Has the surge in demand for quinoa been good for the Peruvians and Bolivians, whose staple diet depends on it? Yes, according to The Economist magazine. It considered the effects on the poor and concluded that raised incomes had offset higher prices. But there is a sting in the tail. While wealthier, diet-conscious consumers are cooking more dishes with this reputedly healthy grain, many Andean young people are turning instead to manufactured foods. They are following their infamously overweight Mexican cousins and growing in girth.
Whether it is quinoa, goji berries, chia seeds or any other ‘miracle food’, the truth about healthy eating is often lost. Seeds, grains, fruit and vegetables all have their benefits. Differences between them are marginal compared with the one overwhelming factor: whether we use fresh ingredients and cook for ourselves. The nutritional inadequacies of manufactured foods are becoming clearer to us all.
As such, I have been waiting for an Economist article on how we might re-structure our economies with a declining food-manufacturing base. If we all put aside our supermarket loaves, cakes, sauces and ready-meals, and instead bought fresh ingredients, mostly plant-based, what effect would that have on farming patterns and manufacturing employment?
Very many things need to change if we are to pursue this most fundamental influence on our health. Governments are trying to dampen supply of foods high in sugar and salt, but demand for fresh, plant-based foods is still in general decline.
People buy fancy kitchens and watch TV programmes about making food. What can we do together that might help us apply our growing enthusiasm for good food in our own kitchens? Both men and women will need to find pleasure in daily food preparation rather than perceive it as mundane. Families will want to eat around a table rather than slump on sofas in front of the TV. Friends will want to invite each other for dinner without fearing the humiliations of showing themselves up.
As a cultural, habitual and economic challenge, the question of diet is far from being won. Whatever else goes on in public policy, we can at least help each other to head in the right direction. Anyone for dinner tonight?