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Author: Diana Milne
Title: Food ... or is it Nutrition (?)

Do the British know what nutrition is?

They are notoriously fickle about food. The vital aspect has always been cheapness, and it is well known that we are unwilling to spend as high a proportion of our income on food as people in many other countries.

This probably explains why, although supermarkets came to France, and possibly Italy before Britain, they have not achieved anything like the dominance they have in Britain, and one can still find abroad the small shops which make things on the premises and where there is a reasonable chance of eating local produce in the restaurants.

The fatigue and stress from our long working hours is mitigated by snacking in front of the TV with readymade meals, rather than the serving of home cooked meals round a family table, well thought out the previous weekend. And it is getting worse!

According to last Sunday's paper, there has been a phenomenal increase in the sales of readymade meals over the last year.

Strangely, every weekend paper now has a feature on 'nutrition', where the emphasis is always on supplements of various sorts (once called vitamin pills), so the average reader can continue to snack on 'junk' foods available at every takeaway, confident that they are looking after their health by taking supplements recommended in newspapers and magazines.

Who are these columnists?

No wonder the medical profession is worried. Should one assume that everyone has the same requirement for a particular measure of a particular mineral? In most people's anxiety and hypochondria this point is overlooked, and vitamins or supplements become our insurance scheme for healthy living, surviving old age and possible illness.

With increasing recognition of the poor nutrition of these meals, scientists have a ready audience for the researches that isolate a particular mineral or vitamin found in a particular item. The media are ready collaborators, and every few days is featuring something claimed to be vital to our health or for warding off disease. A friend whose knowledge and opinions I respect informed me recently that three (or is it four) brazil nuts a day will give you all the selenium you need.

Somehow or other the human race has survived for many centuries, and the generation that grew up during the Second World War, having mostly overcome the overcrowded housing conditions of industrialization that created the bad health of the early twentieth century, and with a wartime simple and Spartan diet have had a strong and healthy existence. Their children are the ones who should have benefited from this good inheritance, yet they are the ones overburdened by the fatigue and stress of the increased pace of life and long working hours, who resort to the oversalted and over -sugared ready made meals, while their children - the grandchildren of the war years - succumb to junk food lunches and obesity.

But there is an alternative.
The mantra of the Nature Cure movement is:-

"wholesome, natural, fresh"

And in these days of industrial food, I would add "and knowing the source of as much of your food as possible." Of course, the simplest way to know the source of one's food and to obtain it as "wholesome, natural, fresh" is to grow it. Strangely, that has never seemed very important to the average nature cure practitioner (this British puritan attitude to food and enjoyment again?), and although they may say that making a living takes up all their time, the fact remains that growing things and contact with the soil which is the fountain of life, provides the relaxation and spiritual renewal that over -stressed people require.

Funnily enough, the scientists who claimed broccoli provided important qualities for our health, have now come up with beetroot. We do not hear much of the old saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", but all these things can be grown ourselves with little trouble, helped by the modern conveniences like plastic plugs for raising the plants, and cloches for bringing them on. The general medical consensus is that diets should be high in fruit and vegetables, without warning people that the average unblemished apple contains a cocktail of chemicals, as do carrots and most supermarket produce. Even items starting out as organic can become contaminated by the need for shelf life and visual attractiveness.

The average middleclass home is a house (nowadays mostly detached) with garden ground, usually a sterile affair with terrace, lawn and bushes. Thankfully, there are now a number of good organic gardener writers and TV contributors who are showing us how these sterile adjuncts to the house can become vibrant and attractive producers of delicious produce.

It is not just the basic nutritional value of fresh, wholesome fruit and vegetables from our gardens, but the very positive emotions experienced by picking and sharing a plate of raspberries fresh from your (organic) garden, or the flavour of parsley pesto accompanying the courgettes. This aids digestion and gives one a feeling of exhilaration and gratitude for nature's bounty.

To hell with mineral supplements!