Sunday, 14 November 2010

Judging too harshly?

Google is your friend. So with that in mind, a quick search was made today for 'piping profiteroles' to see just how you get the best shape possible. But after watching a brief video of Gordon Ramsay making the little beauties, I have to say that I probably don't need to be too worried about the look and shape of my own first efforts yesterday. Indeed, I'm probably even more chuffed now. If it's good enough for Gordon, it most certainly should be good enough for me.

In a very general post today (which means that, if you persist and read through this, you'll get to more real foodie stuff), I also found myself wanting to highlight the news (I missed it yesterday) that McDonalds, Pepsi and assorted other companies are to be invited to advise the government on public health and nutrition etc.

Assuming it's accurate, I possibly was not alone in checking the date, but no, you haven't been in hibernation and it isn't 1 April.

Now, for the benefit of anyone who doesn't know me particularly well – and let's face it, this blog isn't really very old – I was hardly the biggest fan of the previous UK government. Iraq/Afghanistan and civil liberties in particular could easily get me going. As too could the way that, under the last government's watch, size/weight became more of a stigma than at any previous time. Being fat was sometimes like being a single mother under the previous Tory administration – you were a scapegoat for many other problems.

I can go back a decade at least to pointing this out in print and suggesting that the attitude of government (together with health professionals/groups and elements in the media) had effectively created a bullies' charter.

So the first question that occurs to me is: are there greater levels of obesity now than in previous years?

Well, on the basis of observation (and you might gather from my previous comments that I'm almost painfully aware about the subject), I'd say yes, there are. I'd also specifically say (and this is based on memory, not science) that I seem to be seeing more seriously overweight children around than when I was at school.

The next question is whether that's a problem. Well, on the basis of what the medical profession tells us (and the stats they employ), then yes it is, for health reasons. It will reduce life expectancy, particularly for those who are seriously obese when very young.

There are also the political and economic issues: will there be a large enough and healthy enough workforce to pay the taxes that pay for any government expenditure? What will the impact be on the cost of health care if many more people have, say, type 1 diabetes?

Okay, so there are problems. The next question is whether those problems are the concern of the state. Few people would not consider the economic health of a nation to be a concern for government – and therefore anything that has a substantial impact on the economic health of the nation.

And if one has a state health system, then few would not think that government should be involved in that, too. After all, that's partly a matter of democracy and democratic accountability.

To be quite clear – I don't know the answers and I don't pretend to. I think (as I hope I've made clear) that the previous government's approach to the issue was flawed (and that of health bodies and the media).

But inviting fast food outlets and supermarkets to consider the subject? It's so surreal that the jokes are already flying: Dracula to run blood banks; Fritzel to run pregnancy advice; Sutcliffe to run women's refuges. You get the drift: I couldn't personally think up another one (too busy being gobsmacked) so I've had to quote the efforts of others.

To begin with, private companies have one ultimate duty – and that's a legal obligation, not a matter of choice – to maximise profits for their shareholders.

Which is fine and dandy – but how can that square with the public health in general?

A few posts ago, I wrote about Stewart Lee Allen’s In the Devil’s Garden: a sinful history of forbidden food.

As I wrote then of the book: "He had already discussed fast food, the culture of not cooking, of not sitting down to eat as a family, of TV dinners etc, and decided that such behaviours are not about pleasure, but quite the reverse, and are essentially part of a massive con by big business."

Allen quite clearly makes the point that people in the US have been 'trained' to think that time spent cooking and eating good food is time wasted. He states that, after all, it gets in the way of you spending time doing jobs you hate. I increasingly think that the same can be applied to the UK. Of course, it's not helped when few women (in particular) have the financial wherewithal to realistically be able to choose whether or not to work, particularly if they also want a family.

But as I also illustrated here, there is a con going on over the amount the good food costs, in both financial and time senses.

Can inviting poachers to become gamekeepers remotely change this?

One finds oneself asking further questions: we already know what privatisation did to school meals (just as we know what it did to hospital cleaning). Although many had campaigned on the issue for years (including the trade union UNISON, which organises in school kitchens), it took the celebrity glitter of TV chef Jamie Oliver to get anything at all done in recent years. And good for him for that.

But can we imagine what the input of supermarkets and fast food chains and such will be when discussion arise about school meals in future?

Okay – we can only "imagine" it at present, but I don't believe that you need to be a conspiracy theorist to see a conflict of interest here.

And so folks, for being really dedicated, here's today's foodie bit.

We were allowed to sleep late by the cats – and sleep late we really did. I'd ended up watching soft-classical musician AndrĂ© Rieu on Sky Arts until rather late, and then had a read in bed.

So we decided not to worry about lunch as such and simply get whatever we wanted. However, as of 4.23pm (now!) a pot is on the hob, cooking away.

I've gone for a rolled, boned shoulder of lamb this weekend. As per a recipe in my general French cookery book (the one that's been a Bible for some years now), I'm cooking it with carrots, onion, garlic, a bouquet garni (homemade and not a sachet), red wine from Roussilon, beef stock and some parsnip that I added off my own bat. Later, it will have a tin of haricot beans added. If I honestly believe that life is too short for one things, it's soaking pulses overnight and then cooking them for hours.

It'll take a while, but it'll still be an early dinner by our usual standards. And strangely enough, when reading Mark Kurlansky on salt, he had mentioned something that sounds exactly like this dish, and it's from Brittany. So there you go.

For anyone's who's interested:

Heat some butter and olive oil in a lidded casserole. Brown your boned, rolled shoulder of lamb in it and remove.

Pop in chopped onions, carrots (and parsnip, if you fancy my version – but keep the chunks decently large), plus four cloves of garlic, with each clove only peeled and halved, plus a bouquet garni. Sweat for around 10 minutes.

Add 250ml of red wine. De-glaze. Put the meat back in and add 250ml of beef stock. Bring to the boil, put the lid on, turn the heat right down, and cook for 1 and a1/2 to 2 hours. Check it – you know how you like your meat: and it's difficult to seriously overcook such a dish.

Then add a drained and rinsed tin of haricot beans – and cook for another 15-30 minutes.

Great stuff, with the lamb almost melting in the mouth.

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