At last. The Experts have caught up with me!

Sugar-1

I have been saying for decades now  …

Well, I’ve been saying two things: firstly that foods like cakes and biscuits and desserts and drinks continue to get sweeter all the time, and secondly that manufacturers need to start giving us more choice in this.

Actually, I’ve been saying more than that, to as many people who’ll listen to me, and as often as the subject crops up.  I’ve said that the insidious increase in sugar content of so many foods is to blame for more health problems than high fat content, that feeding a sweet tooth seems to make it sweeter, that sugar is addictive, that the food manufacturers are fiendishly clever because they know this and try very hard to hook us young with overly sweet breakfast cereals, desserts, yoghurts etc aimed directly at children, and also that I would not be unhappy to see a tax put on sugar.  Nobody needs it in these quantities, and it’s positively dangerous for some of us.

I do have a sweet tooth, and it’s often my undoing when it comes to trying to keep my weight down, but I do wish I could buy a chilled coffee drink, for instance, with no damn sugar in it!  When I drink coffee at home I never add sugar, so why would I want an iced coffee with about four teaspoons of sugar dissolved in it when I’m out?  If you doubt how much sugar is in those things – and in ice lollies and ice creams – try letting one warm to room temperature and then taking a swig. You’ll be shocked at how sweet they really are.  Fact: the more you cool things, the less you can taste the sugar.

Sugar-4

Let’s think about the things which have sugar added – things which, if we made them at home, would usually contain none at all.    Bread, for instance.  It is not necessary to add sugar to bread.  OK, some recipes call for it but many do not. Those that do add it as a kind of short-cut to ‘feed’ the yeast and get it started more quickly, and it’s actually a lot more healthy to give bread a long fermentation time, which uses the yeast more effectively and more thoroughly and results in an ‘old-fashioned’ loaf instead of the playdough-textured Chorleywood1 type.

Have you ever noticed that the biscuits and fruit pies and cakes you buy are so much sweeter, and yet somehow less satisfying, than those you make at home? They are full of sugar and other refined ingredients, including glucose-fructose sugar which fools your body into thinking that you’re still hungry and encourages you to overindulge2.  Eat them quickly and you’ll feel slightly unwell because your poor body is trying to process  the overload of fat and sugar.  Homemade biscuits and cakes don’t do this – at least, not so quickly or so thoroughly: because there’s no glucose-fructose syrup, because you need to chew them more, and because they are simply more satisfying.

Sugar-6

Processed meats are difficult to find sans sugar.  Ham, pastrami, the so-called deli-meats, meat pies, meat patés, sausages and so on, go take a look at the ingredients lists if you don’t believe me.  Mayonnaise3.  Bottled sauces.  Gravies.  Even frozen chips.  Why the hell would anyone think of putting sugar in chips?

Then there are fruit juices and fruit ‘drinks’, which are often nothing more than flavoured sugar water. I make a drink called ‘ACE’ at home, which I discovered in Italy. ‘ACE’ stands for (vitamins) A, C and E, and it’s easy and quick to make using bottled carrot juice, and chilled, unsweetened, orange and apple juices. The original recipe calls for a dash of lemon, but the apple and carrot juices will have this added already. You do not need sugar for this drink, and it’s simply a matter of getting the proportions as you like them, so just experiment. Our taste runs to around one third carrot juice, and then the proportions of apple and orange depend on which brands I buy, but usually just a tad more orange than apple. If you’re not used to such an intense, pure-fruit juice, try adding sparkling mineral water to taste – or even simply tap water… but please, no sugar!

Sugar-2

Sugar is in all those things to ‘educate’ your tastebuds to keep coming back for more, and to make the food processing easier.  Does it do us any favours at all?  No.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to read this article, in which food experts are calling for a reduction in the amount of sugar allowed in processed foods.  Three bloody cheers!  Never mind vilifying obese people and telling us how we lack self-control, for fuck’s sake, how about beginning to point the finger at those really responsible for the increase in the population’s weight: the food industry?

Sugar-3

I admit it. I have struggled with my weight all my adult life.  I, along with all the rest of you who are unlucky enough to have succumbed to an addiction to sugar (and those who are genetically predisposed to put on weight4), have had to employ more self-restraint than most simply to avoid getting to the point where I can no longer walk due to damaging my joints with the extra avoirdupois.  We, unique among addicts, cannot go cold turkey.  We still have to eat to live, and must therefore suffer the torture of struggling with our addiction on a twice or three-times-daily basis.  It’s a bit like trying to give up smoking while allowing yourself two puffs of a cigarette three times a day – but while smokers are now offered help from their doctors, obese people are still blamed for their lack of self-control.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we are the last remaining group of addicts who are punished for their problem.

It really is about time that the government stopped telling us it’s all our fault and withdrawing vital health services5, and began to help us by bringing in legislation to restore our food supplies to something which does not continually poison us and scupper our best intentions.  We cannot all prepare all our own food from scratch, and that reminds me:

Who suffers most from being fed processed, pre-prepared food?

Sugar-5

Those who cannot help themselves by preparing their own food, that’s who.  Those in institutions of any kind: schools, nursing homes, respite homes, residential facilities for the elderly, prisons …

And hospitals, where we should be fed a diet conducive to regaining health, but far too often are not6.

 

<sup>1</sup> – See link: The shocking truth about bread

<sup>2</sup> – See links:

Effects of fructose on brain may promote overeating

Fructose effect on brain may explain link to obesity

Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health

Sugar, not fat, exposed as deadly villain in obesity epidemic

<sup>3</sup> – Whose ingredients, as all the purists will tell you, should be very simple: a good quality oil, plus egg.

<sup>4</sup> – See link: Genetic mutation causes obesity

<sup>5</sup> – See link: Lose weight, or your operation is cancelled

<sup>6</sup> – See link: Hospital food: what’s the prognosis?

 

 

 

 

 

Pollinator Awareness Week: 13th – 19th July 2015

Bee-Wingbeats

This week is Pollinator Awareness Week!  Yes, you heard it here first1.

‘So what?’ I hear you say. Well, see, the thing is that without pollinators, we’d all be in the shit be in serious trouble, because an awful lot of food crops need to be pollinated somehow, and the way most of them get pollinated is by the transference of pollen from flower to flower by insects.

13JLY15-PAW-6

Our main pollinators – as I’m sure you all know – are bees. The trouble is, our honeybees are struggling and nobody really seems to know why. Some blame neonicotinoids (‘neonics’) and other pesticides. Some blame pollution. Some blame modern farming practices and/or the horrible tendency government agencies have for ‘tidying up’ our verges and footpaths and parks, etc2. Some blame honeybee diseases spread by mites. Some say it’s a combination of factors.  And some freely admit that they don’t know.

13JLY15-PAW-7

The result, in America, has been the growth of the practice of renting out colonies which are hawked around the farms to pollinate crops. This has its own problems, apparently, from stressing the bees and laying them open to opportunistic infections to bee-rustling.

13JLY15-PAW-3

Now, there are also a lot of native bumblebees, but not only are they in trouble too,  it seems that in some countries they are not managing to relocate themselves from areas which have grown too warm for them due to climate change, and are dying out locally.

So what are we left with? Well, there are many, many solitary bees which do a sterling job, and many people don’t even know about them because they tend to be quite small compared to honeybees and bumbles and can easily be overlooked.

And there are hoverflies3.

13JLY15-PAW-5

You may not know this, but hoverflies are considered by many authorities to be the second most important pollinators after bees, and it’s a sad fact that an awful lot of people don’t know how to tell the difference, and so fear them both equally. This leads to a lot of untimely insect deaths4

13JLY15-PAW-8

So, dotted throughout this post are some pictures. Some are bees, and some are hoverflies. Some of the hoverflies look quite a lot like bees, but you will notice a difference in their faces, their eye shape and their antennae (and if you’re extra-observant and look closely, their wings). I’m beginning to learn more about hoverflies and how to identify them, and I am by no means an expert, so I reckon if I can do it, so can you.

13JLY15-PAW-2

What can we do, though, about the pollination problem? Well, unless you want to see an era where thousands of poorly-paid people are put to back-breaking work pollinating flowers with a paintbrush, perhaps it would be a good idea to plant some ‘bee-friendly’ flowers in the garden, for a start, and to go easy on the insecticides?

13JLY15-PAW-4

After all, what’s more important: preventing a famine or having a pretty lawn?

Okay, so that’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek.  You should all know by now that I don’t really do scaremongering.  But seriously, we would all be in serious trouble without insect pollinators, and we should all take time to think about that.

13JLY15-PAW-1

For those interested, here are a few links for further reading.  If you do nothing else, please listen to the podcast. It’s very accessible and easy to understand:

Hoverflies are effective pollinators of oilseed rape

The trouble with bee-keeping

The touble with bees (nice podcast on this page)

Almond pollination in 2012

Planting for pollinators – RHS

1 – Or maybe you didn’t, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

2 – For ‘tidying up’ read ‘mowing down everything in sight, including the useful – and pretty – wildflowers and grasses on which our insects depend, and leaving behind a brown stubbly mess.

3 – Well, alright, a considerable number of other insects contribute to pollination, but generally in a smaller or less effective way, according to what I’ve read.

4 – And even fewer pollinators.

A Question of Language

AQuestionOfLanguage

My dear OH has some endearing habits, and one of them is to regularly impart little bits of random knowledge – he calls them ‘Interesting Facts of the Day’. The latest one of these turned into a rather amusing conversation.

It went like this:

OH: “Did you know that language is handled in a particular part of the brain?”

Me: “Yeah, colloquially known as the ‘language centre'”

OH: “Broca’s .. ”

Me: “Yes, Broca’s Area”

OH: “Well, did you know that if you learn a second language it’s handled in the same area?”

Me: “Yes, go on … ”

OH: “But if you learn a second language as an adult, you grow a new bit of brain in that area, just for the new language?

Me: “Wow .. you do?”

OH: “Yes!

Me: “Wow. I’ve grown a new bit of brain, and you haven’t!!”

OH: “Yeeees. Demoralising, isn’t it?”

Me: “No! No – you should learn! You can do it! You have the brain.”

OH (Musing): “I wonder what happens to those people who learn more than one new language? What if they learn six new languages – do they grow six new bits of brain? Why don’t their heads explode?”

Me: “Hahaha! You probably handle all the new languages in the one new bit”

OH (Getting a bit sidetracked): “Hey, why is the butter still out?”

Me: “Perchè ho ancora fame”

OH (Trying again): “Why is the butter out?”

Me: “Perchè non ho finito la mia colazione!”

OH: “But why is the butter out? It’ll get all hot and miserable!1

Me: “I told you. I’m still hungry and I haven’t finished my breakfast”

*Pause*

OH: “Yes, but you told me with your new bit of brain, and I heard it with my old one!”

Me: “There is a solution to that … ”

1 OH uses some very picturesque language, sometimes. But in fact I forgot to put the butter away and it did indeed get hot and miserable. Positively depressed and tired of life, in fact, judging by the way it had sagged and was sitting huddled at the bottom of the dish.

Aliens! Doing Alien Things!

AliensField-800

Well .. it is at least one explanation, is it not?

Looking out of my bathroom window (the only one on that side of the house high enough to see over the hedge), I spotted these very odd .. well .. crop circles, I suppose. Leaving aside the possibility of aliens dropping in to say hello in a very idiosyncratic manner, I’m thinking that someone1 probably started to spray the wrong field with weedkiller – or maybe the right field with weedkiller instead of insecticide.

Either way, I doubt the farmer is terribly happy about the result. I mean, what happens now? If he harvests the rest of the field, surely he can’t allow any of the affected wheat into the food chain, and how on earth is he to make sure of that?

We rely too much on pesticides of one sort or another, I know that much.

1 Someone who now wishes he were somewhere far, far away, probably. Or that he had decided to become a filing clerk instead of an agricultural worker.

A new definition of ‘dry’

MorrisonsDryCureHam-Unopened

See, I always thought that ‘dry’ was the opposite of ‘wet’. That is; without moisture, or at least with a very low moisture content.

But I bought a pack of Morrison’s ‘Dry Cure’ ham a few days ago which was anything but dry. It was covered with a sheen of moisture, and there were actually droplets of water1 on the surface of the meat.

MorrisonsDryCureHam

So what on earth is up with that? It says ‘Dry Cure’ quite plainly on the label and yet when I opened it up, there it was practically sitting in a puddle of water!

Dry cure? Pull the other one.

Morrisons, please explain. I’m listening. Meanwhile, the only one who’s going to be eating this crap is Sid2.

1 Well. I say ‘water’, but in fact it is probably a kind of chemical soup composed of preservatives and salts.

2 Which is why there are a couple of slices missing. I didn’t eat them, Sid did – and with every appearance of enjoyment. But then, he can’t read.