Monday, 29 December 2008

About-turn on fats

“Eat, drink and be merry,” says the Observer headline . Turns out it’s about a new healthy diet recommending full-fat foods. And about time too, I say.

The Observer piece is based on a new, best-selling American book called Secrets of Gorgeous: Hundreds of Ways to Live Well While Living It Up. In it the author – nutritionist Esther Blum - writes of the “disservice” the low-fat, fat-free culture has done to our bodies – particularly for women.

She says: “We have got ourselves to stage where we can’t comprehend that we need good fats to live a healthy life. We need fat to regulate our hormones. We need cholesterol to make oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

“We should be eating full-fat food… Saturated fats support bones, protect the liver, enhance the immune system, and absorb omega-3s. In moderation, they don’t cause heart disease but slow down the absorption of foods in your stomach making you feel fuller for longer.”

To which I say three cheers to Esther Blum. Readers of this column will know how we at GrassRoots Food feel about the low-fat, over-processed junk that’s all too often passed off as the healthy option. We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that saturated fats and the foods containing them – foods that human beings have eaten since we emerged as a species – are somehow bad for you.

It must be about the most effective con-job ever perpetrated by food manufacturers on a gullible population. It’s good to know that in popular American culture the penny has finally dropped. We’ve all been duped.

There’s just one proviso to all this, and it’s an important one. Those healthy saturated fats will come principally from animal foods. And the way those animals are reared and grown is crucial.

Whether it’s meat or dairy foods we’re talking about, the healthiest fats come from animals raised on pasture; animals grazing fresh, herb-rich grass. This is how most animals were raised when I was a kid back in the 1950s. In Britain – the nation with some of the world’s best grasslands – it’s the system we need to return to.

You’re probably thinking this’ll mean more expensive, elitist niche foods. Far from it. Pasture-fed foods – though healthier – are generally cheaper to produce than conventional foods, particularly if we enter another period of high oil prices. Most of today’s foods require copious amounts of oil to produce. Grassland and its products are solar-powered.

If you want the story of why we desperately need a new full-fat culture – and how we can achieve it in a new austerity age – read my book The Carbon Fields. As it says in the ad: It could change the way you think about food.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Squandering our future

Here are a couple of pictures I took in early December close to where I live in Somerset. It’s the sort of thing you can see all over Britain at this time of the year.

The hedge bank on the left has probably been in place for a century or more. But following the intense winter rain we’ve been getting lately it has started to collapse. The mud in the road isn’t just from the hedge. It also contains a lot of silt from the adjoining field. The soil is literally washing away. Along with it goes the land’s ability to grow food for future generations.

The cause of the damage is the condition of the field. It has been cultivated for a cereal crop which means that it has been left exposed to the elements. Had it gone into the winter as pasture, the soil would have been held in place by the grass roots. Soils under grass are able to retain a lot more moisture, so the chances are the winter deluge wouldn’t have burst through the hedge bank taking half the field with it.

A few days after I took my pictures the local council moved in with diggers, trucks and half a dozen staff. In a job that must have cost thousands, they installed a heavy-duty new drainage system to take away the torrents that regularly run off the fields nowadays. This quiet country lane has never needed drains like this before, but then the land was mostly under pasture.

If we’re serious about saving the planet we’re going to have to put a lot more of our farmland back into pasture. It’s the only way we in Britain are going to secure a truly sustainable food supply. As a bonus it’ll also give us healthier meat, eggs and dairy produce than we’ve enjoyed for year. After all, grass-fed is the new organic.