sunday life: what are we meant to eat now?!

This week I declutter my eating

It’s not the most cheery question to pose, but it is an important one: What damages the planet more, walking to the shops or driving?

The answer, if you follow my ominous lead-in, is walking.

Author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life Chris Goodall sat down with a carbon-neutral abacus recently and found driving 4.8km emits 0.9kg of CO2. Walking, on the other hand, burns 180 calories. To replace these calories you need to eat 100g of beef, the production of which emits 3.6kg of CO2, or four times as much as driving.

Don’t eat meat? Even if you replace with milk, your carbon footprint is worse than driving. Oh, but you drink organic milk? Well, hold onto your hessian bag. Organic cows produce less milk, so their methane emissions per litre are higher.

Oh dear. It’s all depressingly unsatisfying and plain not right. Not least because it adds to the current malaise that tortures me so.

I call it Food Wash.

I bulge with food information. Poke me and it spills out like Vegemite through two VitaWeets.  Grapefruit at night will keep you awake, eggplant is not great if you have an acidic system,.. .and so on and on and on.

Food factoids bombard us, and most of it contradicts. Grains – good or bad? Even before midday and with protein? I have no bloody idea. Porridge – gluten-free or not? Depends whether you ask the question here or in the UK. A glass of red wine? Great? Or toxic?

It’s too much. And now we need to contend with the ethical and environmental factoids as well.

The only safe conclusion to be drawn is that everything we know about food is flat-out wrong. Indeed, the more we know, the less we know what to actually eat. And the more we’re Food Washed, the fatter and more nutritionally bankrupt we become.

My girlfriend Kerry illustrates her Food Wash-Up with banana bread. “I’m so confused and over it I’ve kidded myself banana bread is good for me.,” she says. “It’s fruit in it, it’s brown and the little flecks could pass as fibre, no?” That’s how bad it’s got. The end-point from a Google-strom of swirling food advice is we eat banana bread. Have you looked at the ingredient list for that stuff??!

Ultimately, we’d like one food approach that fits all, from the Jennifer Aniston’s of the world, to the kids in the tuck shop queue in West Dubbo. I’ve been on a decluttering mission for a few months now (as documented in this column) and I’m gagging to eliminate this constipated backlog of food factoids, and work to a simple framework that can guide us when we’re standing, bamboozled in the cereal aisle at Coles.

Well, I think I’ve found one.  Nutritionists advocate it. Now the food ethicists, including Goodall, push it.  It’s very simple – eat as close to the original source as possible. I’m not proffering anything new here. But what I’m intrigued by is whether it can replace every other bit of food guff – ethical, nutritional and otherwise – I’ve been fed in the past.

This week I tested the idea of making all food choices according to this one principle: is it as close to where it came from as possible? In the supermarket aisle I look for the dip with the least amount of ingredients. It’s a version of hummus with only 4 ingredients; more ingredients means it’s veered further away from the original chickpea and tahini concept.

Choosing bread: brown rice or spelt (an ancient form of wheat that hasn’t been altered for mass production purposes) are closest to source (and with the least ingredients) and the best for us.

Refined sugar is a gazillion carbon (and otherwise) miles from it’s original source, as is white flour and even white rice. Avoid them. This principle also ensures you shop in season. If strawberries come from California (eons away from its original source), than you can be guaranteed they’re not in season. And have costed the planet an ethical bomb.

In all cases, this one principle came up trumps, delivering me the best food result, under whatever circumstances, from both a nutritional and ethical sense.

So what about the quandary – walk or drive to the shops? It turns out if you walk and replace the calories with banana bread, the result is ethically and nutritionally a disaster. But replace them with hummus on spelt and it’s a simple win, win equation. No abacus required.

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