News and Food and Why I am Cranky

There are times when I enjoy getting cranky. More to the point, there are times when I enjoy expressing my crankiness, for what is cranky if you have not an audience to be cranky towards?

Today, I shall be cranky towards the news media and how they report on bad nutrition choices.

First, to catch some of you up to speed: Some of the citizens in Scotland have nutrition problems. Scottish diets are high in fat and there is a marked deficiency of fruit and vegetables. Consumption of meals containing vegetables is 23 per cent lower than the rest of the United Kingdom. The 1995 Scottish Health Survey showed that less than half of the adult population ate fruit once a day. (You can read a .doc report of a 1994 study about Scottish dietary habits here. It was written by a working party to the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland).

Knowing that, this is the headline of a recent news article found in Scotland.

Glasgow’s diet was healthier in 1405

To which I say…”Bullocks”.

From the article:

(Archaeological evidence) reveals a diet of porridge and small amounts of pork and fish made medieval mealtime more nutritious than a visit to the chippy, the pizza parlour or the ubiquitous American fast food joints.

And an absence of sugar in the diet meant medieval Glaswegians had better teeth. In addition, they could not smoke, a major cause of diseases that killed 119 out of every 100,000 men in the city last year.

Look, I know the heart of the article is in the correct place, but it forgets a major fact:

Sanitation: Yes, they ate a lot of fish and porridge back in the. But before sanitation standards were put in place, buying and eating meat was a bit of a crap shoot back then. Sure, if you were wealthy, you could be reasonably sure that your food was disease free, but the odds of getting sullied meat increased the less money you had to spend.

Water wasn’t that much better. The reason why beer was so popular back then wasn’t just because it lent itself as a social lubricant. The alcohol made it nearly disease free, something that well water couldn’t promise. Any dish made with water (such as porridge) ran the risk of containing all sorts of different bacteria.

Yes people should eat better when possible. But to imply in a headline that food was healthier back 400 years ago is misleading. We (and I presume Scotland) are eating differently today than we did back then, in large part due to changes in sanitation. If anyone who eats nothing but fish and chips was transported back in time to the 1600′s, I’d make a bet that they’d be dead within a year from dysentary, e coli, or other food borne disease.

What this article wants to say is that if you eat fish and porridge today, you’d be better off than eating fast food and soda pop. This is undoubtedly true. But you don’t get people to read articles by stating as such. It’s much better to add shock value (400 years ago, people with lifespans of 40 years ate better than we do today!), than it is to understand the evolution of diet.

Oversimplification makes me cranky.


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