A Place for Processed Foods

There’s a lot of hype, or should I say anti-hype around the idea of ‘processed foods’. Frequently the term “processed foods” appear on lists of “bad foods” and “foods to cut out” in a number of “diet programmes”. I realise I’m using a lot of quotation marks here but it’s necessary.

A lot of these “diet programmes” requiring participants to cut out “processed foods” are often vague about what is classified as a processed food and what isn’t. This leaves the restrictions of the diet wide open for interpretation. I’m not a fan of these programmes, Whole 30 for example, is a whole load of bullshit neatly packaged to sell people more rules around eating that are unnecessary, restrictive and let be straight here, based on complete bullshit science – if you can even associate the Whole 30 with any sort of science at all.

In general though, there’s a trend towards whole food in general. Whole meaning, better, organic preferably, plant based, raw maybe, and likely to be found at hiked up prices in places like WholeFoods. (Sorry WholeFoods, I kind of like you and kind of detest you all at once). The problem is with this trend is that it perpetuates food snobbery and food elitism. It not only labels all other foods as lesser, to the extreme of basically calling anything else devil like poison. It’s an easy ploy to buy into with the current health status of the western world keeling over with lifestyle associated diseases more so than has ever really faced human history.

It’s scaremongering and food propaganda, harnessing fears of foods, to sell products and programmes that will cure all consequences of eating from the devil’s path. I wish I was exaggerating. The thing is, a lot of processed foods have a very good place in our food industries. I’m not talking about money here, I’m talking about widening the availability of a wide variety of food choices to more and more people worldwide. The food industry, although it has a lot to answer for, has made having a decent meal in the evening not require someone cooking all afternoon for the family. The food industry has made it possible to preserve foods at higher nutritional qualities with less nutrient and quality degradation in various forms from frozen to dehydrated powders.

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These products don’t exist because people are lazy. They don’t exist to tempt us into a life of crippling illness. They serve a lot of people, some who may not have the skills to cook from scratch, those who have a stringent budget where buying processed might offer more affordable options, or those with few cooking facilities in their homes. Not everyone has a freezer, or even an oven. Many are now living with hob plates, maybe a microwave and a kettle. Sadly, this isn’t a vast minority anymore – Yo! London landlords, this isn’t OK for £600+ a month!.

Then there are people who have the skills to cook, have the knowledge of what a meal consists of, has a fridge freezer and an oven but for some reason or other are not able to cook as they’d ideally like to all the time. I fall into this category. Living with a chronic mental illness means that sometimes I’m fine prepping veg, buying fresh and cooking up a few meals in preparation for the days ahead. It also means that sometimes, this is an insurmountable task so I will either rely on convenient options, or not eat then make up for it in an all out ice cream and chocolate frenzy.

Many may disagree that convenience “processed food” is a healthy option. It isn’t always but there is a lot available now in the form of ready meals. These get pricey though. To keep eating a relatively balanced diet in a pretty regular pattern is as important as a regular sleeping schedule for management of my illness. If that slides I’m basically putting my foot a bit more to the metal towards a breakdown, a crisis or an extended period of really not functioning.

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Why is this relevant? Tonight for dinner I had some frozen veggie sausages, cheap smash and some frozen peas and sweetcorn. The smash is from the days when we had no money. The best before dated to April 2015. I figured a sealed pack of powder that will smash up into a kind of mash couldn’t do too much harm. I seem fine so far. This meal meant that I ate something filling and more wholesome than ignoring eating all together. However, without such processed foods – everything was processed from the gravy granules, the mash powder, the frozen veg and factory made sausages, this meal wouldn’t have existed. I would have likely just done without until I couldn’t do without any more. You see, for many people in many situations throughout society, processed foods are a lifesaver. They can often be a better option. So demonising “processed foods”, getting on the nutrition high horse and engaging with food elitism isn’t necessary – and often the arguments for such a stance are inaccurate, based on cherry picked science, sometimes written by people claiming to have credentials that upon digging deeper actually mean very little, and scaremongering us into paying £3 for an avocado and £4 for a 100g bar of chocolate.

It makes you wonder who the real devils are in all of this?

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Apple Harvesting and Juice Making with The Orchard Project

Last week at Growhampton – a sustainable social enterprise at the university of Roehampton, we teamed up with The Orachrd Project and  harvested apples from the campus orchard. Until recent years the orchard was completely grown over and had been neglected for a period of time. One of the tasks that Growhampton and The Orchard Project undertook was to re-open up the orchard from the overgrowth and maintain it. The Orchard Project started as an urban orchard project in London and now helps maintain community orchards nationwide. The fruit of this labour, is as predicted, a variation of fresh apples growing on the healthy trees. Last year some pear trees were also planted and will come into fruition within the next 3-4 years.

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In order to harvest the apples we used a tool which was a bit like a small pond fishing net but instead of catching fish, we were catching apples. Once the apple is in the bag you position the bag so the branch goes between the teeth of the entrance to the bag and snaps the apple free from the tree. This on a really long pole, which extends to what must be ~3m in length at the maximum extension. This makes it quite hard work because when the weight of the apple drops into the bag it takes a bit of effort from your shoulder, arm and back muscles to keep control of the pole.

When harvesting we separated the apples into ones for cider and ones for juice. If they had become bruised then they went into the cider pile. On Sunday we went to the pressing site in an arch way at Herne Hill in South London. We had ~550Kg of apples to sort, crush and collect juice from. It was quite as big a task as it sounds and took a whole day of work between a team of 10 people in order to get through the yield.

The first stage was quality control. If there is a lot of bruising then the apple was discarded. If there was only a little bruising then we just cut it off. The reason for this is that when the apple bruises beneath the skin a chemical reaction occurs and the waste product of this can spoil a batch of juice. However, when fermenting for cider it is destroyed in the fermentation process – which is why apples with bruises are OK for cider and not for juice.

We washed them once in the first bucket, then again in the second before piling them into crates. From these crates the apples went into a pumped up blender that smashed the apples up into small pieces and churned them out of the bottom. Form this you make cheese – which sound odd but that’s what it is called. It doesn’t involve real cheese.

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Apples mashed up and waiting.
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Making cheese

The building cheese process involved using a square frame within which a cheese cloth fabric square was placed at a diagonal angle. The smashed apples were scooped into the frame then once the frame was full the cloth was folded over in one direction. Once the frame was removed a wooden pallete was placed on top and the process happened again until there was a pile of apple parcels stacked upon one another separated only by the wooden palletes. Once stacked as tall as it could go and still be able to fit under the press the basin rotated 180°. The machine then slowly raised the base upon which the pallettes were stacked upon. In the process all the juice was released from the apple and funnelled out through pipes in barrels of juice.

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and press…

Each time apples are pressed from an Orchard the juice and cider are different because of the variety of the apples changes from orchard to orchard. This means that no two batches of juice or cider are identical.

The Orchard Project works to enable communities to conserve and utilise the natural orchards around the country and in London that may have been neglected and forgotten about. In return for the apple yield The Orchard Project give 50% of the juice yield to the orchard or organisation who maintains each orchard, and use the other 50% to bottle and sell for funds to keep The Orchard Project going.

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Source: http://www.theorchardproject.org.uk

The drinks produced by The Orchard Project in London is called Local Fox Cider and London Apple Juice – it is a dry cider with no sugars or juices added in the process. It is a completely natural process of fermentation that occurs naturally. Both products are produced only from apples harvested from the urban orchards of London. More than producing juice and cider, The Orchard Project is a community project that empowers local communities to develop community spaces and harvest.

I really enjoyed getting involved with the harvest and juice pressing with The Orchard Project. It was good fun and speaking for myself, I really enjoy getting involved in community projects like this: you tend to meet nice people, have a bit of a giggle whilst you work and in return I had some banging apples from the orchard day and a Local Fox Cider: both of which were banging by my account.

To find out more The Orchard Project and see what they’re up to in your area click here.