Healthy Eating, The Finns and Food Positivity

cropsListening to BBC Radio Four’s “The Food Programme” a few weeks ago, I was informed, for the first time of a truly amazing story, one which I feel compelled to share. The story is this; in the 1970s, Finland had the world’s highest rate of mortality for heart disease, its national diet was one of the unhealthiest on the planet, being almost entirely made up of meat and dairy products. However, today, through the pioneering efforts of a small group of scientists and legislators, the rate at which its people die from heart disease has been reduced by 60%.

Those tasked with tackling this problem, achieved success by galvanising a vast range of organisations, from national government to local housewives associations; they have involved educators, health care professionals, the media, producers and retailers. They understood that in order to truly change the way people think about food, every part of society must change. In addition, and what is so truly exciting about this story, the message that permeates every initiative and every individual piece of policy put forward is one of hope, optimism and positivity.

They did not preach about cutting back or cutting out. Instead the population was made to feel excited about new foods, healthier options were opened up to them and they were taught to broaden their horizons rather than merely give up the fats and sugars upon which they had become so wholly dependent.

Today, despite their unprecedented success dealing with heart disease, Finnish childhood obesity rates have remained stubbornly high. To combat this, Finland has rediscovered its optimistic nutritional message. An initiative now being rolled out across the country encourages children to question, play with and think about food in an entirely new way, as Bee Wilson describes in her new book, The First Bite. Children’s food education has become multi-sensory; they explore all aspects of ingredients from feel of a soft fluffy peach, to the spine-tinglingly sharp flavour of raw cranberries, to the bright jewel colours of beetroots and raspberries.

homegrown berries

This kind of attitude, it struck me, is one that is wholly lacking in British food culture. In schools, children are introduced to food by pie-chart style diagrams of “the perfect plate” or unceasing chants of “five-a-day”, and in the media, eating healthily is consistently linked to moderation or “self-control”. This is especially true of the healthy eating craze that has blown up in the last few years. Felicity Cloake, in her recent article on the #eatclean movement, depressingly hit the nail on the head when she wrote “what all of the various clean regimes have in common… is a hefty helping of self-denial”.

Whether its Gwyneth Paltrow telling you to cut out meat, fat, gluten, dairy, nightshades and pretty much anything edible from your diet or Deliciously Ella advising you to steer clear of “anything processed” (whatever that means), it seems that healthy food in the UK has become synonymous with restraint and restriction.

Around a quarter of the adult UK population are now obese and over half are overweight. For children the story is even more depressing, nearly 10% of those aged 4-5 are obese and this figure doubles by the time they reach the age of 10. We are in a horrifying situation and currently our only solution seems to be “just say no”. Any yet, when someone says to you, “you really shouldn’t have a second slice of cake”, doesn’t that just make you want to polish of the slice in one bite and shove the rest of the cake into their smug little face?

Telling people to cut down, cut out, steer clear of or control themselves is not a viable solution. We need to start educating about food in an exciting way, showing people the possibilities, offering delicious, colourful, interesting alternatives and options rather than restrictions at every turn. We need to learn to be a little bit more positive, a little bit more like Finland, after all they are the country that brought us saunas, a plethora of heavy metal bands and Angry Birds, they must know a thing or two.

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Sorry I haven’t been very active on the stratosphere lately. I have been busy turning twenty-one and trying to work out why, in England, we chose to channel all our resources into celebrating a birthday after which, nothing in particular happens. Yet the Americans choose not to celebrate the long awaited moment when at last their parched lips can taste the first legal drops of sweet alcoholic nectar, no they get their parents to spend thousands of dollars on a party when they are 16… madness!

Anyway this is a blog about food, not my fairly mediocre life so I will make it quick. Here is a summary of my birthday celebrations including food and most importantly drink!!

Birthdaysnaps

 

I had a smallish party at my house which included much merriment. The catering was done by Humdingers of Hoxton, we had delicious little canapés to start with, particularly good were mini scotch eggs served with piccalilli, mini haddock filled fishcakes and little morsels of soda bread topped with a sharp beetroot chutney and flakes of tea smoked salmon. The mushroom arancini (i.e. deep fried risotto balls) left a lot to be desired though, they were far too big for canapés and were a little bland. For mains we had rib eye steak with roasted vegetables and bernaise sauce. Steak and bernaise is one of my absolute favourites and it was very well done, if a little over done on the cooking side for me. Also the waiting staff weren’t really up to scratch meaning my dinner was cold! Having said this the food was all very nice and the chef was delightful, I would definitely use them again. Not least because of the fabulous cocktail waiter they brought with them who kept us drowning in gin for the whole night. His twist on a Tom Collins was honestly on of the best I have ever had and I drink a lot of gin (not in a victorian street walker way but still).

cake

 

Undoubtedly the biggest success was the cake from Lady Luck’s House of Cakes run by the lovely Stacey who is a friend of my sister’s. She makes the most amazing bespoke cakes, all by hand. The designs are amazing, her Pinterest is the ultimate food porn! I did think it might be a little bit style over substance as I don’t always love cakes with a lot of marzipan and decoration but it was unbelievable delicious, the cake itself was moist and fluffy and the marzipan was not overpowering as right underneath it was a seriously naughty layer of white chocolate ganache. Her cakes may seem a bit on the pricey side at £85 but, considering that catered desserts would normal cost around £3 per head and this cake easily serves 30, you are actually saving money.