Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Food For Thought

Strange how suddenly I begin writing about something, then - a day or so later - read about the same thing. This happened yesterday when I came across an article in our newspaper about pet foods. Well, actually dog food, and although we've been discussing the pickiness of cats when it comes to what they eat, as a lot of firms make foods for both pets, a lot of information in the article probably applies to both.

Most of us realise that pet food is made from ingredients that we humans would never knowingly eat (although often - unknowingly - we do), and nutritionally nothing wrong with that. After all, protein is protein is protein. It's only us humans that are so particular about our food, and when it comes to that Wone man's meat can be another man's poison", for different cultures will eat things we would never touch, such as snakes, guinea pigs, dogs, sheep eyes, grubs, hedgehogs, alligatora, kangarooa, ostrich, and - not that far away from our shores - pigs trotters, pigs ears, snails, chicken feet, frogs legs, horsemeat, brains, and probably a lot more things we'd rather not know about are served on an almost daily basis.
There are few parts of an animal that cannot be used for food, and 'peasant' cookery has always taken advantage of that, both for economy and flavour, and without going to extremes, we should really be taking advantage of some of the cheaper foods - such as offal - that are well worth cooking and eating.

Most of us know how pregnant ladies crave certain foods (and possibly go off others). There is a reason for this, for we crave certain foods when our bodies need the specific nutrients they contain, such as wishing to eat an orange a day before we 'get a cold' (vit C). Or raw onions, when we have the start of a sore throat (well at least I do). Our brain is able to work out for itself what nutrients all foods contain that we have eaten since birth and remembers them, so nudges us to eat ones when our body lacks the necessary. This is often why we get a craving to eat something. Cream cakes don't count - unless the body feels we deserve cheering up.
The way nature has planned it, we are not supposed to be that selective when it comes to what we eat, adn if protein is called for, the source doesn't really matter. If we need protein, then any would do. It's just we - with our supreme intelligence - prefer to eat the most palatable. Nothing wrong with that.

Yet - and purely to do with economy/profits - in recent years there have been many 'pre-formed' meats on the supermarket shelves. These still contains the essential protein we need, but once we know more about the 'formation' of such we feel far less inclined to eat them. Jamie Oliver has opened our eyes to this.

The aforementioned article explained how dog food was prepared, and have to say quite a lot of it rang a bell in my head since I've seen J.O. talking about the way certain 'left-overs' are used for human consumption (to make some burgers, cheap sausages, somed canned meats, fish fingers, chicken nuggets etc). . Using mostly the same ingredients, when it comes to pet food, as long as it tastes right - then at least our dogs and cats are content.

Am giving a few extracts from the articles, for what has become apparent is that mostly what we think of os ''waste' products are used, certainly for the cheaper end of the pet food market. In many ways this could be seen as a good thing, considering we are all supposed to stop throwing away anything that is edible. What DOES concern me is the prices charged for pet foods made from this - often more than something canned for human consumption that is of much better quality. Is this just another 'rip-off', knowing that once we begin giving our pets canned foods, there is little chance of stopping? Certainly with cats who seem to demand a better quality each time they are fed.

Here are a few details from the article that may get at least dog owners to think twice (and even food for thought for cat owners). The article was written after a lady took advice from a vet that led to her beginning to find more about canned pet foods, and what she learned led her to start her making her own. Reading the label on the cans is a good place to start, and they don't make good reading ("being full of preservatives, chemicals and cheap fillers that dogs find hard to digest, and why many dogs have terrible wind").

Quotes from the article:
"...'chicken meal' may sound pleasant enough but is made from rendered down carcasses and feather shafts to make the protein content of the dog food higher."
"Derivatives of vegetable or animal protein are basically waste products from the food industry and often devoid of nutrients, including ground-up tomato vines, or grape stems known as 'pomace', or animal feet, eyes, necks, intestines, and other carcase parts that would normally be thrown away.
Feed is often bulked out with potato powder and bound with oil making it high in fat but not satisfying."

Looking at the label of a can of the 'quality' dog food this lady bought for her dog she saw it contained 16% fat, yet the fat content of dog food should be a maximum of just 10%. She read also the 'ash content' on the label - which is an indication of meal that has been used. It should be less than 6%. The brand she bought, and many others, contain more.

"The protein content should be around 20% (any higher can cause a strain on the dog's kidneys, lower is not satisfying enough) - but I know now that much of that is ground up feathers and the like". From the manufactureres point of view all very cheap protein, possibly 'free' in some instances as butchers often have to pay someone to have their waste taken away. A pet food processor could end up being given money to tale the products to make the pet food they then sell for a high price. How clever is that?

What WAS even more interesting to me is (because something similar - on a smaller scale - could also happen with processed foods made for human consumption) that "...there are 400 artificial additives allowed in dog food, including flavour enhancers, colourings and preservatives, along with sugar and salt." So - by adding flavours - we could make any completely tasteless 'preformed' meat taste like liver, or kidney etc that our pets will drool over. Pity we can't buy this bottled 'essence' to sprinkle over the pet food that cats turn their noses up at.

After discovering all this, and after taking a cookery course on this very subject, the lady started to make her own 'dog's dinner' . This course is run by a lady who has also put a new (and good quality) dog food on the market. At £2 a can, we then realise that perhaps we begin to be more concerned about what our pets eat, than our families. Anyway, to make a good and healthy meal for her dog, the lady began by "cooking brown rice in water, then adding chunks of lamb, chicken livers and a host of organic fruit and vegetables: broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, peas, apple, ground flaxseeds (for their essential oils) and a ton of strange ingredients such as marigold petals (for healing and cleansing), aniseed (stops bloating and flatulence), nettles (high in nutrients particularly iron) and dried kelp (a nutrient-rich seaweed powder), plus spinach and blueberries".
Phew! My Beloved has never been given a meal so nutritionally packed as that. Perhaps I should begin treating him more like a pet.

The lady goes on to say, "when the meal is served to Rover (not his real name, but feel he may prefer to remain anonymous) he wolfs it down in seconds, his tail wagging with excitement the whole time....and when sitting down to our own meal, there is no begging from the dog as he is clearly full - and no unpleasant odours wafting through the room".

Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) her final words are: "will I be cooking for the dog in the future? Well, I'm torn, but he's not one of my children, and I'm a very busy woman. But when you know what goes into ordinary dog food it is very, very hard not to feel guilty, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to find the time, at least occasionally, to add another thing to my list of tasks". Let us hope most of us don't think that cooking for our family is 'having to find the time', and it being 'yet another task', although on my 'tired days', do feel that giving my Beloved aa 'ready-made' convenience meal for B to heat up for himself is an option worth considering. Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that.

The food industry doesn't seem to have much interest in providing us with good and tasty food. They either fill the shelves with the 'pre-formed' and additive packed that don't even look very nice, at the same time selling fresh fruit and veggies that look absolutely wonderful (virtually cloned when it comes to size, shape and colour) but that have virtually no flavour.
What's happened to us. Is it that we have got so used to eating the tasteless that we wouldn't recognise the good and true flavour if it reached our plates? Have we begun to believe the artificial flavourings that the processors love to add, give us 'the true taste', and which - to us oldies - are nothing like the real thing that we can still remember?.

Memories of the smell (and taste) of Wiltshire bacon (that I watched sliced from the side hanging in the shop) frying in a pan on my mums stove are unlikely EVER to be experienced again. Same goes for many home-grown fruit and veggies that my dad grew, but have since have been 'bred' to sacrifice flavour in return for a higher yield. Those of us old enough will remember the wonderful perfume of roses, sweet peas, carnations etc, and younger folk can now only see perhaps new varieties and perhaps more perfect shapes and different colours of the same, but to achieve this most of the perfume has had to be lost.

Anyone who has tasted home-made bread, home-made preserves and pickles, and home-grown produce realise how good these foods taste. All easy enough to make/grown, yet how many deprive ourselves (and family) of them, just because we can't be bothered to cook (which takes less time, and far less pressure/stress than going supermarket shopping if truth be known).

Noticed that on The Good Cook programme, the eggs used had the richest coloured yolks I have yet to see. Every egg I've bought these days (even the most expensive organic and free-range and from various sources ) now all seem to have very pale yolks. Other cookery programmes also seem to use eggs that have a more 'yellow' yolk than the ones I get. Where do they buy these eggs? And how can you be certain the yolks are that rich in colour anyway.
Once on a sailing holiday in Scotland, we were served eggs that had richly coloured yolks, and the cook said they were from their own chickens, who enjoyed eating seaweed (they lived on a small island and the hens were allowed to run free and eat what they wished). So perhaps that helped. Mind you the eggs did have a hint of sea-flavour.

Cost- cutting is of course 'my field' when it comes to cookery. But this doesn't mean we have to always buy the cheapest even though 'nutritionally' it could be edible enough. If Nature has her way, we should be 'eating to live' rather than 'living to eat', but food is now becoming more than just the building blocks for our body. It can be a very social thing - 'the family that eats together stays together' etc. We like to meet up with friends to 'have a good meal'. We enjoy eating. Or we should enjoy eating. Many 'snackers' who frequent burger bars etc, tend to stuff the food in their mouths without even tasting it, which is why such a lot of the manufacturers of the 'pre-formed' get away with using it.
We should start now - deliberately tasting everything we eat - then soon we can begin to be a lot more selective. This does not necessarily mean we have to pay more for what we eat. Eating slowing and enjoying every mouthful usually means we end up eating far less than those who eat 'fast-food' (and how aptly named). The length of time we spend eating is important. After 20 minutes and we should feel full. One reason why eating Chinese meal with chopsticks takes longer - and we feel satisfied even after eating a smaller than normal portion. Eating less also helps to save pennies.
Home-made always tastes best and almost always cheaper than something 'similar' sold over the counter.

But enough of the preaching. Hope that at least some of you understand what I'm trying to say.
After reading a comment from an Anonymous who said my blog was the longest she/he had ever read, think perhaps from now on should keep them much shorter. So after replying to remaining comments, plus a bit more no doubt, will wind up for today.
Forgot to mention yesterday Ciao, that I did text Gill, and she eventually replied to say she was fine and in Wales with her daughter (an unexpected holiday?). Typical me to worry when no need to.

Had to smile when I read about your cat Jo, pushing the neighbours cat out of the way and eating its food. As you had to buy a more expensive food to keep your cat happy, then in some ways that proves the point we HAVE to find some way to sort out this control cats have over us. What happens in a cattery I wonder, when they are probably all confined to a certain extent and almost certainly all given the same food while their owners are on holiday? Has anyone tried to find out if they will eat what is given, or (as they pften do) refuse, and if so how do the 'cattery' owners overcome this? Maybe a reader owns a cattery or knows someone who does. Any info re this would be very useful to cat owners.

Nice to hear that you are now using up what you previously would have thrown away Woozy. The more we can do that, the more control we have over our food budget. Using every last bit of what we have, with any luck - as prices rise - we might just manage to keep our status quo, maybe even spend less.
Did not (as you suggest) click onto any of William's links. Never do trust a comment that seems to have little or nothing to do with anything I've written about.

Beloved was in a good mood yesterday, even put most of the dried pots and utensils away where they should be (there you are - he knew all the time where they should go). We even talked about buying a new (small) freezer so that we have more room for his home-made ice-cream, bulk buys fo quality meat/fish, and various other things. With so many apples on our tree, felt myself I needed space for freezing them and other fruits, and will also have more room to prepare and freeze some 'home-made' ready meals so that B can thaw and reheat them in the microwave on the days I feel mega-tired. Once we have the freezer methinks I will try to be tired more often!!

Silly me said I'd buy the freezer (B would probably never get around to paying for it due to the padlock he keeps on his purse and he is always losing the key when we need something), but have managed myself to save enough to pay for it since Christmas, so that can be counted as almost a 'freebie' (for if I hadn't bothered to 'deliberately' save etc, etc.). Who knows - he might even give me half the money ( if I plead poverty enough).

Decided on something simple for B's supper yesterday. Cut a big chunk from the end of the Ciabatta loaf (which had turned out better than expected), sliced this in half, spread each half with some home-made (richly flavoured) beef dripping and put it face down in a large frying pan to fry (as though making fried bread served with breakfast. In a smaller pan fried some squashed down (for speedier frying) beefburgers.
When the bread was nicely browned, topped one half with some 'duxelles' made earlier (finely choppped mushroom and shallot fried off in a little butter and oil), then placed the burgers on top, spread the fried side of the top piece of Ciabatta with a little English mustard, then placed this on the burgers to make a 'Shirley Sub'. A good handful of watercress garnished the plate.
Beloved opened a bottle of sparkling pink wine to go with (I had two glasses!!) and he took the lot outside to enjoy eating it 'al fresco' in the late afternoon sunshine. He really enjoyed his supper. Today think it should possibly be a fish dish as he hasn't had 'proper' fish (other than sardines on toast or Prawn Cocktail) for almost two weeks. Am finding that writing down each day in a little book I can keep in the kitchen is a real help to me to make sure he has a 'balanced' diet.
Goes without saying B yesterday ate all the remaining cheesecake that was left (and that was about three-quarters of it - it could have fed six when made). At least that give me space in the fridge now to put other things that he can eat when he wishes.

With that in mind, had better go off into the kitchen and think up a dessert or two (or snack or three) to keep my Beloved happy over the next couple of days. Then - if lucky - on Thursday morning we will be off to buy the freezer. Reminds me - it is Norma the Hair tomorrow morning, which means my blog maybe be shorter than normal over the next few days. Doubt any of you will mind. In any case, should be back tomorrow even if only time to reply to comments. Hope to see you then.