Musing about food and diet

I love food. I was brought up in a home where we really enjoyed eating, aided and abetted by our having fairly good metabolisms. I learnt to cook at an early age: early dishes were concentrated around potatoes, chillies, eggs and onions, all of which i still love. Over the years I’ve learnt to experiment more and more, and today I’d feel confident about cooking most things. With some glaring exceptions, of course. I couldn’t cook pasta to save my life, just never been interested; and the same goes for most puddings or desserts. That’s a bit strange I know, I can’t quite figure out why: I enjoy eating pasta, I enjoy eating puddings, it’s just something about them that makes me not enjoy cooking them. So I don’t.

The years have been kind to me; I’ve had a good constitution and largely been well; I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to travel and sample foods from many nations; and I’ve been able to afford to go to many restaurants and meet many chefs, really engage them in conversation, learn from them. At least one of them, Richard Corrigan, I count as a personal and close friend; he is just such a fantastic cook and such a nice man. If you haven’t been to Lindsay House…… more of that later.

More recently, what with the heart attack last December, the weight loss that followed, the pharmacological and lifestyle responses needed, the weight gain that followed, I’ve been needing to think harder about weight and diet and nutrition. And in that frame of mind I came across this photoset:


I am told the photos are taken from a book called Hungry Planet: What The World Eats, which you can buy here. My thanks to the authors and photographers for making the set available. Really made me think about what I eat, above and beyond what nutritionists or dietitians have told me.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Musing about food and diet”

  1. If you REALLY want to think about what you eat, you would probably enjoy the analytical approach that Michael Pollan takes in THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA. Whether or not you read the book, Tim Flannery’s NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS piece is also very informative:

    Then, if you are interested in how an extended piece of expository text can be turned into narrative, you should check out the film that Richard Linklater made based on Eric Schlosser’s book FAST FOOD NATION (if you have the stomach for it):

  2. The standard deviation must be enormous here in terms of monetary value. More telling though, would be the calorific value and nutritional value of the foodstuffs. While western diets may cost us more, I’ve a feeling eastern diets provide a better balance.

  3. Clarence, glad to have been of service. I agree with you, we really have to learn how to use the web as a support resource, for things global as well as things local. I’m getting my guys to put presentations and demos on to YouTube, for similar reasons.

  4. The photoset gives a general overview of national diets and spend on food. What it doesn’t show is local differenes – in some cases, very local differences. I live in one of the most cosmopolitan areas of London with wide variations in wealth and, I suspect, diet. I can’t prove it, but I dare say you would get a similar variation in diet and spend in 15 local families, even in as small an area as the estate I live on.

  5. I’m sure there was an article in a Sunday paper a couple of years ago where they gathered and photographed the accumulated food that failies in different parts of the world used in a year. Maybe these are the photos!

    Very telling!

    What would probably be worst is if you could see the percentage wasted

  6. JP: Our relationship with food is way too complex to be reduced to anything manageable, or if you will pardon the pun, anything bite-sized, although the Hungry Planet book is very visually – and viscerally, to me – appealing.

    The formalisation of a socially constructed and highly personal set of preferences in tastes and components, into dietary guidelines does no favours to anybody seeking to enjoy a healthy relationship with food.

    I should know – I spent the last four years conducting every experiment on my own body with foods varying from Michelin starred fare to American ‘food court’ gunk in an attempt to verify some or more of the hypotheses abounding in food-and-health literature. All in an academic pursuit, of course, and the emerging things still manage to surprise me.

    (Link not the same as the comment on your Music and Politics post; this is another blog I write where food features in a very clinical and academic, though not exclusive, setting).


  7. Shefaly, I appreciate your points (particularly since they provide me with another data point supporting my arguments about our neglect of the social world); but I worry that anyone who draws conclusions from dietary experiments performed on his/her own body is in the same category as the man who acts as his own lawyer!

  8. Stephen:

    Clearly a PhD would not be awarded on the basis of experiments performed on my own body! :-)

    But it is worth trying to verify hypotheses postulated in the literature wherever one can get fresh data and understands and is honest about its limitations.

    It is not unheard of that scientists sometimes conduct experiments on themselves as well as on other subjects. In food related experiments, a true case of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is.. ;-)

    Some hypotheses can be tested on oneself, others cannot. Hopefully grounding in one’s field teaches one to distinguish between the two. The experiments were purely for my own interest and to see if some proposed outcomes held true and if not, why not. Which opened the door to many a wonderful conversations with other researchers.


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