Perceptions of Normality

At every point in history, people perceive the things they do as normal, including what they eat. Socially, we have evolved to fit in with what everybody does. In these modern times, we also align our behaviour to the images and messages with which the media constantly bombard us.

Some years ago, there was a successfulCornetto advertising campaign to convince people that sugar was an aid to dieting – “eat a biscuit before lunch or an ice cream”! It seems ridiculous to us now but people bought into it then. The current trend is fat avoidance which we’ll no doubt look back on with disbelief. The sad truth is that experts in marketing can change what we think so that we’ll change what we buy.

Bowl of cerealBreakfast cereal arrived in the UK in 1900 and gained popularity in 1930 but even as recently as the 1950s and 60s, breakfast would have been cooked eggs, fish or meat. Ready meals were limited to Vesta chicken supreme with boil in the bag rice which I recall with misery cooking on a primus stove while camping but would never have eaten at home. Takeaways meant fish and chips carried home wrapped in newspaper. Nowadays people think it’s normal to order by ‘phone and have any variety of fast food delivered to their door.

What’s really normal? For millions of years we were hunter gatherers eating only meat and low-glycemic index plants. Farming started around 10,000 years ago increasing consumption of grains. Intensive farming, processed food and chemical additives burgeoned after WWII. This is the blink of an eye in human history. We have not evolved to the modern diet; our bodies still want natural meat, fish and veg.

Top tip: Eat real food – that’s what’s normal for humans.

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What price meat?

Did you see Michael Mosely’s two part documentary on meat? The first part considered health and, at the risk of me massively over-simplifying an hour-long programme, seemed to conclude that eating fresh meat is fine but processed meat may increase your chance of cancer.

The second part considered environmental effects. This, I felt, focussed far too much on production of green house gasses and ignored other environmental impacts. The man at a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) in America cheerfully said his was the green way to raise cattle. He completely ignored the fact that his animals lived in a barren, grey wilderness reminiscent of a concentration camp. There was not a single plant, insect, butterfly, bee or bird to be seen. This is not my vision of green farming.

Any environmentally friendly, sustainable farming system needs to include protection of biodiversity and care for the land itself. Grass stabilises the land and prevents desertification, so grass and grazing animals naturally bring environmental benefits. The manure that the animals produce fertilizes the land so that it retains its nutrients. Contrast this with the CAFO animals whose dung is a problematic waste to be disposed of and whose food is corn grown using artificial fertilizers in a cycle that depletes that land and pollutes the water.

Large areas of some countries are given over to growing crops like corn and soy, in huge mono-culture farms, just for animal feed. The natural diet for cattle is grass. Corn and soy cause health problems for the animals and change the profile of the meat to higher omega 6 content and lower omega 3 so the meat is less good for us – there was no mention of this.

Take a look at www.sustainablefoodtrust.org/true-cost

Top tip: Buy grass-fed, local meat.