Favourites List : A bumper Food edition


1. Dieting doesn’t (usually) work

A fantastic TED Talk by Sandra Aamodt where she advocates “mindfulness” as a way to manage your weight, rather than dieting.

Diets don’t have very much reliability. Five years after a diet, most people have regained the weight. Forty percent of them have gained even more. If you think about this, the typical outcome of dieting is that you’re more likely to gain weight in the long run than to lose it.

2. Managing your “food environment” is more important than restricting calories

This seems counter-intuitive, given the decades of received wisdom about cutting calories, but some research shows that we may have confused cause & effect; it could be that it’s not overeating that causes us to get fat, rather getting fat that causes us to overeat.

As it turns out, many biological factors affect the storage of calories in fat cells, including genetics, levels of physical activity, sleep and stress. But one has an indisputably dominant role: the hormone insulin.

3. But avoiding junk food is incredibly hard, with good reason

A compelling, and disturbing, long read on how food manufacturers “engineer” foods to make them as addictive as possible, fuelling the obesity epidemic plaguing most of the world today. Turns out, you really “can’t just eat one”, because they design it in a way that makes it incredibly difficult to do so. If you’ve ever wondered why that six-pack of crisps you bought on a Tuesday evening disappeared overnight (despite your very best intentions), do read this.

It may be of some comfort that the largest manufacturers realise this may no longer be the best strategy (how will they grow once we all die of poor health?), and are belatedly making some efforts to develop (slightly) healthier snacks. If you’re like me, you’re likely to be cynical about Pepsi’s “efforts”. But in the podcast accompanying the piece above, John Seabrook makes the valid point that the Michael Pollans of the world, and all the free-range, organic, farm-to-table, movements are not going to solve the problems of obesity, or our coming problems of environmental degradation caused by spiralling meat consumption. While there is a space for these movements in raising awareness, any real solutions are going to come from the likes of companies like Pepsi. And from test-tube meat!

4. Of mothers who cook, and those that don’t

Adam Gopnik’s essay in last year’s food issue of the New Yorker is devoted to bread, and the women in his life. A lot of cooks I know, including me, stay away from bread. Somehow it’s never fascinated me — there seems to be too much that could go wrong, between the kneading, and the rising, and the resting. Besides I’ve always had excellent freshly-made bread easily available wherever I’ve lived. Gopnik had only one lacklustre attempt at baking bread before the weekend with his mother that inspired this essay.

As one project followed another, I realized why I had not been drawn to bread baking in the first place. Stovetop cooking is, at a first approximation, peeling and chopping onions and then crying; baking is mixing yeast and water with flour and then waiting. The difference between being a baker and being a cook is whether you find waiting or crying more objectionable.

He comes away from it with a renewed sense of guilt and appreciation for his mother, and for bread.

At the other end of the culinary spectrum is this lyrical essay by Tom Junod on his mother’s cooking. Unlike a typical essay about mothers cooking, which are paeans to childhood nostalgia and steamy kitchens, this one is about a childhood with a mother who couldn’t cook, being an adult who can, and everything in between. It is one of my favourite food-related essays of all time, so if there’s one piece you read this week make it this one.

5. Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables

I love this campaign by the French grocery chain, Intermarché, to celebrate all the misshapen fruit & veg that typically gets discarded. They brand it, sell it (at up to 30% cheaper than “normal”) and look good doing so. The UK throws away a whopping 7m tonnes of food and drink each year, most of which is perfectly edible. Rather surprisingly, most of this is also not thrown out at the factory stage, but rather in homes, and without even making it onto the plate. We spend our hard-earned money on buying bread, chicken, fresh vegetables etc, and yet the average UK household throws away six meals worth of food a week! If this sounds like you, here are some quick tips on how to reduce food wastage within your kitchen.

6. There are no foods you don’t like, only foods you don’t like yet

I will happily tuck into brain and bone marrow (things I grew up eating) but balk at eating frogs’ legs or pigs’ ears. I decided a long time ago that beets and avarakkai (broad beans) are yeuch, and I avoid green peas if I can help it. Most of the time though, the origins of our food biases are lost in the fog of childhood. We only know that as a six-year old we screwed up our nose at some dish, and vowed never to try it again. In this piece Frank Bruni looks at how many of our long-held dislikes change, with age, diet, context, or simply for no reason at all. I’m still not sure I’ll ever try frogs’ legs though.

The Favourites List is a somewhat irregular (usually weekly) roundup of things I’ve enjoyed reading. Expect some fiction, long-form writing, travel, food, technology. I usually link to free content, but occasionally to items behind a paywall (because I think paying for quality content is awesome!).

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