What happened to real food?

Brodie Thomas
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oose season is upon us, and if you haven’t been lucky enough to get your moose licence this year, hopefully you’ve been lucky enough to receive a cardboard box from a friend filled with the good stuff.

Moose season is upon us, and if you haven’t been lucky enough to get your moose licence this year, hopefully you’ve been lucky enough to receive a cardboard box filled with the good stuff. Hopefully you’re pulling some giant carrots from the backyard plot to cook up with that moose meat as well.

Moose isn’t everyone’s favourite meat. There is the common complaint that it is too “gamey.” Moose from the Northern Peninsula have been described as “sprucey” by some, and those who make this claim go on to say the moose on the Northern Peninsula eat a lot of spruce, and naturally end up taking on the flavour.

In other words, moose are what they eat too.

Which begs the question: what the heck are we humans now that we’re eating so much refined and processed food?

There’s so much for sale in the grocery store that isn’t exactly food, as such. It’s refined ingredients assembled in factories. Have you ever read the label on non-dairy coffee creamer? There’s soy in there. Take a look at a soy plant sometime and ask yourself if you would want it in your coffee.

The problem is, it’s difficult for companies to make money from plain old food. That’s why our own province is so fixated on doing “secondary processing” in fish plants. The province doesn’t want you to just chop up the codfish and send it to market. They want you to cook it and add ingredients and flash freeze it. The phrase often used is “value added.”

Economically speaking there’s a bit of value added when you process food. You potentially create more jobs. You can charge more for processed food. You can package it and advertise it. You can print health claims on the front. But in truth there’s rarely nutritional value added when you take a perfectly good codfish and turn it into a microwave dinner or a fish stick.

In his 2008 book “In Defence of Food,” journalist Michael Pollan explores a lot of these ideas. He points out that our grandparents wouldn’t have recognized much of the stuff now found in the grocery store. Huge industries have grown up around breaking food down into basic parts, and then reassembling it for human consumption.

He also says that since the 1960s, nutritionists have been all hung up on certain parts of our food without looking at the big picture. Someone decided saturated fat was bad, so many people switched over to margarine from butter. It turned out that the hydrogenated oils in margarine were probably much worse for us.

Most food manufacturers have gotten rid of hydrogenated oils. Some brands even proudly announce on their labels that there are no hydrogenated oils in their product.

About ten years ago, a guy name Atkins got people thinking that bread was somehow bad for them. The 12 Apostles were eating it 2,000 years ago, but suddenly it’s making us fat.

Meanwhile the French have continued to eat foods rich in carbohydrates and saturated fat, all washed down with red wine. Statistically they’re healthier than the average American or Canadian. Nutritionists call it the French Paradox.

There’s nothing paradoxical about it. The French have continued to eat real food, while we in North America switched over to “foodlike substances” (as Pollan calls them) with health claims on the labels.

We have our own Newfoundland Paradox. Our elders ate so much salt meat and salt fish back in the day, and now live well into their 80s and 90s.

Pollan comes up with some simple rules to help people eat healthy. You may have heard the phrase: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The last part about “mostly plants” is sometimes difficult to swallow. Luckily, he notes lots of isolated communities ate diets rich in wild game and were perfectly healthy. So enjoy a big feed of moose meat sometime this fall, hopefully more than once. Know that it’s organic, low fat, and in all likelihood very good for you. Put some of those fresh local vegetables on the side.

And have some real cream in your tea after dinner. It can’t be any worse for you than that powdered or canned stuff.

Geographic location: Northern Peninsula, North America

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