Food for thought

Published on 19 February 2013 at 15:39

"Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are." How many Europeans today could answer the question posed in the 19th Century by epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin? Worse, would they be ready to hear the answer given by the author of The Physiology of Taste?

Never have we been so well informed about the food we eat and yet, never have we had such a strong impression of not knowing what is on our plate.

The scandal of horsemeat sold in prepared meals as "pure beef" reminds us that we are never safe from food fraud and that striving for the bottom line can work against the interests of consumers.

Forced by the crisis and by the resulting fall in purchasing power, shoppers are obliged to make tough spending choices and it is often the "food" budget which proves easiest to cut. It is not that people eat less, they just eat less well.

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What they do not pay for in shiny coins of the realm, they pay for in other ways - in terms of health.

Obesity, heart problems, diabetes and cancer; eating habits play a role in all of these health conditions.

As for Europe, it has an ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, it seems to defend consumers by introducing labelling and imposing more and more detailed information on food labels and by promoting healthy eating habits. On the other hand, it seems to lean in favour of the agro-business industry by allowing practices and adopting measures that are contrary to consumers interests.

This was recently the case with the lifting of the ban on meat and bone meal in fish farming. Meat and bone meal were banned in 1997 because they were held responsible for the "Mad Cow" crisis. It will be even more difficult for Brussels to resist pressure from other animal farmers - especially pig and poultry farmers - at a time when the price of cereals are at a record highs.

In the face of all this, the consumer is quite alone. Yet, there are ways to eat well without going broke - and in a sustainable manner. As Carlo Petrini, head of the [Slow Food movement] says, "it is not true that eating well costs a lot. We have just forgotten how to do it".

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