Sunday, December 03, 2006


I had started a little mini-series on the merits of various foods some time ago. Then a lovely email from the Bibliocook brought my attention to the excellent Eat the Seasons website, which already does the job!

You can sign up for email updates on what's good to eat right now and the site has lots of useful info on buying, storing and cooking it.

Right now, parsnips are it. My favourite root vegetable. Good stuff

Nua Amarach

People who know me think it's hilarious that I have my own country.

I think it's the way forward. We should each have an opportunity to run things for a bit!

Since I'm not allowed to get my hands dirty at the political coalface without a complicated process of nomination, election and at least a nod to democracy, I have to be content with a fairly rudimentary online game community.

Turns out it's a heck of a lot easier to discuss what 'they' are doing wrong with healthcare/education/crime in the pub or at the dinner table than it is to run things fairly and efficiently, even online. Who knew?

But things are a lot better these days in the Republic of Nua Amarach, and we're working on the government corruption issue. Trust me. I'm not a politician.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

PhilosophiƦ Doctor

By the time it's over I'll be a doctor. Not an MD mind, but a PhD. Literally, a Doctor of Philosophy. Isn't that odd? It'll be in the field of Nutrition, but I'll be a doctor of philosophy because, apparently, years ago, any research outside of the fields of theology or medicine was referred to as 'philosophy'.

Three years it'll take, but I've a feeling it'll seem like more. And we still haven't got the funding properly sorted. And I'll be so specialised within my profession at the end of it as to be virtually unemployable outside of my current area of work, continuing my regressive career trajectory in pursuit of what is interesting and away from financial progress.

Husband will need to be fantastically tolerant.

Must be crazy.

But it has to be done.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Obesity in Young Women- Higher Risk of Premature Death

Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine uses data from the Nurses Health Study (NHANES II) to show that women who had a high Body Mass Index (BMI) as teenagers are more likely to die prematurely from conditions like heart disease.

While the study has it's limitations, the authors emphasise the importance of preventing and addressing childhood obesity early to minimise the negative effects on long term health.

Wouldn't it be nice to see some public policy and investment in local programs from the Department of Health? Instead there is nowhere in the country which has a community paediatric dietetic service. Community dietitians say that paediatrics is not in their remit.

Children have to be referred to specialist services at acute hospitals- where departments are understaffed with huge waiting lists and cannot prioritise obesity over metabolic defects, diabetes, malnutrition, cancer etc. Even at risk premature infants 'graduating' from a neonatal centre have no resource for nutritional follow up- a disgraceful situation as the crucial window of opportunity for these children to maximise their 'catch-up' is very tight.

There's an embargo on recruitment due to 'capping' of staff numbers in the tertiary hospitals which is based on such a stupid assessment of staffing that it makes me furious to think about it.
One fine day, a lowly civil servant in the Department of Health & Children phoned every hospital in the country to ascertain how many staff were present for work at that time. A mini-census, if you will.
Staff numbers were then capped at this number- irrespective of uncovered leave, vacant posts, additional agency staff etc. Genius! No need to waste time looking at service demands or patient:staff ratios or anything more complex or effective.
A perfect approach to Healthcare Management that ties in nicely with budgets for 2006 being made available to hospitals in June/July 2006 (yes, 2006) rather than in September 2005- never mind Jan 06- to completely avoid any possibility of planned effective financial management.

Why we aren't rioting on the streets sometimes amazes me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bad Food Guide

Very interesting little documentary on BBC2 tonight about Raymond Postgate, the socialist historian and crime-writer, who was also the originator of the 'Good Food Guide' in 1951.

The insight into the awfulness of post-war British eating is truly fascinating, from Brown Windsor Soup and horsemeat to South African snoek and whale steaks.

Postgate railed against the complacency and often downright rudeness of catering provision, as it coasted along on the atmosphere of restriction and lack of flavour synonymous with WW2 rationing.

He was the founder and sole member of the 'Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Food' - his rallying article in the weekly magazine The Leader- which led to the Good Food Club. Postgate simply asked that individuals anonymously rate eating establishments on a short form, nominating good ones to membership of the Good Food Club. The response was overwhelming, with nominations coming in from all over the country.

When The Leader shut down, Postgate undertook to compile the nominated restaurants, cafes and hotel dining rooms into a reference guide. As a method of quality control, he traveled around to each of them with his son as a dining companion and co-taster, including in the book those that satisfied his down-to-earth tastes and met his not unreasonable standards of service.

The first Good Food Guide included 'Tips for Eating Out', extremely patronising by today's standards, but designed to arm the middle class diner of the 1950's against 'the enemy' of the snotty waiter, careless chef and mercenary restauranteur. As such, it is credited with being the forerunner of the consumer movement.

The Guide captured the zeitgeist of eating out in post-war Britain, including many ethnic restaurants and in particular, local Indian restaurants, like Veraswarmas in London.

It also encapsulated the rise of the 'knowledgeable amateur' chef patrons, such as George Perry-Smith, and his restaurant The Hole in the Wall in Bath. Perry-Smith was a hip, bearded bohemian whose quality menu was inspired by the young food writer Elizabeth Davis. Together, they are seen by many as the vanguard of a new confident British cuisine and the move away from Brown Windsor Soup and surly service, championed by Raymond Postgate.

Good for them, I say, and for the British dining public!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Disordered Eating, Self Esteem

Does anyone think it's increasingly rare that women are happy in their skins?
So many women I meet seem to almost completely tie up their self worth in their appearance. Oh I know it's always been the case that women have been judged on what they look like rather than who they are, but we're supposed to have moved on a bit since the 1950's.

In my line of work, I am more likely than most to be encountering dissatisfaction and poor body image on a regular basis, but among my friends and acquaintances, body shape, looks and dieting are a perennial pre-occupation, some of them to quite a pathological degree.

The conference on eating disorders in Barcelona recently was stimulating and worrying in almost equal measure.

Eating disorders are on the increase. The incidence is increasing in men as well as in women, and the onset is at an earlier age (though the most vulnerable time overall is still puberty).

The causes are multifactorial. Some researchers are looking at possible genetic predispositions which could make individuals more likely to develop an eating disorder under certain environmental conditions (ie stresses such as poor family support, bullying etc). Societal attitude to the beauty ideal is certainly a factor, as are the prevailing messages about food and eating. Media portrayals of 'ideals' and 'norms' are an influence on girls as young as 5.

Role models are important. Mothers and peers are enormously influential. A girl whose mother is always 'on a diet' and whose friends discuss Brittany versus Christina in terms of their looks rather than talent, is much more likely to suffer from poor self esteem and to have a distorted perception of her own body.

Parents of overweight children are frequently anxious about how to address the overweight without promoting body dissatisfaction and possibly triggering and eating disorder. In fact, overweight children are most likely already dissatisfied with their appearance.

This all probably sounds a bit 'heard it before- yaaaawn'.
We've had the Karen Carpenter biopic and Susie Orbach's 'Fat is a Feminist Issue'. We're jaded with the how skinny is Nicole/Lindsay/the one with the dark hair who used to be in Twin Peaks.

Here's the thing- eating disorders are a tragic psychiatric condition about stress and control and because as a society we contribute in some way, as individuals, we each need to start somewhere and do our bit.

I'm happy that I actively promote a move away from dieting behavior towards healthy relationships with food both in my work and my life, but I also resolved in Barcelona to get over myself.

For a start, I'm going to do my very best to
1. be less self-critical- of my abilities, my skin, my thighs...
2. not avoid going to the doctor because I'm self conscious about any/all of the above (I know, I know! I was barely aware that I did that and how ridiculous it is)
3. avoid engaging in discussions with or about others on the basis of weight or appearance
4. find a way to support and encourage my very good friend who I know in my heart has been suffering from anorexia nervosa for years to get the help she really needs

For health professionals; for ED suffers; for friends & family.
See if there are any resolutions you can make.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Food Preference Starts Early

An ongoing pan-european research project called INFABIO is looking at infant feeding practices and the development of food preferences. (You can read about other food preference research here).

There is quite a bit of evidence that babies who are breastfed have less neophobia about foods- they take to new tastes more easily than bottle-fed babies. The possible reason is that the flavour of breastmilk is subject to subtle changes, depending on the mother's diet, whereas formula milk always tastes the same.

Apparently, there is also evidence that babies can taste and smell some strong flavours, like garlic, while still in the womb as the phenol compounds responsible for the distincive taste can be found in amniotic fluid.

I'm glad that they know about the flavours by measuring phenols. Being a researcher is difficult enough.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bad Science

Oh I love this site!
It's Dr. Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' online presence and includes an archive of his columns of the same name in The Guardian.

I laughed out loud so many times at the comments on 'That Awful Poo Lady' clip from YouTube that my stomach hurt.

And he's the image of my friend Vinnie. Have a look.

(PS if you need any more convincing about the ridiculousness of El McKeith, the archives in Ray Girvan's Apothecary's Drawer blog are also pretty good on de-bunking bunkum spouted by the Scottish 'nutritionist')