Fascinating watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (hereafter HFW) with his attempts to make the town of Axminster “free range” as far as chickens go – particularly when you read it in conjunction with the pieces in Monday’s and Tuesday’s Guardian by Michael Pollan (extracted from his new book In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating) about how rubbish our food is now.

Pollan’s thesis is very interesting: that the power of the food processing companies and the supermarkets has simply separated us from the way we ought to eat food, rather than just thrust “nutrition” into our mouths.

Pollan’s five rules of eating are simple:

  1. Don’t eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food
  2. because she would distrust all those extra “ingredients”

  3. Avoid food products that make health claims
    because only BigFoodProcessingCos can afford to get the trials done to be able to make such claims, which means it’ll be the sort of stuff inside that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise – see #1
  4. Get out of the supermarket
    because that’s where all the processed crap is
  5. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
    because that’s what we used to eat, in between the occasional animal
  6. Eat wild foods when you can
    like we used to…
  7. Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet
    because they’re pretty much indivisible
  8. Eat less
    you’ll live longer – studies show it. Even if it’s difficult:

    Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University in the US, once rigged up bowls of soup in a restaurant so they would automatically refill from the bottom. Those given the bottomless bowl ate 73% more soup than the subjects eating from an ordinary bowl; several ate as much as a two pints. When one of these hearty eaters was asked his opinion of the soup, he said: “It’s pretty good, and it’s pretty filling.” Indeed.

  9. Eat meals

    Americans have added to the traditional big three “eating occasions” – breakfast, lunch and dinner – an as-yet-untitled fourth that lasts all day long: the constant sipping and snacking while watching TV, driving, and so on. One study found that among 18- to 50-year-old Americans, roughly a fifth of all eating now takes place in the car.

  10. Do all your eating at a table
    “No, a desk is not a table”
  11. Try not to eat alone

    This is precisely why so much food marketing is designed to encourage us to eat in front of the TV or in the car: when we eat mindlessly and alone, we eat more.

  12. Cook – and, if you can, plant a garden
  13. To reclaim this much control over one’s food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts. And what these acts subvert is nutritionism: the belief that food is foremost about nutrition and nutrition is so complex that only experts and industry can possibly supply it.

    We’ve got chickens. They range about as freely as you can imagine. Their eggs are fantastic. (We’re not really into the eating them process though.)

    Personally, I think that if you were to heavily tax added sugar and salt used as an ingredient, you’d see prices of processed food rocket – and people would start eating much healthier food. (And making their own jam.)

    Interesting too how in HFW’s piece many of the supermarkets were scared of appearing in front of the cameras. Defending food processing is tough. The strange thing is that we’ve been here before, to some extent, with BSE. That turned out to be lethal. But still we go on…