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20/10/2009 14:09:00

Regular readers may have noticed that it has been a while since my last blog piece, and that I haven't uploaded as many links and resources as usual in the last few weeks. I must confess that I have had less time than usual to work on the site. My family and I have undertaken a large building project at our house, part of which involves fitting a ground source heat pump and therefore having all the floors ripped out for underfloor heating. We decided that it would be a good idea to move out of the house with our two children into a tent in the farmers field next door.


So in the first week of the summer holidays we put up an ENORMOUS tent, a gazebo to run as a kitchen, and began our long camping adventure. So far it has been a lot of fun, although not always easy and we should (hopefully) be back in a normal house by early November (it's getting a bit chilly at night now!) So I hope you'll all forgive me that over the last few weeks managing the kids getting to school, husband to work and numerous contractors, drillers and deliveries, I have had less time to devote to the site. Normal service will resume shortly I promise!


However that is not the subject of this blog piece, only the context for my argument. Because we have only had a camping stove, occasionally a BBQ (when the weather permitted) and sometimes a working microwave when the power was on, food service here has been a little erratic. I am still trying to cook from scratch when possible, especially as the garden is producing veg faster than I can eat it. But there have been far more takeaways and processed meals than normal - some microwave meals when the camping gas ran out, some packet pastas when time ran short, and more than the usual quantities of fish and chips.


What has been striking is that although I have eaten more or less the same portion sizes of food, about the same amount of chocolates and treats, and significantly less cakes than normal (no oven, no homemade cake) I have put on over half a stone and feel quite a lot less healthy. My digestion is all over the place, I am more tired for more of the time (although I accept that this may also be due to circumstance) and my husband is also feeling less fit at his sports activities. Simply upping our intake of processed foods and fast foods to about 30-40% has made a big difference to the way we feel in only 15 weeks. While I have long ago intellectually taken in the arguments about processed food being generally unhealthy, this is the first time in my life when I have had the unfortunate need to test the theory, and I'm quite surprised by the speed of the change.



This has been a major theme for investigative journalists over the last few years, and rightly so. As long ago as 2002 the acclaimed book Fast Food Nation set out the arguments for why our love of fast food is damaging our health and our planet. This has since been explored in a major drama-documentary of the same name which you can view trailers for here.And most of us are aware of Morgan Sperlock's fabulous 2004 documentary Supersize Me where Morgan switched to an all fast food diet and suffered shocking consequences.


But the less obvious, more insidious side of food processing is more rarely explored in the media, the everyday products which at the back of our minds we categorise as 'normal' foods, rather than processed foods. Products like cereal, bread, coffee, and milk. So I am very interested to see a new show on BBC called Jimmy's Food Factory where farmer Jimmy Docherty attempts to make common foods from scratch. His first programme this week covers breakfast - cereals and coffee.


For myself, I am looking forward to having a kitchen again, with a roof(!), walls, oven and worktop. The extra bit of processed food blubber around my middle will have to come off and will no doubt need quite a few weeks of eating healthy food and a bit of hard exercise with no builders to keep happy. But it has certainly brought home in emotional (rather than just logical) terms how difficult it must be to manage weight if you have no cooking skills and less understanding of savvy shopping and have to rely on these foods all the time. Don't get the impression I am saying that people are not responsible for their own food health. They are. But it's so easy to forget that the companies who pander to our love of convenience are only interested in the contents of our pockets, and don't care what size trousers those pockets are in.


I hope you will check out Jimmy's Food Factory and let me know what you think. And wish me luck for continued dry weather (she writes, as the first real rains of the month thunder on the tent roof) and speedy builders!


Some interesting related links:'s roundup of research on processed food and health risk. link


Junk Food Science's exploration of common ingredients in processed foods link


Interesting experiment where groups of rats were given the same calories but processed and unprocessed link



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