Thursday, 28 July 2011

Taking The Test

The genetic phenomenon has always been rife in healthcare, but a relatively new process known as taking the test is fast becoming a standard procedure. It's not just any old test either. No paper, pens, or mental prowess are required, just a swab of cells on a cotton bud or a drop of blood. It's available online and via the NHS if you're interested. Hypochondriacs may think this a blessing, (and I count myself as one), but it's not a test to undergo lightly, nor a contest that can be won. Testing your genes is incredible you may think, look how far science has come. Why wouldn't you not want to know your genetical risks? Primarily because the results may not be to your liking. The question that's causing a stir is not should I test my genes?, but is knowing better than not knowing?

The Beeb recently highlighted this screening service in two thought provoking documentaries. They followed individuals weighing it up and undergoing the full process. Trained health professionals provided pre and post test support. Despite these docs well put togetherness, I found myself directing angry outbursts at the TV. Annoyed at the anguish people put themselves through deciding whether or not to take the test, and then facing the inevitable after-affects. The science equivalent to Mystic Meg, predict your genetic fate so you can take precautions. This is serious pioneering stuff isn't it? What I think it boils down to is this: we're basically a bunch of control freaks. Our genetic constitution is just a new area to conquer and control.

Am I being too pragmatic? Yes, but rightly so. I question the benefits of taking the test. Does it really reduce the risk of disease? It's what we're led to believe. There's no doubt it increases mental insanity. Test positive for a genetic spelling mistake and your quality of life is in jeopardy. Do you take drastic action or try to live with the knowledge? Many women with the BRAC gene have selected the former. The female sex is prepared or forced to mutilate itself at any cost, or at least that's how it comes across. Having the gene is a risk, but it's not a guarantee. Nor does removing the breasts and ovaries necessarily lessen the probability. Genes are complex cells which do not always express as they are decreed. There is no single cause to disease. It's more like a traffic jam, with cars blocking the lane and the signal out of sync with the traffic. A combination of factors are ultimately to blame.

If offered would you take the test? I think I'd politely decline. Knowledge we have come to assume is power, but it can also cause unnecessary pain.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Use Your Loaf

For the past few weeks I've been following Waitrose's Love Life campaign with interest. Unable to make up my mind whether to champion or boycott it. A marmite affair, but unfortunately not so clear-cut. I watched the ad, read what's been said in the press, (some of it admittedly biased), and mulled over the facts. Using my loaf was not substantial enough to convert the info to nutrients. The marmite debate still proved easier, until I hit on a great idea – I needed to sample the goods!

According to Waitrose's website, this brand new range is based on a simple philosophy: Nutritious food can taste great and should be enjoyed. Developed with the expertise of in-house nutritionists and award-winning chefs Love Life aims to use wholefood ingredients and cut down on saturated fats, salt and sugar. I can't dispute that, except to say that perhaps they're missing the point. Our problem today is that we're enjoying our food far too much! My experiment was short-lived. I got cross with the expense, despite the 25% off, as well as the limited availability in some stores to meet my needs. I also couldn't survive on the ready-made portion supplied. Slender I might be, but I don't eat averagely, nor do I snack in-between meals. Super sizing the serving an option I weighed up. A full tank and fat hole in my wallet then guaranteed, however I didn't feel it was healthy to proceed. Ironically the food I did try was good. The quality that you come to expect from Waitrose. I enjoyed the fruits, nuts and seeds on my cereal, and the oriental coleslaw I mistakenly bought assuming it was vegetarian. It was reduced and the label covered up the ingredients. The lime-chilli dressing it turned out contained fish, but luckily as it was in a separate pot I was saved from pinching a colleague's ryvita. The vegetable paella cooked well and was tasty, but it was a light bite that wasn't enough to satisfy the growling wolf in my belly.

Nutritionally balanced food to fall in love with they say. That might be so, but are we in danger of giving too much personal responsibility away? Losing our loaf figuratively. The message too mixed for me. Indulge in this food, it's healthy or learn how to cook with our free recipes. Waitrose, which one is it to be? Love Life is a brand marketed cleverly. Why can't food education be key? Do we really need another range of goods to exhort this? Use your own loaf, but Love Life wants the best of both it seems to me.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Soy Has Fixed It For You, And You and You...

Hello readers, welcome to Heather's blog quiz. Question one: Which BBC show do these lyrics refer to? “Your letter was only the start of it. One letter and now you're a part of it. Now you've done it...” No, I'll give you a clue. A dodgy male presenter, (“Now then, now then”), dressed in a shell-suit with a fat cigar. You got it! Jimmy Savile of Jim'll Fix It fame. The show that “fixed it” for the wishes of viewers to come true. Question Two: Name the theme tune's connection to soy? Any ideas? The affiliation might not be clear right away. As Quiz Master, I will now reveal the train of thought that led to this conclusion.

In May, Waitrose was the first UK supermarket to commit to the soya pledge. The aim: To only use soya from a responsible certified source, with the hope of reaching 100 per cent in their own-label products by December 2015. This action is commendable, hence the “fix it” lyrics above, but is it enough? The fat cats already slapping themselves on the back, their cigar smoke hanging heavy in the air. A step forward, albeit along a wobbly line.

It is a good initiative. Standards of soy production do need to be improved in order to prevent the unnecessary consequence; the further depletion of natural regions all over the world. However, this initiative somehow neglects the real cause. It glossies over the fact that the majority of soya is used as livestock feed. Farmers using many tonnes per year to feed animals destined to be hung, drawn and quartered, and lined up on supermarket shelves. The myth that soya only feeds vegetarians deflated, and proof it's an excellent source of protein. This being the case, shouldn't we lessen demand and feed soya to people instead? This, you could claim, is the vegetarian's argument. I'm no statistician, but even I can see it wouldn't take as many tonnes of this bean to feed the entire world.

I hasten to add vegetarianism in its modernity is not the solution either. It could be said soya-chomping veggies are a small part of the problem too. The movement has a new king with the name of Soya. As a consequence, we are facing a dilemma in two parts. 1) Should we rely on soya as our main dietary source of protein? 2) In consuming soya, aren't we supporting the meat industry, from factory farming to somebody else's plate? New veggies and meat-reducers missing out on an education: how to sustain themselves without this form of protein. From a dietary point of view, it's not healthy to rely on one source and not explore other plant based alternatives. My golden rule put simply is rotate. Mix it up, experiment, and never eat the same main meal two days in a row.

Responsible soy might fix it for you to embrace a different lifestyle, but this is just the start. All choices make an impact and cannot always be guilt-free. We're all part of the chain.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A Fine Kettle Of Fish

The times they are a-changin. As I began to type, this sentence just popped into my head out of nowhere. I momentarily pause to remember who said this? Creases appearing on my forehead, but it doesn't help bring forth the answer. Yes, I'll probably Google it later, but for now it seems fitting when I'm poised to discuss the vegetarian movement. The definitions of being a veggie are changing, which for me is proving rather unsettling.

The future of food is modifying our landscape, but I hesitate to claim it's for the better. The same is true too of the vegetarian movement. Yes, we need to re-think our food, but I'm not sure I agree with the meat-free and fish-less strategy. Meat-shaped flavoured patties, chicken-style chunks, mock mince, and ready-made meals have taken over the veggie cook-chill cabinet. Be a veggie and still enjoy the taste/texture of meat. You won't even notice the difference. It tastes just like the real thing! These are some of the statements you might hear said. Has being veggie ultimately come down to consuming packaged, meat-free foods? These products have their place. Yes, they help to reduce animal suffering and global environmental issues, but I hate to think these now define vegetarianism. I'm not going to lie. I do consume meat-free products if I'm aware I haven't met my protein quota, but it's rare. A block of tofu usually my saviour. I confess I had an inward whoop of delight when I saw Quorn's fish-less fingers and cakes. I read the ad, fish without the fish-in! and followed this with a groan. Aren't Quorn just cashing in on the lately concerned pescetarian market? New veggies often take a gradual route from reducing meat, to eating fish, then turning to meat-free alternatives. I like to keep-up-to-date to offer advice, so may test out the range for research purposes.

Overall, I'm concerned a modern vegetarian's reliance on this meat-free and fish-less life of convenience could be unhealthy. As a collective group, I want us to actively promote a veg-full diet, and not switch to endorse emulated meat. The term “veggie” to me implies just that - plenty of veg, as well as beans and lentils. A plate of meat-free and two veg doesn't quite live up to this label. We're in a fine kettle of fish as they say. Another classification coming our way. Let's have the debate with the right to reply. All those in favour say aye.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

What If Reading The Small Print Is Not Enough?

As any vegetarian or vegan will tell you in choosing this life you have to develop a fine art of reading labels. Unless a product's been stamped with the Veg Soc Approved logo, its contents can be at best dubious and require careful scrutiny. This adds precious time to the weekly shop. Not so much supermarket sweep, but a squinting contest of peering at the back of tinned cans and packets. Is it any surprise I'm now short-sighted!

After years of practice, I thought I had this honed this essential skill, but I've recently discovered a loophole. Some food manufacturers it seems are employing a profits-to-charity technique. This should makes us feel extra good about buying, but what if the charity is not suitable for vegetarians? I'll give you an example. Red Lion Foods, a producer of cooked meats, tinned foods, including vegetable soup, bread, dairy and rice, donates its post-tax profits to support recovering soldiers. One of its beneficiaries is Fishing For Forces. A charity providing therapeutic fishing days for soldiers returning from operational duty. I don't have a problem supporting our forces or those recovering from war injuries, but as a veggie I don't want my money to go towards such activities. I found this minor detail out through media publicity, not from the label on their goods.

You may think I'm being petty, but am I? It depends on your principles. For some it will be an issue. Judging products by ingredients for their suitability has been usurped. I personally don't want my purchases to be associated with anything I regard as unnecessary animal cruelty. Buy Veg Soc Approved products only you might argue, but this is easier said than done, and no this isn't a swipe at the society. Products approved are not 100% accessible in all areas. It's like playing a game of hide and seek, or as I've renamed it high and low. A joy to find a product hidden in an most inconvenient spot along the in-store shelves.

This charity initiative poses an unseen threat. Products, such as those mentioned above, should come stamped with a Warning: Post-tax profits donated to not suitable for vegetarian causes. Veggies buyers, be aware and research your food!