STORIES about food fill the newspapers and clog the airwaves. Food that’s good for us or bad for us; food that will save our lives or nudge us towards an early over-sized grave.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe. This week the advice took on a nostalgic hue with a wholesome hint of brown. Yes, the experts are throwing brown rice at us. Or rather more alarmingly they’re urging us to eat the stuff.
I have a complicated history with brown rice. My wife loves brown rice while for years I annoyed her by maintaining that it was about as appetising to eat as boiled-up old carpet. In the end we compromised on brown basmati rice, which keeps its shape when cooked rather than turning to a chewy sludge.
Alarming news for white-bread separatists: not only rice should be brown. Wholemeal bread is what we should eat, along with wholemeal pasta and brown rice. That way we can live longer, according to the Daily Mail; although why you would wish to live longer if you believe all the worrisome headlines in that newspaper is another matter.
They are rich in fibre, protein, antioxidants and certain vitamins that aid digestion and weight loss and prevent heart disease, cancer and other illness. The wholemeal foods that is, not the headlines in the Mail which cause heart attacks (unsupported study based on the writer’s own passing prejudice).
The stories this week were based on the largest study of its kind in which researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health analysed the eating habits of 786,000 adults.
The Daily Telegraph reported on the study too, and concluded that a large bowl of porridge each day could protect against death from cancer. Meanwhile, the Daily Express took time off from writing about swarming migrants to quote UK experts as saying that “eating more whole grains is a simple change we can make to improve our diet and help lower our risk of disease”.
I guess most of us have eating habits that are good and bad in parts. I was pleased about the porridge as I have a big bowlful every workday morning – with the addition of what my wife calls “all that other stuff you put on it”. I call these extras sliced banana, natural yoghurt and runny honey, so we’ll just agree to differ on that one.
It took me a decade or so to appreciate porridge. Maybe it comes with age. My mother is 84 and has been eating porridge every day for years. So now I do the same, although with time off for good behaviour at the weekend. Then I have toast, butter and marmalade – just about the finest food known to man (or this one at least).
The bread is always homemade and often white sourdough, sometimes with added seeds. I turn out a wholemeal bake sometimes and probably should do so more often.
The news that we have to wholemeal everything against is all a bit of a throwback, isn’t it? The Harvard study maybe the biggest of its type yet, but its conclusions seem to be the ones we already knew in our hearts, if not our stomachs.
Like everything else, food fashions come and go. And on the eighth day God said thou shall eat brown rice for ever more, sunshine. Or something like that.
Incidentally, a long-running wholefood shop and café in Manchester was called On The Eighth Day when I lived in the city in the brown-rice Seventies. I probably popped in for joss-sticks or something that now seems ridiculous. Or bell-bottomed loons. The shop is still there, although it is now called The 8th Day.