Strawberries in January

Dear Reader,

THE ALGARVE was blessed this festive season with some amazing weather, so dry, sunny and warm. And, like every year, I have made a few New Year resolutions – the most important one being to concentrate on the really significant things in life and to attempt to look at this world through the eyes of my children.

Over Christmas, my eldest daughter, Sara, asked me whether it was true that there are still people dying from starvation, while in the developed world food is abundant and magazines are full of diet plans. We did a Google search and found varying figures. It is estimated that, on average 26,000 people, mostly children and the elderly, starve to death everyday. It was very difficult to explain to my daughter that we, in the west, accept this as a sad fact, one which we can do little about.

Another question I was asked, over the festive season, was from my son. He asked if it was true that people put poison on fruits and vegetables. And this was the question that inspired me to write about food safety. I often get the impression that we walk into the future with our ‘eyes wide shut’. We know this – or should know – but don’t want to because the consequences could be unpleasant in the short-term. We are destroying our environment at quite a rapid pace, yet plough on into the future, headfirst, with, apparently, a complete lack of concern for this. And, for some reason, nobody seems interested any more – too powerful are the attractions of consumerism.

You can go by the rule of thumb that fruit, which has come into our supermarkets outside normal harvesting time, will have either travelled a long way or been grown with the help of lots of chemicals. If the product has had a long journey on a ship or a plane, it will have been conserved and protected with the use of chemicals and most likely will have been picked before it was ripe.

The strawberries picked in January have a very different nutritional value from those harvested in June. There are lots of studies available about the high concentration of pesticides and other chemicals on apples, pears and grapes – sometimes so high that it can lead to acute intoxication. Animals kept in factories are given hormones and antibiotics to boost their growth. By eating chicken, pork or beef, you can, in fact, endanger your fertility and even develop allergies to antibiotics because of this.

Did you know that Norway and Denmark have banned many of the Kellog’s cereals because they contain so many added vitamins and minerals that consumption of them could lead to humans overdosing on the additives? The US – richest nation on earth and eldorado for processed food – was number one in the ranking of the healthiest nations 20 years ago. They have now dropped back to 20th place in the most recent report.

Now, after all this bad news, I can give you some good news – eating safely and healthily is very easy.

Here are 10 tips and tricks.

1. Stay away from processed food whenever you can

2. Buy fresh food from local sources

3. Eat fruit and vegetables when they are in season and not all year round

4. Eat organic fruit and vegetables

5. Buy your meat from a butcher who can tell you about where it was reared

6. Reduce your meat consumption

7. Always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption

8. Cut off the hard edge of cheese (the anti-fungal chemicals in that part are highly concentrated)

9. Try organically produced wine

10. Vary products and suppliers to keep finding the best and freshest products

It is up to us, as consumers, to give healthier food a chance in the modern, consumer-based marketplace. It is also our obligation to remember that thousands of children die everyday because they have neither food nor drinking water. I feel that 2005 will be the year in which we can truly make a difference.

A peaceful and healthy New Year to all of you from Dr. Thomas Kaiser.