Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Good Enough To Eat

We are what we eat, some would say. We certainly are better informed about what we eat. The findings from academic research, the persuasive tones of health conscious TV chefs, the protestations of animal rights campaigners, all tell us what is bad and what is good to consume and why.

Responsibility for keeping to a balanced diet weighs heavily enough for an adult with all the information at his or her fingertips. When you're taking responsibility for what goes into your children – to make them healthy and strong – it's another matter completely. Young children will soon develop a palate for what tastes good and what doesn't (I hated swede throughout my entire childhood – who didn't?) but they aren't in a position to decide what is nutritious or what makes for healthy eating. That's the parent's call, and it can be a hard one in the face of convenience and the 'hard sell'.

For our own grandchildren, 'junk food' is off the menu. Their parents made that decision early on and they have stuck to it. There's always a full fruit bowl on the table and apart from the odd sweet treat, our two year old granddaughter snacks on raisins, fruit flakes or some other healthy option. Her twin sisters have only just started eating solids, but their pureed meals are home-cooked vegetables out of the skins rather than tins.

We aren't health fanatics in our family but we are health conscious, a trend that my own grandmother started in the 60s. Hilda May (my maternal grandmother) was quite a character and a bit of a revolutionary. We all know that the 60s bore witness to a generation bent on changing the status quo, but Hilda was born in 1913 and was about as much a part of hippy culture as she was a part of the NASA space programme.

Hilda May (grandmother extraordinaire) in the 1960s

Hilda's passion was food and nutrition. She weaned us off refined white sugar and saturated cooking fats by introducing us to the wonders of polyunsaturates and vitamin supplements. She also used astonishingly effective tales of how too much of the wrong fat can block up our plumbing!

Hilda May's 75' tomato greenhouse

A keen gardener for the best part of her 91 years, she specialised in growing organic salad crops and tomatoes in particular. Ironically Hilda was dogged by arthritis and in her later years coped with heart problems and Polymyalgia rheumatica. Still she never lost faith in the benefits of good food. She attributed her own ill-health to poor nutrition in her early years and an ignorance of the long-term damaging effects saturated fats can have on the vascular system.

I've listened to many inspirational arguments for improving the standard of our diet. Recently I caught the following video clip of a talk given by Mark Bittman – food writer, journalist and TV personality. I think Hilda would have approved of him.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

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