Friday, 6 July 2012

Stop a taking the pizza

Hands up all of you who noticed a little story that created a minor furore this week, about how someone has finally developed a nutritionally-balanced pizza.


Pizza can be part of a healthy diet, claimed Prof Mike Lean (get that name), who is the chair of human nutrition at Glasgow University and a consultant physician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

His newly-designed pizza bases are flecked with seaweed – because it’s a low-sodium seasoning and also provides, iron, iodine and vitamin B12 – and everything else is beautifully calculated to take the stress out of trying to get your five a day and the right levels of protein and calcium and fat and whatever ...

Because that is really, really hard.

Apparently, he’s now on the case working on a  'nutritionally-balanced ' curry – an obviously unsound dish, particularly if of the veggie variety.

What’s annoying is that there is nothing inherently ‘unbalanced’ or ‘unhealthy’ about pizza – or curry – for that matter.

Take a real Italian pizza – or the glories of a Provençal pissaladière, with it’s topping of gently and slowly stewed onions, flecked with fresh thyme, topped with a lattice of anchovies and dotted with black olives.

Or the version to be found in pays Catalan, where the onions are replaced by tomatoes (see the picture).

None of these are ‘unhealthy’ or ‘nutritionally unbalanced’.

But the chances are that, if you eat them, you’ll be eating them fresh – made in the home or by a baker (as were the ones in the picture). The latter two in particular do not hail from a part of the world where they are struggling against massively rising obesity, chronic heart disease and shortened lifespans.

Mediterranean diet, anyone?

So how about if we just stopped eating processed food?

But here’s the thing. The prof has not been working alone, but in conjunction with Donald Maclean, the founder of a company called Eat Balanced.

What he’s aiming to sell, through supermarkets, is yet more processed food.

They will be more expensive than most frozen ones but cheaper than most fresh ones, apparently.

While I have no opposition to people making money, why not just make your own?

To get an idea on price, a 300g frozen cheese and tomato pizza from Waitrose’s Essential range comes in at £1.84. It’s remarkably clean in terms of ingredients, although it includes both mozzarella and Cheddar.

How about just the former, with tomatoes and a few shredded basil leaves on top?

Since you’d need at least two of those to feed a family (more like one each, I’d suggest) it’s nowhere near as cheap as it looks at first glance.

To make your own pizza is far from difficult. There’s a basic base recipe here.

If we glance back at Ocado, then flour could be had for about 50p (this will do four individual pizzas or two large ones), then 69p for a 400g tin of Essential tinned tomatoes (in their own juice and with no added salt or sugar – and 100g per person is one of your five), a 150g ball of mozzarella for £1.40 and a packet of basil for 89p.

That’s £3.48. The other bits for the base are not going to add much, but let’s round it up to £4.

That’s £4 for four people – a pound a person. It comes in a little more the cost of two of those frozen pizzas. And it’s fresh and you’re in control of the ingredients.

And it’s probably cheaper than the ‘nutritionally-balanced’ versions will be.

Now let’s assume that the motives of bother the professor and the entrepreneur are essentially good. Isn’t the best solution to the rising obesity crisis grounded in (somehow) getting people to eat properly – and that includes cooking from fresh, not simply substituting one processed product for another?

This is just plastering over a crack or two. And it seems highly dubious to suppose that such products, being more expensive that the cheapest available, will therefore really appeal to the people who perhaps need most help.

I know it’s not easy cooking when you don’t feel you have any skills, but you can learn. And there are people out there who can help you – like Shirley Southworth in Wigan.

But that brings us neatly to another issue: how do you educate children to eat well?

Well, you start at school. You start, at a minimum, by giving pupils good school meals. Proper food – not the infamous turkey twizzlers.

Unfortunately, this is not what secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, wants.

Nope. After years of assorted reports saying more change is required (some progress was made on Labour’s watch), he’s set in operation yet another report, to be carried out by two – wait for it – entrepreneurs who operate healthy takeaways.

Jamie Oliver is up in arms. Again. And entirely understandably.

Not least because Gove has already decided that, in his beloved academy schools (something else we have Labour to thank for starting), they all need a Bible with a special introduction by himself,  but nationwide nutritional standards need to apply.

They’d apparently reduce the choice of the headteacher.

The unwritten point is that the head might decided that cheap and crappy food is much more profitable – after all, what motive would be behind someone choosing not to implement basic nutritional guidelines?

Gove is, incidentally, an absolute hypocrite on matters of ‘choice’. If a school that he’s determined will become an academy doesn’t want to, he’ll just sack the board of governors and make it do what he wants.

He’s already done this at Archbishop Cranmer CofE Primary School in Taunton, Somerset, and at Downhills Primary School in Haringey, London.

Choice is only allowed when it agrees with what he wants.

For more on the school meals fiasco, food writer Matthew Fort has penned a fabulous piece that is well worth reading.

But is food education – via quality school dinners and proper lessons – actually important?

Here’s another reason.

A new e-book, called Six Weeks to OMG: Get skinnier than all your friends, is shooting up the charts. It’s penned by one Venice A Fulton. Who turns out to be British sports scientist and ‘celebrity personal trainer’ Paul Khanna. Presumably he used an alias because even he realised what a pile of exploitative shite it is.

This piece of crackpottery advises against eating fruit and suggests swapping broccoli for cola, missing breakfast and taking cold baths and showers.

The target audience is clear, as it’s written in language that young people will recognise from populist tat like The Only Way is Essex (and even talks of “your parents” in places), emphasises competition with friends and the speed of weight loss.

I’m deeply opposed to censorship – but how do people get to peddle such irresponsible and potentially damaging bull, which will, indeed, largely sell to people with low self-image in the first place?

All of these stories have one thing in common: making money at any cost and screw the underlying problems they’re supposedly aimed at sorting out.

What a bloody mess.

Oh: and seaweed has a place in food, but it's nowhere near a bleedin' pizza.

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