Assaults on Local Food Get Under My Skin — Especially at Thanksgiving

I was glad to see stories surface this week from scientists at the University of Guelph and elsewhere warning consumers to beware of restaurant food deep fried in oil.

They carried out a study showing oil with too many miles on it in the deep fryer gives off some nasty compounds, even if the food is best that Canadian farmers have to offer.

It was déjà vu for me. The findings parallel similar research conducted shortly after I arrived at Guelph more than 25 years ago, by transfat pioneer Bruce Holub. He was no fan of fried foods to begin with, given their fat content. But further, he railed against food outlets deep frying with what’s called partially hydrogenated oil (solidified for ease of handling, among other reasons), because of the harmful transfats he found in the oil.

He had a loud voice and knew the media was his friend. And ultimately, his findings were damning enough to prompt significant changes in the food industry’s choice of oil and way it, particularly for the fast food sector.

I’m glad, on the eve of Thanksgiving, we’re getting a reminder about ill-advised food preparation and consumption.  I’m concerned that in our ongoing drive for all things local, we’re forgetting one of the features that initially drew us to local food – that is, the intrinsic healthiness of food fresh from the farm.

I’m no joyless health freak, but I keep seeing recipes for deep fried turkey, desserts with a day’s worth of calories and other temptations labeled either as seasonal treats or new ways to use local food, and it drives me nuts. Preparing local food in unhealthy ways is not going to offer much of a health advantage. And when someone blows the whistle on its negative implications, it’s sometimes interpreted as being the farmer’s fault.

This is one reason I appreciate commodity groups teaming up with nutritionists and dietitians to offer up healthy ways of enjoying the local food their members produce. Well-meaning scientists are one part of the drive towards getting people to eat better. Farmers are another part. Who wants to see the fruits of their efforts turned into something held up for ridicule?

That said, I’ll put gravy on my turkey and potatoes this Thanksgiving, like I always do.And I’ll give thanks for the great bounty we have. It’s my favourite holiday. But regardless of the season, I’ll curse people who use local food to further their own interests and masquerade it as being good for you, when it’s prepared in a way that’s in their best interests, not ours…and casts doubt on the integrity of farming.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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