Food and Medicine

25 Feb

James Martin, TV chef, is quite media friendly. He blethers on about being from Yorkshire, cooking with lots of butter and always having big portions because (yawn yawn) he’s from the north. I suppose he has what is known as the common touch.

Recently, Mr Martin embarked on a mission to improve the food at a Scarborough hospital. It was covered by the BBC over a couple of programmes and, with the TV cameras and his celebrity status, he managed to improve a quite dispirited kitchen which had seemingly had its hands tied by budget considerations and a ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ mentality.  Mr Martin had his own personal reasons for getting involved – his grandmother and culinary inspiration was hospitalized and forced (not force-fed) to eat the kind of slop served up in the majority of our most beloved institutions in this country. From both a food lover’s and a general health perspective, I can clearly see that this must have been distressing.

All involved in the project should be praised for their hard work in trying to do the right thing. Some achievements were to be commended, such as the removal of additives from many of the ingredients used in the kitchen and the sourcing of ingredients from local independent suppliers. So far, so good. However, I can’t help feeling JM was the wrong man for the job.  Not because I doubt his drive or cooking skills but because I’m not sure of his credentials as a nutritionist. He is not convincing in his knowledge and comes across as someone who just repeats what he’s heard. Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps we all do this. But perhaps the BBC needed to give him a sidekick with a bit of knowledge. After all, sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce probably should not be served up to people ill enough to have to stay any length of time on a hospital ward. I don’t have a problem with the dish as such, but the high levels of sugar and processed flour cannot be an aid to rehabilitation.

However, this is not about JM or the food he likes to cook (Fair play to him for getting up and doing something). My main beef is the way in which people supplying food to the patients are more or less stating that food considerations are way down at the bottom of the list and are not linked in any way to medicine. It irks me that food is not seen as medicinal or as an essential part of the healing process by the NHS. Why not? This is certainly not the case in all countries. A discussion with many parts of the Asian continent could verify this. A while back I myself was in the NHS being interviewed for one reason or another and one of the questions I was asked was if I had a healthy diet. I asked them what they considered to be a healthy diet and was informed that they couldn’t tell me what was healthy or what might be suitable for someone in my situation. I got the impression that the question was just something off a tick list and not really that relevant to them.

In my mind, there is no doubt that food is medicine.  I’m firmly of the belief that the biggest health problems facing the western world are our addictions to sugar and processed carbohydrates such as flour. Seeing a sticky toffee pudding on a radical new hospital menu, worries me to say the least – one day it could be my grandmother in that hospital. I don’t doubt that countless conditions and the general health of the nation could be improved immeasurably if we only knew how to eat, what to eat and what we have been eating. The savings to the nation could be immense. Generally, food programmes tend to focus on eating ‘well’ rather than truly healthily and while Scarborough and the Royal Brompton may have done a great job in turning around their kitchens, I fear that the BBC missed an opportunity to highlight a rather bigger issue.

Or is that just me?

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2 Responses to “Food and Medicine”

  1. Vinny Grette February 25, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    I too like to promote “good” food, where good = healthy. But I don’t like to come right out and call certain foods healthy… after all, look what that did to Jamie Oliver – he now has a an “I hate Jamie Oliver” page on Facebook!

    • mepoorplums February 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      I can understand why an individual might not want to come out and make difficult to justify claims about what is healthy food. I can’t understand why the powers that be can’t come out and condemn what is clearly unhealthy in the face of the evidence available. Well, perhaps I can … voters..pharmaceutical companies…diet industry…lack of people wanting to listen… Perhaps I’d like to see more independent government-funded research into nutrition.

      I’m sure Mr Oliver isn’t losing sleep over the Facebook page. I seem to remember other anti-Oliver websites in the past. Lots of references to the size of his tongue!

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