Red meat. The real killer?

The Times (UK) Magazine, 28 September 2013:

Should red meat carry a health warning?

ImageAlex Renton investigates the link between what we eat and the increased risk of diet-related cancers

We’re hard-wired to eat meat: all we can get of it. Research shows that if you give a diet of unlimited meat to omnivorous animals, whether a fly, a mouse or a chimpanzee, they will go on gorging until they are fat and ill. And that is precisely what has happened to humans.

For most Britons meat is cheaper than at any time in history, and we have tucked in. Annually, we consume more than our own body weight in animal flesh: nearly twice as much as health guidelines say we should. But that’s still puny compared with the meat feast going on in Australia and in the US. There, each person eats 120kg or more a year. It is not doing any of us any good.

In fact, long-term studies of hundreds of thousands of people in rich countries now show that the more meat, especially red and processed meat, you eat, the shorter your life will be. One of the key diseases associated with meat eating – bowel cancer – has risen swiftly to be the second or third biggest killer in most developed countries. Even the most conscientious carnivores can’t dodge the statistics: the new dietary killers don’t give any credit for shopping organic. The chemicals in bacon will get you even if the pig was bred by the Prince of Wales himself. And the dangerous proteins in economy beefburgers are just as present in the most expensive grass-fed, rare-breed beef steak.

Read the rest of this article – including the sceptical bit! – on The Times website (£)

3 good reasons to buy British lamb – so why ship it from New Zealand?

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I can’t imagine Easter without a slow-roast leg of lamb. As crucial as a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. The tradition comes from the Old Testament, but this year there is a more contemporary reason to buy lamb: British sheep farmers need our support. After a season of terrible prices, they are now trudging through a second winter, in the middle of lambing. On Tuesday a Cumbria farmer told BBC Radio 4 of having to dig pregnant ewes out of snow drifts and of many new-born lambs dying from hypothermia. “Buy our lamb to help us through this,” Alistair Mackintosh pleaded.

So I went shopping. But there was no British lamb at all in the Co-op, only the stuff that’s shipped frozen from New Zealand. At Waitrose – a shop that loves to boast of its “commitment to British farmers” – there were a few bits of Welsh lamb (I live in Scotland) on the meat counter but the fridge was filled with Kiwi sheep, too.

Waitrose’s rack of New Zealand lamb – the luscious section of upper ribs and fillet – was priced at an amazing £30.99 a kilo – £10 more than the Welsh. British sheepfarmers were recently getting not much more than that for the whole animal. For the shops, the best thing about lamb at Easter and Passover is the fact that you can make so much money from it.

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Tesco vs Sherborne – can the big guy afford to blink?

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Extended version of my story  “Tesco, not in our backyard”,  published in the Times 19 March 2013.  Comments below.

The lady from Tesco is having a horrible day. She’s driven from Bristol – leaving a sick toddler behind – to the little Dorset town of Sherborne where, frankly, almost everybody hates her. Her job is to sell the idea of a new Tesco store to a community that doesn’t want it, at a time when Tesco – according to a recent Which? magazine-  is by far the most unpopular supermarket in Britain. And the survey was done was before horseburgergate.

They don’t look aggressive, the townsfolk who’ve marched up the famously charming high street to Digby Hall, where Tesco is staging a presentation, “Investing in Sherborne”. There’s a preponderance of tweed and country jacket green; some dreadlocks but more trim hair-dos. The protest posters are decorous against the honey-coloured stone – there’s a “No Thanks Tesco” made of buttons and embroidery in Tesco colours. The rudest slogan asks the supermarket chain to “burger off”. “It’s just like Les Miserables,” someone laughs – but it is actually a very English affair.

There is a TV crew and local celebrities: Valerie Singleton, journalist, once of Blue Peter, and Canon Eric Woods, vicar of Sherborne Abbey. He is impressive in red-buttoned, ankle-length black robes. He says that Tesco is just wrong for a town like Sherborne, and won’t do any good. “You’d be amazed at this stereotype of supermarkets being cheaper. It’s just not true. Our local butcher is cheaper: I should know, on a parson’s stipend you have got to be canny.” Most of the attention goes to the anti-Tesco pony, a live one, led by a former BBC journalist.

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Jamie’s great – or simply good?

3rd November 2011, The Times

His new book is tipped to be No 1 and a TV show (his 21st) is under way. Is Jamie Oliver the Elizabeth David of our time?

Is Jamie Oliver great or simply good, Alex Renton, The Times

Jamie Oliver

When Jamie Oliver addressed the United Nations last month — not words I thought I’d ever write — I went to the end of the kitchen bookshelf and pulled out a battered, rather sticky volume called The Naked Chef. It might contain, I thought, some clues to explain one of the most extraordinary — and high-speed — career paths of our times.

Published just 12 years ago, The Naked Chef has a tousle-haired bloke on the front with a sweet grin and a Hawaiian shirt. Inside he lays out a range of simple, smiley dishes with the message: “Go on, get stuck in!”

Read more of this piece at Times Online

Food, hunger and happiness in Armenia

lunch in Hermon Valley

I went to Armenia in April 2011 for Oxfam, the Times and the BBC. On The Culture Show BBC2, 28 October I told how that story was done, in words and pictures. Here’s more from the trip:

Food foraging in Armenia: an Audio Slideshow

June 2011, BBC Online

Churchill and Armenian brandy

BBC Radio 4, From Our Own Correspondent, July 2011

Is this the worst dish in the world?

May 28, 2011, The Times.

The worst dish in the world found in Armenia

Khash must be stewed for 32 hours

Recipe: Take 4 cow’s hooves and ankles and 1 brain (optional); boil for 32 hours (without seasoning); remove scum; gnaw bones with salt and pickles. Drink a shot of vodka with each mouthful.

KHASH, “the masterpiece of Armenian cuisine”, is always eaten early in the morning. “It is not wise to eat it late,” says our host, Shirak. “Khash is so rich, you need all day to digest it.” He takes us to visit the kitchen the night before the feast; we inspect the great pot where four cow’s feet and ankles and one bovine brain are bubbling. “It started cooking last night, because khash must be stewed for 32 hours,” says Shirak. We agree to meet when that time is up: at 7am.

I wake with a sense of dread. I dreamt I was back at school, faced with an important exam: Shirak was the invigilator. When I get downstairs, I think how much I would give for a cup of tea and no breakfast-time challenges. But on the table is a pile of crispy lavash flatbread, some radishes, a bowl of crushed garlic and salt. And a bottle of vodka.

Read on at The Times Online

The Truth about Tesco’s not-so-big price drop

The Truth about Tesco 2011, graphic, The Times

The Truth about Tesco 2011: graphic from The Times

17th October 2011, The Times

Dozens of the savings offered by Tesco in its “Big Price Drop” — the £500 million campaign that started a supermarket price war three weeks ago — are on foods that were sold only briefly at the higher price, research by The Times has shown.

Huge advertising promotions this month have promised discounts on 3,000 items. “Sometimes you have to put aside just the pursuit of profit in order to get back in tune with the nation,” said Tesco chief executive Phil Clarke as Big Price Drop launched. But Tesco appears to have raised the price of hundreds of items in the weeks before the promotion, perhaps to make the subsequent offers look more attractive.

You can read the full article on Times Online

Is this the worst dish in food?

May 28th 2011, The Times

Khash, the worst dish in food, from Armenia

Khash: the worst dish in the world?

Take 4 cow’s hooves and ankles and 1 brain (optional); boil for 32 hours (without seasoning); remove scum; gnaw bones. Haute cuisine, Armenia-style Khash, “the masterpiece of Armenian cuisine”, is always eaten early in the morning. “It is not wise to eat it late,” says our host, Shirak. “Khash is so rich, you need all day to digest it.” He takes us to visit the kitchen the night before the feast; we inspect the great pot where four cow’s feet and ankles and one bovine brain are bubbling. “It started cooking last night, because khash must be stewed for 32 hours,” says Shirak. We agree to meet when that time is up: at 7am.

Read the full article at Times Online  (it’s in front of the paywall)