Mediterranean Summer Reading

July 26, 2011 in Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

I’ve loved reading since before I could do it. I loved nursery rhymes, and all the traditional fairy tales; the title of my first favorite ‘chapter book’, Little Joe Otter, still sticks in my mind. When I was a girl, I used to read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to my sister, two years younger than me. We’d get in the big old hammock, under the shady elm trees of my grandparents’ quiet and secluded Van Nuys (Southern California) yard and I’d just read and read. It was fun. If you’re young today, you may be perplexed, at the thought of considering reading silly stories to be fun; especially in comparison with the computer games of the modern child’s summer. Yes, I went swimming at our neighbor’s pool, Andy Devine’s Crystal Plunge, and other summer cooling off activities, because we had no air conditioning. But reading and eating fresh fruit off my grandparents’ trees is a precious summer memory of mine.

(Note: Not about nutrition) I don’t want to sound old and crotchety, but I think that children should be encouraged to read. I don’t think that they should never play video games, but I do believe that both activities develop different parts of the mind. Having a little time to think and explore in a mind and in nature, seem to be a way to develop healthy reasoning and creativity.

I guess that I’ve never outgrown the love of reading and especially the joy of a well-written work. I won’t drag you through a list of all my favorite literature or authors; but I’ve read some interesting articles lately and I thought that I’d share them with you; just in case you haven’t seen them and want a little something to read on a leisurely summer afternoon (iPad, hammock and a shade tree).

1. Mediterraneans Abandon Their Famous Diet by Jeremy Cherfas

Cherfas starts out by establishing that it’s old news that Americans are getting fatter and fatter, but it may be a little surprising that the same thing is happening around the world; even in the Mediterranean countries, especially among young people. (Note: Vic and I even heard some of our tour guides in China lament about the increasingly large number of obese children in China. We witnessed it, especially in the eastern Chinese cities.)

In Cherfas’ article he points out that even in the Italian town, Pioppi, south of Naples where there is a museum dedicated to Ancel Keys, the researcher who, ‘discovered’ the benefits (low rate of heart disease among poor people in Italy and Greece) who ate what we now call the Mediterranean Diet, the diet is being ignored. The Italians, and other Mediterranean peoples, especially the adolescents are turning toward the U.S. diet or by another name, the “industrial global diet.”

The article points out that the obesity is a massive change in only three generations. Genetics don’t usually change that fast; so certainly something else has changed. Cherfas points out that a food historian who teaches at Umbra Institute in Perugia Italy, Zachary Nowak, says that the original Mediterranean diet was a diet of poverty, not all of it was of choice. Cherfas includes a very interesting question that Keys’ asked in his original study, “How would you change your diet?” Nowak, says the 1948 answer was not, “Oh yeah, I love this diet. It keeps me very healthy. It’s fantastic.” The fact was that they would have loved to add more meat, if they had more money and as soon as they got more money, they added more meat to their diet. In Italy and Greece, as a whole, the people are now eating roughly four times more meat than they were in the 1950s; when Keys did his work.

No question about it, people all over the world like to eat meat, and the same can be said of goodies made with crispy fat and sugar. Cherfas quotes Walter Willet from the Harvard School of Public Health who said, “There’s no match for the huge marketing efforts and promotion of junk food, and we have to protect our children.” (See Who Knew What a Mess Nutritionism Would Become.) He continued by saying; “Children are the object of a huge amount of research on how to seduce them to eat more of foods …” he might have added, foods that are cheap to make, leaving big margins for advertizing.  Unfortunately, as Willet goes on, these cheap-to-make processed foods “… are horrible for them and making them fat and giving them obesity, and we know they're going to die prematurely."

Cherfas ends his article with an issue pointed out by Dr. Angelo Pietrobelli, an associate professor of pediatrics and nutrition at the University of Verona, ‘the global industrial diet of meat, fat and sugar is cheap and the healthy peasant food is not. “Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and olive oil are very expensive” and “fish is really quite expensive, too.”

In the end, Cherfas laments; “These days, it seems, you have to be wealthier to eat like a poor Mediterranean peasant.”

2. How Western Diets Are Making the World Sick by Kevin Patterson M.D.

In this article, the author, shares what he has observed during his experience in Afghanistan and his experience working with the Inuit. Patterson builds a strong argument for us to wake up now, as related to the way we eat.

3. How Industrial Farming 'Destroyed' The Tasty Tomato by Barry Estabrook

Just in case the two articles above have not prepared you to sufficiently to confront the complexity of our eating problems, this article; or his James Beard Award-winning 2009 article Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes and his book (Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit), may persuade you.

Tomatoes are second only to potatoes as the most consumed fruit or vegetable in the U.S. Most of us know, who consume tomatoes not grown on our own vines, that tomatoes no longer taste like tomatoes. I’ve often said that they taste like cardboard. I don’t remember eating cardboard, but I guess that I imagine that to be the taste.

Estabrook says that tomato breeders have concentrated on essentially one thing for the past 50 or more years and that is yield. They also want fruit that is able to stand up to being harvested, packed, artificially turned orange (with ethylene gas) and shipped away – to hold together in supermarkets for a week to 10 days.

One Florida farmer is reported to have said, “I don’t get paid a single cent for flavor. I get paid for weight. And I don’t know any supermarket shopper who tastes her tomatoes before she puts them in her shopping cart.” It makes me feel like having a tomato revolution. I do know how tomatoes are supposed to taste. I also know that the tomatoes of the ‘60s had 30 to 40 percent more vitamin C, lots more niacin and calcium and less sodium; as reported by Estabrook. Certainly, something in the tomato is not the same. Most people who have tasted a homegrown tomato know what I’m talking about.

As Estabrook says, “We expect an ingredient to be on the supermarket shelves 365 days a year, whether or whether not it’s in season or tastes any good.” The tasteless tomatoes and the lessened nutrients are the price we pay for insisting that we have food out of season and not local. Not only are wonderful Mediterranean diet foods too expensive to get out to the markets fresh, tasty, and vine-ripened, they also are becoming less desirable as a food choice.

Why are tomatoes grown in the hostile environment of Florida – it has nothing to do with horticulture and everything to do with money. Economics, not human nutrition, nor the needs of the environment, raising its ugly head yet again.

California grows tomatoes too, but most of them are processed; they are vine-ripened and machine harvested when red. They are usually in a can within 6 hours. About 95% of the processed tomatoes that we eat are grown in California; and about a third of the world's processed tomatoes come from California. California also grows hand harvested tomatoes for fresh eating, but those mostly end between October and December, depending upon the weather.

These are a few articles I wanted to share. They are important to the central message of this blog, about the relationship of good food, yummy food, to good health. In seeking the best, and tastiest foods, I’ve learned that canned is not always worse; sometimes it may actually be superior. If we adopt the idea that becoming well nourished is a process, it may lessen any feelings of discouragement with nutrition, a relatively new science. We can keep reading and keep working on making improvements; hopefully, before the health of too many is lost.

We've had a couple of red flavorful tomatoes from these commercially purchased plants. Yum!

These are my first Heirloom tomato plants, grown from seeds. High hopes.

These heirloom tomato plants are promising a delicious future.