Food for Thought
WE Brits mostly do as our government tells us, we obey the law, the majority of us pay our taxes and we don't block motorways. OK, so a few hundred got involved in riots last summer but they were the exception and ended up in prison. The French, on the other hand, are different.
During the Napoleonic Wars, we blockaded France and the population came close to starvation. All that was left to eat were fields of potatoes but the culinary elitist French refused to eat them because at that time, potatoes were used as cattle fodder.
Napoleon devised a cunning plan. Aware of his fellow citizens' contempt for authority and fondness for social unrest, he posted armed guards on potato fields, ostensibly to protect them from looting. Unable to resist any opportunity to challenge authority, the population plundered the fields, learnt to eat potatoes, survived the war and invented the French fry. Presumably we can blame them for obesity.
Maybe the time has come for us to adopt a little French attitude towards authority and challenge the rules government throws at us when it comes to our food. On your next trip to the supermarket, pick up a wedge of pre-packed cheese made using unpasteurised milk and check out the label, It carries a warning that babies, young people, pregnant people and old people shouldn't eat it.
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What's that about? Is it poisonous, will it kill us? Why are they allowed to sell it? No, it won't kill you, it's there because our masters, including people who run giant supermarkets want to fill your life with dire warnings of what will happen if you don't do as you're told.
The evidence doesn't stack up.. Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) is a delicious grainy-hard cheese we grate over pasta that is made using unpasteurised milk. In Italy, it is also the first solid food many nursing mothers give their young babies because it's easily digestible and full of protein and calcium to build young bones. According to our food police, this cheese could poison babies so how come it doesn't kill Italians?
Government should tell us why it is so intent on eliminating every possible risk from our lives while at the same time removing most of the fun that goes with it. I'm not advocating a riot but I feel it's time to challenge those in power to prove why we shouldn't eat certain foods when people in other countries appear to manage it quite safely.
At the 2011 World Cheese Awards, 55 out of 3,000 cheeses were awarded the top accolade of Supergold. More than half had been made using unpasteurised milk and a French cheese, a 12 month-old unpasteurised sheep's milk Ossau Iraty made by Fromagerie Agour was voted World Champion by a panel of experts from 12 different countries.
You'll find Ossau Iraty pre-packed in your local supermarket but it's not the real deal. The supermarket version is made using pasteurised milk, which means the rich, complex flavours from the milk are lost during cheese making. They don't want to kill babies and old people.
The real champion, if you're still tempted, is stocked in a good many farm shops and delis, including Charlie Turnbull's in Shaftesbury. It's a worthy World Champion so the next time you're in a good cheese shop, treat yourself to a wedge, whatever your age.
Authority is more concerned with cleanliness and safety in food than quality, taste and enjoyment. It prints traffic lights on food labels warning of high fat and is also suggesting fatty foods are banned from being advertised on television before the watershed. Young people mustn't get hooked on cheese but it's OK to gorge themselves obese on Big Macs.
Government and civil servants deal in extremes, they appear incapable of treading a sensible middle ground. They substitute salads for junk food in school lunches and are surprised when mothers turn up at the school gates with burgers and pizzas. They tell us we'll live longer if we eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day but when we finally get to a ripe old age, scare us to death with warnings that eating proper cheese is fatal
A decade ago, when Tony Blair was le grand fromage, he tried to create a French-style 'café society' by allowing pubs and clubs to stay open all night so we could enjoy a glass of wine whenever we wanted. The current lot are about to hike up the price of booze in an attempt to stop the entire population from binge drinking.
These days, I inhabit that twilight zone of free prescriptions, fuel allowances and subsidised rail travel and have been diagnosed as centrally obese, (it's what used to be called a middle-aged spread) which clearly means I'm old and fat and it's time I ditched proper cheese in favour of tasteless reduced fat versions made using pasteurised milk. That's something to look forward to.
In conversation a few years back with celebrated west London butcher, David Lidgate, he lamented this prescriptive attitude governments adopt towards food. "Their intention is to eliminate all risk from everything we eat and drink," he said. "But they don't seem to realise that life itself is the greatest risk of all - no one survives it."
So if Government is serious about eliminating every single risk, it will need to place a health warning on the very act of procreation itself. After all, it's already banned from TV before the watershed and they certainly wouldn't want us doing that five times day, would they? The French, of course, would take no notice.
Bob Farrand, The Guild of Fine Food.