PRO­CESSED FOOD ISN’T YOUR EN­EMY

An­thony Warner, our Hearst Big Book win­ner, ex­plains why de­mon­is­ing fac­tory-pro­duced meals is dan­ger­ously ir­ra­tional

Men's Health (UK) - - Agenda -

If there is one mat­ter on which al­most ev­ery food writer, cam­paigner and chef can agree, it is that eat­ing pro­cessed, fac­tory-pro­duced food is wrong. To main­tain max­i­mum health, we should fo­cus on whole­foods and ditch the man­u­fac­tured junk that has made us fat and sick. It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re a cleaneat­ing, New Age health blog­ger, a celebrity chef or a renowned, widely pub­lished re­searcher – the mes­sage is the same. The health­i­est op­tion is to eat “real” food.

And here is where I make my­self un­pop­u­lar. By vil­i­fy­ing man­u­fac­tured prod­ucts, we’re mak­ing ex­actly the same mis­take that un­der­lies ev­ery food fad 1 : we’re at­tempt­ing to clas­sify food as “good” and “bad” and, in do­ing so, dam­ag­ing our re­la­tion­ship with what we eat.

Pro­cessed foods are broadly de­fined as any food that has un­der­gone a process to al­ter its flavour, com­po­si­tion or shelf life. Yet such a def­i­ni­tion would en­com­pass a far wider va­ri­ety of foods than is com­monly ac­knowl­edged, many of which even the most self-righ­teous health blog­ger wouldn’t sug­gest we avoid. Pulses, beans, lentils, quinoa, rice, flour, gluten-free flour, milk, yo­gurt, pasta, olive oil, vir­gin co­conut oil, spices, dried herbs, chocolate, cous­cous – all of these are pro­cessed in some way.

The health-giv­ing prop­er­ties of the food we eat are de­ter­mined by their chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion, not by some mag­i­cal ori­gin story. There is no fairy dust of nat­u­ral­ness that makes home­cooked (or maybe “home-pro­cessed”) meals bet­ter for you than any made in a fac­tory. The key to im­prov­ing the qual­ity and health­ful­ness of the food that peo­ple eat lies in an en­gage­ment with food man­u­fac­tur­ers, not a re­jec­tion of them.

Food man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers have great power – far more than any celebrity chef – to im­prove peo­ple’s di­ets. They can of­fer sen­si­ble, re­al­is­tic so­lu­tions that fit into mod­ern lives. Although the in­dus­try should cer­tainly be held to ac­count for its trans­gres­sions, it would make my heart sing if, just once, a chef or cam­paigner com­mended it when it did some­thing pos­i­tive. I long for a time when cam­paign­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers can present a united front, happy to praise each other for jobs well done but free to hold each other re­spon­si­ble when disin­gen­u­ous claims are made. Imag­ine what a force for change this could be, of­fer­ing and en­dors­ing sen­si­ble so­lu­tions to im­prove peo­ple’s lives 2 .

Con­ve­nience foods are al­ready with us, thor­oughly in­te­grated into our lives, in­vig­o­rat­ing them, en­liven­ing them and al­low­ing us to live them to the full 3 . To re­ject them and the moder­nity they rep­re­sent is com­pletely un­re­al­is­tic. To at­tach guilt and shame to them – to make moral judge­ments about those who choose them – is a dan­ger­ous path. At best, it will cre­ate the sort of guilt cy­cle that pushes peo­ple to­wards neg­a­tive be­hav­iours. At worst, it will per­ma­nently dam­age our re­la­tion­ship with food.

“There is no fairy dust of nat­u­ral­ness that makes home-cooked meals bet­ter for you”

IN­DUS­TRI­ALLY PACKED WITH GOOD­NESS

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