Friday, October 13, 2006

Divine Intervention

The idea behind the title of my blog is sharing my observations on my adopted country for the time being, Argentina, while I reign in my kitchen. It is essentially a food blog with another dimension. It is not meant to be a tourist guide; hence, I don't feel obliged to be romantic about this country or sweeping the negatives under the carpet about my experience here. Caveat Emptor. OK, enough ranting, let's move on to what matters...

As food bloggers do, I love to talk "food". I have recently come across a brilliant article on DivineOnline, a food and wine website, written by a well respect food journalist in Australia, John Newton. Mr. Newton succinctly captured the spirit of good food.

Many Argentine readers of this blog have written to me and all of them sing more or less the same tune "people in the 1st World eat worse than the Argentines, we do not have a problem, they do". Having come from and lived in the 1st World most of my life, I am well aware of the good and the bad. However, I wouldn't make the differentiation between 1st and 3rd World in the case of Argentina, at least not when it comes to food. Everyone who is above eating for survival is confronted with choices, good food or bad food; this is why Mr. Newton's article is brilliant...

First of all, he says "There is no such thing as food that's good for you or food that's bad for you. There is good food and there is bad food." How can we tell good food from bad, why do we know a well cooked meal is better than a commercial burger or empanada?

Good food is fresh, untouched by technology or additives; it is familiar, even traditional to some culture somewhere. It should be nutritious and enjoyable. I would add that food that is seasoned just right is good food; spices are individual's preferences but over salted or sweetened food is simply not enjoyable.

Bad food on the other hand, is often fake food manufactured by corporations. Natural ingredients going into their factories coming out hydrogenated, bleached, coloured and flavoured just doesn't feel right. Anything cooked and baked with a "shelf-life" should not be considered as food. Avoid any food with a list of ingredients as long as a short story.

Mr. Newton has hit a modern problem on its head "too many bad fats can make you very sick". Think of oil-sodden chips, empanadas, milanesas fried with darkened oil that has been used over and over again, margarine, vegetable shortening, commercial baked goods made with hydrogenated fats; these are all bad fats. You may not feel sick right away but your body will tell you it is sick with signals such as cellulite, bad breath, excess weight, high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol reading, etc.

Paradoxically, those of us who are fortunate to live in excesses have abused our good fortune, and our bodies suffer from it. Anglo Saxon cultures such as U.S., U.K. and Australia have the highest percentage of obesity and a large slimming industry. Argentina has an increasing rate of obesity but more importantly vanity and body image issues are the motor behind their huge and thriving slimming and plastic surgery sector. Mr. Newton echoes what many of us have already realized, diets make you fat. Research has shown serial yo-yo dieters live a shorter life.

Mr. Newton suggests that one shouldn't worry about being fat unless one is really fat. Being healthly is more important than being considered fat or thin by society. This goes back to the body image problems many of us suffer from constant bombardments of the media promoting a certain ideal image .
There is also the concept of good fat vs bad fat; some people are predisposed to carrying more weight than the modern day ideal, as long as they follow a healthy diet and lead a healthy lifestyle they are more likely to live a long healthy life than someone who is obese on junk food or thin as a rake from deliberate starvation.

Contrary to common misconception, being thin is not necessary a benchmark of good health. Many Argentine women, and others, stay slim by not eating, feast or famine style of eating, using slimming drugs, eating chemical ridden "lite" food such as Ser and Coke Light; some even resort to plastic surgery.

Our skin can't lie, the sallow, lack lustre skin is a telltale sign of bad health. Of course, most skinny porteñas hide that under a deep tan which causes them to resemble very expensive crocodile skin handbags but that's another story...

Mr. Newton's suggestion of a "lifetime diet" is coincidentally what I have been blogging all this time, enjoy eating reasonable portions of good food prepared by human beings with love and skill. Avoid mass produced, commercially made food; when you feel the urge for a burger, an empanada or a pizza, just remember this: corporations make profits, individuals make food.

A home made burger using a good cut of meat with handmade bread is going to be much healthier, not to mention tastier, than ones bought at a kiosk or at McDonald's. Guillermo and I have pizzas at home once in a while; home made dough with a thin layer of pure tomato sauce topped with sliced zucchini or aubergine. We don't go without, we just try to eat well.

Cooking from scratch is probably the surest bet that you are eating real food and the first baby steps towards cooking and eating good food. Bon Appétit!

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