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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The other night The Original Soupwoman was browsing reviews of local restaurants for inspiration on which one try next, and she came across the entry for a local establishment. To her surprise, the reviews were positive overall, one reviewer even describing the food as “faultless”.

The Soupwoman’s initial reaction was put in her two cents worth, and share her and Inhouse Food Critic’s recent, much less impressive experience: how the sirloin steak was toughest Food Critic had ever had, Soupwoman’s burger unbelievably dry and the chips limp. Even the service did not save the day – why the sweet but somewhat clueless waitress thought it was  a good idea to to usher us to the very worst table in the whole, still practically empty restaurant (the one by the loos, so cramped that a couple would have to sit side by side, and enjoy watching the toilet traffic) is beyond comprehension.

Then she started to hesitate. To be fair, Food Critic had really enjoyed his starter,  and others had liked the food there, so perhaps it was only an accidental slip in the standards? And, more importantly, when the waitress had returned to ask if everything was alright, neither of them had not spoken up, and given the kitchen a chance to put things right.

And that is the question: why is it so difficult to give negative feedback in a restaurant? Is it just social code, that a proper well-mannered person just does not do it? Or are we afraid to offend the people who have access to the food we eat, out of sight?  Or is it because so often it does not make any difference, and you’ll only end up feeling like an ignorant fool or a nasty bitch?

Because Soupwoman has tried. For example once, in a well-known restaurant in Southampton’s Oxford Street, where she was served undercooked risotto. “But madam, it is supposed to be al dente,” was the condescending response. Yes. Soupwoman knows, but al dente does not mean the rice is still almost chalky. Another time was in a popular pub in Bursledon, where sauce in her dish was split and awful when it was served, and where she waited in vain for the waiter to return, as they are supposed to, to ask that very question. Eventually she had no choice but to eat it, as she was starving, but she did bring up the ruined sauce when the waiter eventually came to clear the table. He could not care less, disinterest ‘sorry about that’ was all she got.

Perhaps it is no wonder that we don’t bother, but simply go someplace else the next time. But perhaps we should. What do you think?

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£12 billion’s worth of food and drink is binned in Britain every year, a report reveals. A typical household throws away £480 (rising to around £680 with families with children ). On the top of it, the potential damage to the environment is significant. The greenhouse gas emissions alone are the equivalent of approx. 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Most discarded food ends up in landfill sites, where it emits methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

People often throw away perfectly edible food, just because they don’t understand the food labeling and the meaning of phrases such as “best before”, “use by” and “display until” – and because they do not trust their eyes and their noses when determining whether something is off or not. I still shudder when I remember a housemate binning a perfectly good red pepper just because she was not sure when she had bought it.

Leftovers are another issue. Surprisingly many people simply haven’t a clue what to do with them. But if you are a novice in the art of turning leftovers into another tasty and healthy meal – and saving a holiday’s worth of money per year in the process, not to mention decreasing your carbon footprint  – fear not. Yet again, the Internet comes to the rescue:  just click here, and you will find all information you need to save food, save money and save the world.

A word of warning, though. There are some leftovers that you must be careful with. Fish and shellfish, for example, go off really quickly even when refrigerated. And, surprisingly enough, cooked rice can be the culprit when the curse of Montezuma strikes, if it has not been handled properly.

However, the ultimate question remains: why do we not bother about educating ourselves about food labeling, learning how to put leftovers into a good use as well as planning our shopping lists and monitoring the contents of our fridges and cupboards to ensure food does not inadvertently expire?

I believe it is a matter of respect. Here in the prosperous ‘west’, food is perhaps too plentiful and too cheap. Discarding a quarter of a £2 chicken, or the second packet of something you bought from a buy one get one free offer does not feel like a big deal. Food waste is essentially what a friend of a friend describes as I-landsproblematik – where food is truly valued and scarce, it does not go to waste. We all remember how our mothers tried to guilt us into eating something we didn’t particularly fancy by talking about those starving children in Africa, but perhaps it merely numbed us to the reality that food really is something that we should be thankful for?

One might say the authorities who arrested 25 students because of a food fight were on the right track, even though they may have done it for the wrong reasons. Disrespectful waste of food – whether in form of adolescent pranks or through general disinterest – is not ‘nothing’ and it should not be shrugged off.

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In July, FSA released the results of a report claiming that the nutritional benefits of organic food compared to their conventional counterparts do not have a real impact on public health.

This study has received both praise and criticism, some finding that it proves organic food to be just a trendy fad, others criticizing both its methods and conclusions, pointing out, for example, that it completely ignores the issue of pesticides and other chemical residues.

I merely shrugged.

As far as I am concerned, the FSA missed the point. For me, the better nutritional values – which even the FSA can’t deny despite their efforts – are a bonus, the fair-trade sugar icing on the organic carrot cake.

5 Reasons to Buy Organic Food

1. Environment.
Organic farming encourages balance and biodiversity. Avoiding the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides means wildlife can flourish, and it also reduces pollution in the soil, waterways and the food chain. Moreover, organic farming has a lower carbon footprint, because it does not rely on agrochemicals, which use fossil fuel in their production.

2.  Animal welfare.
Organic farming promotes ethical treatment of animals. The animals range freely outdoors, they are fed on a natural diet and given proper veterinary treatment. Animals are allowed to mature naturally so they do not suffer the health problems associated with accelerated growth.

3. Fight the power!
Organic farming reduces dependence on large agrochemical companies, whose primary concern is to make profits rather than work well, fairly and responsibly in the global community.

4. Health.
Not having been laced with pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals, organic food reduces the amount of chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives.

5. Community.
Organic farming supports the rural economy because it is more labour intensive. In addition, farm workers are not exposed to agricultural chemicals.

If you get your organic produce via a box scheme (such as Abel&Cole, Riverford), there are other benefits too. For example, they use less energy by focusing on seasonal foods, by sourcing them locally whenever possible and by collecting from farms and delivering to their customers on fixed days.  They also keep waste down by using minimum packaging and collecting it for reuse.

All in all, not bad for a fashionable gimmick. Not bad at all.

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Warning! This post contains some science!

Recently, the Finnish consumer advice magazine Kuluttaja published a study concluding that low and reduced fat margarines and vegetable oil spreads are not necessarily as healthy as they are made out to be. The study pointed out that the right balance of different types of fatty acids is more important than the amount of fat – the healthiest options contained at least 60% fat, surpassing the products containing as little as 30–40% fat.

Interestingly, the study did not include any butter-based spreads. It seems that it is considered an unchallengeable received wisdom that butter is bad for you. Full stop.

For a long time, I have simply refused to touch those so-called “healthy” spreads. For one thing, why spoil the taste of delicious fresh bread with something that tastes plasticky and leaves an unpleasant, glutinous film on your palate? In addition, the lists of ingredients are far too long, containing far too many E numbers to my liking. Eventually, I got fed up with all margarines and vegetable oil spreads, not just the high-tech ones.

Fortunately, a knowledgable co-worker came to the rescue. She told me about home-made “lighter butter” that her father’s cardiologist had recommended him.

Better Butter

Ingredients
100g (1 part) unsalted butter, room temperature
100g/110ml (1 part) high quality vegetable oil
100ml (1 part) water, boiled and cooled

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a hand mixer. Pour in a thoroughly cleaned container, cover with lid and refrigerate. If you made a large batch, divide between small plastic containers with lids and put the extra ones in the freezer. The spread is a bit runny to start with, but it will set.

If you want to use salt, dissolve it in the water before it has cooled. A half a teaspoon in the above batch means about 0.8%. You can also use herbs, garlic, chili – whatever you fancy.

The beauty of this Better Butter is that a) it tastes like butter, b) it is spreadable straight out of the fridge, and c) you know exactly what is in it. The fat content and the balance of fatty acids aren’t half bad, either.

Calories Total fat Saturated Unsaturated
100g butter 725.0 81.3 52.8 28.5
100g/110ml rapeseed oil 884.0 100.0 5.7 94.3
100g/100ml water 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 1609.0 181.3 58.5 122.8
Per 100g 536.3 60.4 19.5 40.9
% of total fat 32.3 67.7

In a balanced diet, unsaturated fat should account for at least two-thirds of all fat intake, and this is achieved in Better Butter. QED: there is a way to be reasonably health-conscious and still enjoy your pain Poilâne or tuplasti kursulainen rye bread (the latter being the best bread in the world) with butter! Bliss…

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