were there no dietitians? I’m seeing the examples of what the obese children were eating and proclaiming as “healthy” (low-fat cereal, Special K chips, NUTELLA DIPPERS) and I’m thinking that maybe the problem here is lack of education and understanding of what “healthy” is. One of the mums was saying that they had the tools, and knew what to do, so they were going to do it on their own as her daughter was too young for Weight Watchers. Well, if those are the choices that you think are healthy, then you clearly don’t have the tools. Any dietitian could have set things straight. But no, Fed Up had to go and conflate the issue of obesity with the issue of excess sugar.
I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again no one nutrient is to blame in the obesity epidemic. Yes, indeed, too much of anything is bad for us but sugar alone is not what’s making everyone fat. The movie even talked about the true cause: the proliferation of inexpensive calorie-dense, nutrient lacking food everywhere we go. Our food system and environment. Why on earth they had to go and lose credibility by demonizing sugar is beyond me. Suggesting that sugar is the problem only provides the food industry with the ability to provide the “solution” by creating low-sugar and sugar-free foods. I can tell you right now that, that solution is going to work just as well as the low-fat, fat-free solution did. When you visit the home page for Fed Up the first thing you see is an option to sign-up for the challenge “sugar free for 10 days”. Not, cook supper and eat as a family for 10 days. Sigh.
Even though it was only a brief moment in the film, there was mention of how chefs like Jamie Oliver are going into schools and trying to help children to get excited about preparing and eating nutritious food. Yes, this is a good thing but I question how much more Jamie Oliver is a part of the solution than he is a part of the problem. Putting aside his lack of knowledge of nutrition, and his terrible lesson of teaching children to choose oranges over chocolate bars by forcing them to run around a track to burn-off the calories from their snack of choice, have you seen how many packaged foods he has in grocery stores? If the problem is unhealthy processed foods then a chef who is profiting from sales of said foods should not be too loudly lauded for his efforts to teach children and families about cooking on tv (which he is also profiting from). I’m not sure how much this differs from the much reviled McDonald’s selling crappy food but running a lovely charity like the Ronald McDonald House.
And why, oh why, did they feel the need to say “cook real food”. This is redundant. Who is cooking fake food? Just cook.
They also brought up the “calorie is not a calorie” argument. This makes me want to tear my hair out!!! A calorie is a unit of measure. Arguing that a calorie is not a calorie is like arguing that an inch is not an inch or a kilogram is not a kilogram. Yes, you should consume foods that contain vitamins and minerals alongside the calories but that does not negate the value of a calorie.
Okay… I’m almost done… The other issue I took exception to was the evidence presented that healthy eating is less expensive than unhealthy eating. They showed the cost for a fast food meal in comparison to the cost of a home made meal consisting of a whole chicken, rice, and veg. There are a couple of problems with this. One, the cost of the meal was based on what was used to make the meal, not what all of the ingredients would actually cost. You can’t just buy the exact amount of oil, rice, spices, etc to make one meal, you would spend considerably more to buy the full containers. Someone living in poverty might not have that money. And where the heck are they getting a whole chicken for only $5 and change!? Two, it presupposes that people have the skills, time, and facilities necessary to prepare a roast chicken dinner. Sadly, many people living with food insecurity (and obesity) lack these conveniences.
Did I learn anything while watching the film? No. Did I agree with everything in the film? No. Do I think it’s a worthwhile watch? Yes. Despite all of my issues with specific content, I’m still a supporter of the overall message to cook more food at home.
After writing this post a colleague on twitter (David Despain @daviddespain) shared a link to an excellent article critiquing the science in the movie.
…After publishing this post, a colleague informed me that the authors of the article (linked above) are actually a front group for the food industry. I still think that they made some valid points in their critique of Fed Up but this is a good lesson that we should question everything.
While I firmly believe that it’s too early for Christmas (music, decorations, store displays…) it’s never too early to learn new cooking and recipe tips. Toast to Food has created a great tutorial series on holiday food. Toast to Food will highlight a holiday staple in each post and readers are encouraged to comment, add their own tips, feedback, and recipes. It’s a great communal way to share ideas for holiday cooking and to learn something in the process.
This Follow Friday goes out to a couple of my current favourite recipe blogs:
Smitten Kitchen has provided me with many delicious recipes from pizzas to salads (one of our faves of the summer: Summer’s Last Hurrah Panzanella pictured above… I added cubed cheese) to amazing sandwich slaw pickles to desserts.
Ambitious Kitchen provided me with the recipe for some Nutella (I know, I know… dietitian horror!) stuffed brown butter chocolate chip sea salt cookies. They were as time consuming to make as the name suggested but well worth the effort. She also has some amazing salad recipes like the crunchy cashew quinoa salad. Although the smoothie recipe I made (vegan detox green monster) left something to be desired.
Results of a study published in the BMJ last week indicate that many consumers underestimate the number of calories they’re consuming when they eat at fast food restaurants.
Researchers approached customers exiting fast food restaurants and asked them what they’d eaten and how many calories they thought that they had consumed. They then determined the actual number of calories consumed by accessing the nutrition information posted on the company websites (more about this to follow). It was found that, “At least two-thirds of all participants underestimated the calorie content of their meals, with about a quarter underestimating the calorie content by at least 500 calories.” The average caloric estimation was under the actual caloric content by about 175 calories.
175 calories may not sound like many but that can add-up pretty quickly. Especially considering that many people eat fast food on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the best statistic I could find was from the 2004 Overview of Canadians’ Eating Habits which indicated that on the day before the interview 1/4 of all respondents had consumed something purchased at fast food restaurant.
I would also argue that these caloric estimations may be even less accurate than they appear. Nutrition information posted on restaurant websites is notoriously inaccurate. While it tends to be even worse for non-fast food outlets as chefs and cooks may be more inclined to take liberties and portions are less controlled, it’s still often the case that the calories posted for fast food items are optimistic. They’re going to use the best case scenario and try to portray their food in the best light possible.
The authors conclude that including caloric information on menus might help to improve consumer estimation of calories. Beyond this, I think that this study should serve as a reminder that you’re never in control of your food unless you’re preparing it yourself. Always assume that you’re eating more calories than you think that you are when you eat out and try to prepare as many of your meals as you can at home.