Food & drink
Our article, The unbearable weight of obesity, makes it very clear that people are getting fatter and the upshot of that is more diabetes, heart disease and money spent on healthcare. A US endocrinologist, Robert Lustig, claims we are not getting fatter because of fat. We are getting fatter because of sugar. Sugar is the new evil, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose that are added to just about everything – even sausages.
Thanks to a rethink on fat 35 years ago, manufacturers started taking out the fat from just about everything and adding sugar to maintain the taste. Since 1990, people in Britain eat 31% more sugar than they did then – even fruit is bred to contain more sugar. Curiously, we are eating less ‘visible sugar’, literally, fewer bags of sugar. Instead we consume ‘invisible sugar’, found in, for example, organic yoghurt, beer, so-called healthy bread, steak pie, smoked salmon, cheese.
The argument is if you add sugar to one set of things, you have to add it to another set so they won’t taste sour. But another process is set in motion: if we eat too much fructose, the satiety hormone, leptin, is switched off. It fails to tell us when we’re full. When people continue to eat, even though they are full, they can develop insulin resistance too, and that leads to diabetes.
Non-communicable diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer and Alzheimer’s, kill 35 million people each year.* While we continually hear about poverty and starvation, there are 30% more obese than undernourished people in the world. In 2011, there were 366 million diabetics (5%), and more than twice the number in 1980. In 2030, America is forecast to be 33% diabetic.
Big Sugar has learned many of its public relations tricks from tobacco companies. It tries to confuse the public, lines up experts who disagree, and sugar coats the message. A recent ABC program in Australia claiming statins could be useless and cholesterol was not necessarily implicated in heart disease set up a flood of attacks from doctors and representative bodies. To argue with the status quo, as far as Big Sugar is concerned, is a massive uphill battle. Anyone who claims sugar is a gigantic health problem is called a moron.
Ref: The Week (UK), 7 April 2012, The “poison” lurking in pies, bread, sausages and cereal. W Leith. www.theweek.com
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Search words: sugar, tobacco, Robert Lustig, endocrinology, fructose, non-communicable disease, obesity, diabetes, fat, low-fat, corn syrup, sucrose, ‘visible sugar’, fruit, causation, leptin resistance, satiety, addictive, toxic, harvest, food industry, Big Sugar, Starr Report, sugar tax.
* Seems low to me too!
There’s money in maggots
Many articles talk about the looming food shortage in the world but don’t mention the fact there’s a shortage of feed for animals too. European farmers currently have to import 80% of their animal feed, mainly soy, from South America. In the US, thanks to the mass conversion of maize to biofuel, the price of maize fed to pigs has trebled since 2007. This means farmers need a cheaper source of feed for their stock.
One idea is ‘maggot cake’, which is made by growing maggots on manure, food and brewery waste. It’s a kind of extreme recycling, and provides a high 50% protein source that is also free of bacteria like E-coli and salmonella, because the maggots eat it. Most of the research has been done in the US, Spain and South Africa and the first commercial plant may well be at AgriProtein in South Africa. At the moment, a tonne of manure yields 1,000 kilos of maggot larvae, which in turn makes 12.5-35 kilos of feed. It is just as rich as soy and fishmeal.
With such a high protein content, maggot cake could conceivably sell for the same price as other feed, about 800-900 UK pounds per tonne. The cake could also be used for other purposes, such as using its chitin for stabiliser in many pharma products and a binder in adhesives.
The economics of maggot farming are still not sorted out. OVRSol (US) claims manure from 280 million chickens could be converted to protein, fat and chitin worth about US660 million. But the US National Pork Producers Council looked at this idea years ago and said it was uneconomical. While a US government panel gives it broad support, it wants to know that animals will actually eat the stuff. We’re glad it’s not us. We don’t know how people will feel knowing their steak has been fed on maggots – Maggot-Fed Angus anyone? But given past history, we probably won’t know.
Ref: New Scientist (UK), 24 November 2012, A food source for the modern world? www.newscientist.com
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Search words: recycling, ‘maggot cake’, farm animals, nutrients, waste, food demand, import, animal feed, soy, biofuel, US, South Africa, Spain, OVRSol, protein, larvae, E-coli, salmonella, sterilized, stabilizer, chitin, safety, US Department of Agriculture.
The ‘Fight Club Fridge’
The ‘Fight Club Fridge’ may be the fridge of the future, if the number of single person households continues to rocket all over the Western world. In Sweden, 47% are solo households, in Norway, 40%, in Japan, 30%, in Australia, nearly 25% are single inhabitant. One question is how and what these singles eat.
What is the Fight Club Fridge anyway? For a start, it’s mainly empty. It may contain an old takeaway pizza, a jar of tomato sauce, and a few cans of beer. If it has vegetables in it, they are probably quite old and grizzled. Nutritionists say that singles are notorious for not feeding themselves properly. Given that there are 3 million singles in Australia who may not be eating wisely, that could be quite a public health problem. Poor nutrition already costs the country $A5 billion a year.
About a third of elderly Australians, also likely to be living alone, are undernourished. They may also lack the joys of eating with somebody else, the communal aspect of eating. Epicurus said sharing food and wine with friends was one of the keys to happiness. While it can be irksome to hear someone ask day after day, “What’s for dinner?”, when there is nobody to ask, dinner takes on a different, perhaps lonely meaning.
One idea is to have public dining rooms where singles can go and sit at communal tables. (There is a restaurant called the Public Dining Room in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, but there is not much evidence of solos.) Another is to go and spend time in communal gardens, actually growing the food with others and sharing the food afterwards.
Certainly there is room for a better class of takeaway, because most of the regular options are laden with fat, salt and sugar. Most healthy takeaway in Australia comes from entrepreneurial vegetarians (probably out of necessity). And as usual, healthy food costs so much more. Not all singles are on good incomes and, in fact, lose the economies of scale available to couples and families. It’s not really worth maintaining one fridge.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 6 April 2013, Table for one. S Wood. www.smh.com.au/good-weekend
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Search words: Fight Club, fridge, single person household, solo, nutrition, vegetables, takeaway, fat, elderly, communal eating, public dining rooms, solo diners, herds, community garden, Iku Wholefoods, corn syrup, home delivery, cooking, gardener, intimacy.
A lovely bunch of coconut consumers
In case you’ve been living under a palm tree, coconut is cool. Sales of coconut water – that slightly weedy tasting stuff left over after you’ve eaten the coconut – have quintupled between 2008 and 2012. In fact, before 2010, you probably couldn’t even buy it in Britain though you could buy a humble, hairy coconut. In 2013, Waitrose reported a rise of 183% in its sales of coconut water and oil.
This year saw many product launches all over the world, each one designed to cash in on the new craze for coconut. New brands, such as Vita Coco, Zico, Harmless Harvest, O.N.E., and Pret a Manger’s home brand, are selling like hot – coconuts. Harmless Harvest is one of the fastest growing coconut brands in the US food and beverage sector.
Why is coconut so popular? Partly because it contains more potassium than a banana, has natural electrolytes that replace those lost in sweat, and it has no cholesterol (it’s a plant). It is popular in America, where they particularly like sports drinks and vitamin enhanced drinks. Marketing by celebrities (Rihanna for Vita Coco) also helps. Just as they used to carry bottled water – remember Fiji Water? - now the faces-that-be carry coconut water.
Coconut oil is also on the ascendant. Over a quarter of food and drink new products in 2012 contained coconut oil, up from 15% in 2008. Sales of coconut oil itself have lifted a whopping 780% in that time, according to Mintel. Its appeal, to both consumers and companies, is that it is vegetarian, premium, may be organic and is always cholesterol free, though it is still a saturated fat. Sales of coconut palm sugar are also growing on the back of the oil and water, so to speak.
Coconuts come from Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines, which begs the question whether farmers are receiving the fruits of the coconut craze. Harmless Harvest (US) claims they invest in farming communities in Thailand, and is all for ‘constructive capitalism’ (we wish it were the only kind). It makes us wonder what the next coconut will be. How about something really passe like brussel sprouts? The cooking water smells the same.
Ref: The Independent (UK), 10 September 2013, Living la vida coco. CD Hogg. www.independent.co.uk
Australian Food News (Aus), 5 June 2013, New coconut water products quintuple globally over past five years. S Langley. www.ausfoodnews.com.au
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Search words: coconut water, Pret A Manger, Waitrose, Brazil, potassium, electrolytes, Vita Coco, Mintel, aspiration, Huffington Post, non-alcoholic, PepsiCo, Zico, ‘constructive capitalism’, Harmless Harvest, low fat, coconut oil, coconut palm sugar.
Making money from heavy drinkers
Did you know the heaviest drinkers are in Moldova (near Romania), followed by Russia, South Korea and Portugal? The UK is not that far behind, ranked 17, Australia is ranked 44 and the US, trailing at 56. Judging by the levels of alcoholism and violence in both the UK and Australia, the ranking itself does not tell us much.
The WHO came up with a strategy in 2010 for reducing the toll of harmful drinking on the world. It kills 2.5 million people each year, accounts for 5.5% of disease and premature death, and is the third biggest cause of ill health after high blood pressure and tobacco. But don’t worry, the alcohol industry wants us to ‘drink responsibly’. It advocates designated drivers, voluntary codes and personal restraint. Considerable evidence suggests government-imposed strategies work the best, such as increasing price, restricting availability and no advertising. These are not popular with alcohol companies.
They can get around any advertising restrictions. In 2011, Diageo increased its US sales of five main brands by 20%, to which it credits its multimillion-dollar strategic partnership with Facebook. Young people tend to see targeted alcohol marketing in social media as ''useful and informative'' instead of recognising it as advertising, research found. Nothing like selling to your mates. Social media is rapidly becoming the medium of choice, and so cheap too.
Studies show that increasing the price does hit consumption, but the industry argues this will not affect hazardous or underage drinking. The heaviest drinkers in Britain, about 10%, consume about 45% of the alcohol, too lucrative a market to lose. Meanwhile, underage drinkers cannot afford to buy expensive alcohol, so it is hard to see how a price rise would not affect them.
In emerging markets, the possibilities for selling alcohol are almost endless. Draft alcohol policies for Botswana, Lesotho, Uganda and Malawi are, surprise, authored by the policies and issues manager at SABMiller, one of the alcohol industry funders of, surprise, the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP). So it does not look like self-regulation is going to get us far.
In Scotland, consumption has doubled in the past 50 years as the price of alcohol has fallen. It now has one of the highest rates of liver cirrhosis in western Europe. The British government dropped a 45 pence minimum unit price for England and Wales, following “powerful arguments from both sides”.
In late 2013, the NSW Premier and Police Commissioner of Australia met after a weekend of alcohol-fuelled violence that saw 540 arrests. Police say messages about sensible drinking “are not getting through”, and having more police will not fix it. This is happening all over the world.
Ref: New Scientist (UK), 12 January 2013, The battle of the bottle. P Aldhous. www.newscientist.com
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Search words: vodka, alcohol, public health, WHO, road accidents, ‘drink responsibly’, government policy, International Center for Alcohol Policies, minimum price, underage drinking, tobacco, Diageo, Facebook, public image, taxation, advertising, heavy drinkers, Asia, Africa, SABMiller, self-regulation, Scotland, health risks.