Eat & Die

Some time ago I heard an American actress on the radio enthuse about the delights of dining out in Paris.  Her interviewer’s ingratiating assumption about the superior quality of French cuisine drew a hasty rebuttal: “Oh no, the food in California is the best in the whole world.  No, I like eating in Paris because, unlike at home, I can get through a whole meal without some jerk telling me which thing on my plate is gonna kill me!”

Of course, it had to catch on here.  Most fads and crazes that come and go in an endless stream begin in the sunshine state and it’s only a matter of time before they find their way across the pond.  It was inevitable that we would reach the point when we have to search our souls before indulging in our favourite culinary delights.

Remember food before fads? Remember when you could sit down to a grand feed of bacon and cabbage and relish its saltiness, or order a steak and sautéed onions without agonising about the little sliver of fat on the edge? Remember you used to think this was the best bit!

I once had the misfortune to be button-holed at a bar by a relative of mine home on holidays from California (where he had lived for only a couple of years) while he sipped a single half- pint of stout for three hours explaining the phenomenal properties of the twenty or thirty different vitamin supplements he carried in his pocket and expounded with missionary zeal the virtues of confining his kids’ drinking habits to pure orange juice! He needn’t have bothered because as he spoke I was copiously consuming countless pints of the same black brew and, thankfully, I forgot every word he said – lucky me! Or lucky rather, you dear reader, that I am unable to pass on this fascinating information.

Now its here – the health food kick.  Low fat everything.  Now you have to examine every morsel in minute detail before you bring it near your oral orifice.  You have to watch for a million pitfalls and dangers.  Fat is not fat anymore: it is saturated fat, unsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, vegetable fat, animal fat, non-milk fat solids.  Each is listed on the label is such a way as to suggest that only things not mentioned are harmful.  It tells not just the fat content, but the calories, carbohydrates, nutrients, proteins, vitamins, salt, sugar, calcium, iron and water, and a plethora of other things I can’t spell.

When E numbers were introduced many years ago, we all thought we must avoid them, nobody seemed to realise that these were the PERMITTED additives.  Who permitted them was the first thing that came to mind.  I tried the Department of Health and the EU commission office.  They both told me the best thing to do was to buy a book by Maurice Hanssen (E For Additive) which is the most up-to-date reference on the subject and is what they use!

I studied it for ages.  After a few months I began to think that there is no such thing as a harmless additive and was tempted to give it up as a bad job.  The only way I could see to stop poisoning myself slowly to a painful end was to starve to death! It seems the whole world was confused, and now E numbers seem to have disappeared altogether.

Shopping has become a literary adventure, I read more in the supermarket than I do in the library.  Time will come when you will have to have a literary degree to buy the groceries.

Even if you check everything on the label there are other pitfalls you have to watch.  Hormones and antibiotics in meat and insecticides and chemical fertilisers on everything from corn to cabbage.  Nothing is safe from the purge of progress as farmers go to any lengths to increase their yield.

Now it would seem that even the tap in the kitchen can’t be trusted anymore.  These marketing people – who have ambitions to take over the world – have us all convinced that we should fork out a fortune for a drink of good old fashioned water.  Go into any pub and ask for a Ballygowan.  You will pay a few Euros for a third of a litre and it will arrive full of ice – made from tap water, the same water they would have us believe is full of sewage and silage and the devil knows what additives from fluoride to chlorine, not to mention the activities of fish in the same stuff.

Then fibre became the catch word, lots of roughage and the job is Oxo.  Straight away, all the mothers in the country began stuffing their offspring with so much brown bread and whole-wheat spaghetti they could run (!) in the Olympics.  Not long after this we had reports that too much roughage upsets the constitution and your average kid is overstuffed with it.  No doubt it will be cut from diets altogether now and children will have to go back to the trusty old cure-all which was once every mothers definitive elixir and every child’s absolute dread – cod liver oil!

The most recent findings of the British Nutrition Foundation suggest that there are traces of lysergic acid diethylamide (plain ol’ LSD to you folks) in your morning muesli.  This, we are told, comes from a fungus which grows on wheat called ergot and is what makes us all feel good as we face the day’s toil after a good healthy breakfast.  We never had anything like that with rashers and eggs! I can see it now as the authorities look further into this latest offering from the scientific world and the headlines scream: “Gang members face life sentence after customs seize 50 kilos of Shredded Wheat with a street value of €3m.”

Mind you, all this appears to be based on what they describe as “anecdotal” evidence, what lawyers would call hearsay, but it does make good headlines.

Even the humble fish has not escaped the eagle eye of the food fad fanatics.  Time was when you couldn’t say a bad word about fish.  Here was a pure and wondrous food filled with protein and goodness and it gave you brains to burn into the bargain.  Now we have to watch out for fat in shellfish and oil in mackerel and god knows what in the rest.  If it is not polluted it is radioactive.  The sea has become our dumping ground for chemicals and effluent and radioactive waste and just about every kind of rubbish that can’t be economically recycled or disposed of safely.

It seems that whatever you eat, if it doesn’t give you cancer it will give you a coronary.  If it doesn’t ulcerate your intestines, it will pickle liver.  If it tastes good, it’s bad for you.  If it’s not full of fat its full of cholesterol.  Even if you try very hard to be safe in your eating habits the odds are stacked against you.  They have developed a special language all of their own to keep the likes of ordinary Joes in the dark.  Did you know that you can develop “atherosclerosis from lipid accumulation, particularly cholesterol and its esters? Of course, maleness is a determining factor in the measurement of lipoprotein density of the blood”.  Figure that out and you can go into practice for yourself!

How you cook is another important part of the message.  The frying pan is definitely a museum piece whereas deep frying is an absolute no-no, even if you break the bank and use groundnut oil.  Boiling or baking is your only man – unless you microwave.  The microwave is the best of all for cooking and is marred only by the slight disadvantage is that and you’ll get cancer from leaking radiation if you stay in the same room when its doing the business.

The message is clear.  If it tastes nice or looks good it will kill you.  We will end up eating nothing but organically grown lettuce and drinking water from a private well in the some remote island off the West coast if we are to “enjoy” a long and healthy life.  On his ninetieth  birthday comedian George Burns was asked how he had lived so long and stayed so healthy: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself”, and blew another puff of cigar smoke at his interviewer.  George died shortly after his 100 birthday.

‘nuff said…

© Ronan Quinlan 2008   

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