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LIVING IN A MOTOR HOME: FAQ's

We always seem to get asked the same questions about living somewhat off grid in a motor home, to which the answers seem to spark a dozen more questions! So (to give our voices a rest!) here's the answers to our most frequently asked questions...

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Intensive Future: Killed by convenience

Original image courtesy of Graphics Mouse freedigitalphotos.netOriginal image courtesy of Graphics Mouse freedigitalphotos.netWelcome back to Part in the series Intensive Future: Progress isn't always a forward direction.

If you haven't read part 1 yet you can do so here>

So far I've highlighted some of the moral issues in our modern system of food production and farming, and we've touched on our day to day chemical exposure and the complex way it adds up to affect our health. In this weeks article I will finish up by exploring the modern day shopping mindset and ask the question - what is the true cost of consuming processed 'convenience' food?

 

What defines food as processed?

If the natural state of food is it's whole fresh form, then technically we could argue that cooking or simply slicing meat and vegetables renders them 'processed'. Freezing a leftover home cooked meal for reheating another day could also be classified as 'convenience food' since it saves you time and effort later, so for the sake of this article what exactly do I mean when I talk about processed and convenience food?

When I say processed I'm talking about the industrial processes like homogenisation, finely ground foods like flour for bread and cakes, shaped cereals, and reformed meats etc. We might as well throw the thickener-and-preservative-laden packet ready meals into the processed category as well, or perhaps the bin! ;)

I could also argue about the apparent dangers of the all that convenient plastic packaging leaching toxins into the food and drinks contained therein but for the sake of clarity and our sanity let's just stick to the processed nature of the food itself today.

 

Why is processed food so bad?

I'm sure you already knew that a lot of pre-packaged convenience food comes with a myriad of additives and such like, that's not exactly news, but what about the stuff that claims to be free from unnatural ingredients? If it's the same 'whole' food just in processed form, what's the big problem? Surely your body will be breaking it down just the same once it's inside right? Well, surprisingly that isn't always the case and that's exactly why I'm writing this article.

Our bodies aren't as efficient as we might think at breaking every scrap of food down to it's individual molecules – we all know that some foods like sweetcorn and some seeds can, ahem, exit in much the same form as they entered! In fact it's this inefficiency that actually helps to keep our digestive system clean and tidy which is why including lots of fibre in the diet is such a good thing!

A fascinating example of how even the simplest of processing can affect us is to look at the difference between eating whole nuts vs nut butters and the subsequent absorption of fat. Some nut butters contain added vegetable oil and sugar which of course would bump up the calories straight away, but even 100% nut butter means that you'll absorb more fat than the equivalent weight of whole nuts! Hows that now?

When eating nuts in their natural form, our teeth can only do so much to break them into smaller pieces before they enter the stomach. Although it may feel like total mush in our mouth before we swallow, molecularly speaking the nuts are still in fairly large pieces. When these pieces arrive in the stomach our digestive juices get to work softening them further in order for the intestines to extract what they can, yet they can only retrieve so much leaving the harder-to-reach fat to remain in the fibrous chunks, to then be expelled still intact in our stool. With finely processed nut butters, the fat molecules are so well exposed that almost all of it is absorbed meaning more fat for you and less fibre to help 'sweep up' on it's way through. Apologies if you're reading this on your lunch break! ;)

I'm not saying that we shouldn't eat nut butter at all since it can be a great source of protein and essential fats and vitamins, but it makes a good example of how the simplest of processing methods can affect you differently.

 

Homogenised milk is another example that works in a very similar way to nut butters. Milk in its natural form tends to separate slightly when left to stand, leaving a layer of fatty cream at the top of the bottle – remember having milk delivered like that?

After pasteurising (the process of heating gently for an extended period of time) to kill potentially harmful bacteria, 'homogenisation' is the process of agitating the milk to break apart the fat molecules. The fats are essentially smashed into each other until they become small enough to be evenly distributed throughout the entire solution, leaving it a creamier consistency that no longer separates when left to stand. Again the greater exposed surface area of the fat particles means that much more of it is absorbed into your blood stream during digestion compared to non-homogenised milk.

 

The absorption story doesn't end at additional fat, 'intestinal permeability' also known as 'leaky gut' (often linked to the now widespread Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is where damage to the intestinal wall allows much larger food molecules and bacteria to pass directly into the blood stream than what should be getting through. These molecules should be merely the nutrients pulled from our food which would then go on to travel in our blood to the cells that need it, so when something larger and with a slightly different chemical profile appears, our body deems it to be a 'foreign' substance causing our immune system to react to defend itself. Our immune system responds by attacking, absorbing, and then identifying the substance, sending a message to other immune cells throughout the body that anything else found with that chemical profile should also be intercepted and dealt with accordingly. If the chemical profile of the 'invader' is too similar to that found elsewhere in the system or even our own body cells, then our immune cells may attack those as well!

As we all know from being stung by nettles or bitten by insects, the histamine produced by our immune cells to help deal with foreign bodies can cause painful swelling and inflammation. This immune response 'gone wrong' is essentially what lies behind allergies and autoimmune disorders, the body overreacts to a perceived threat and sends far too large a force to deal with it causing us all manner of discomfort. It appears to be a chicken or the egg scenario, did the damage to the intestinal lining come directly from eating processed food or is processed food simply exacerbating an existing problem? The fact remains that while Doctors still don't fully agree on what causes the damage, the after effects are very real.

Either way, gluten molecules from finely processed modern breads and flour are causing big enough issues to enough people to force them away from anything containing it altogether. Recent studies suggest that remnants of pesticides such as Glyphosate sprayed on the wheat in the field may also be hitching a ride through our intestinal walls and could perhaps be the very irritant that those labelled gluten-intolerant are reacting to, rather than the gluten itself. The fact remains that gluten intolerance really wasn't a medical issue in days gone by, and although Paleo dieters would argue that we are simply not designed to eat grains or drink cows milk at all, we were seemingly doing just fine up until the emergence of industrial scale processing and chemical pesticides. In my own personal experience, cutting out factory foods and switching to an organic diet has stopped my own IBS problems and I continue to enjoy bread and wheat products. Go figure.

 

> Leaky gut explained at Web MD http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/leaky-gut-syndrome

 

Scientists are often wary (or silenced it may seem) of publishing negative findings about additives or products from large corporations in fear of being sued for any losses in profit resulting from their 'defamatory' papers, yet processed meat is something that even the World Health Organisation agrees is bad for our health, and it could be much worse than we initially thought.

Formed meat products like ham, sausages, and chicken nuggets are first reduced to a finely blended paste to be mixed with various stabilisers, preservatives, and not forgetting bulking agents to make it go further, before then being formed into the desired shapes we shop for. Since consumers these days are somewhat put off by obviously 'fake' meats, some companies go to the effort of creating more natural shapes or even inserting elaborate fat inclusions to give the appearance of ham or steaks cut from a piece of real muscle meat! This is when reading the labels is extremely important, I've been fooled by looks alone plenty of times only to discover upon reading the packet at home that it's formed meat - urgh!

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/nov/03/foodanddrink 

Meat is adulterated in factories where trimmings from making attractively shaped steaks or cheaper cuts are quite literally glued together with a substance called transglutaminase to appear as a whole steak of its own. There's also the novelty foods wherein strips of beef is glued to fish or the like for a truly Frankenstein, albeit spectacular looking, party centre piece. This gluing together of cuts means that the bacteria on the outside surfaces can be transferred to the centre, causing more health risks than we initially bargained for. The presence of any bacteria that survives the cooking process doesn't have to cause an immediate bout of food poisoning to cause you bother, those that survive until reaching the intestines can go on to start colonising where they compete with our friendly helpers. Along with other dietary bloopers, these nasties can change the very intestinal environment itself to be more welcoming to their own kind – this higher acid environment puts further pressure on our alkaline-loving friendly helpers leaving vacancies for the rest of their nasty mates, and ultimately contributes to damage of the intestinal wall itself.

Bacteria isn't the only issue behind the widespread use of meat glues, the chemical profile of transglutaminase is very similar to an enzyme that occurs naturally in the body and as we touched upon briefly above it can cause our immune system to treat both as invaders, such is the case in sufferers of Celiac disease.

 

> more on the danger of meat glues:

http://www.newsmax.com/Health/Health-News/processed-foods-autoimmune-disease/2015/12/31/id/707742/

https://delishably.com/food-industry/Meat-Glue-What-It-Is-And-What-You-Should-Know

 

You may also be aware of the massive controversy in the last few years regarding the discovery of beef and pork DNA in 'added water' chicken, not only was it an issue for many people for religious reasons but also those who had chosen to avoid certain meats for various health and moral reasons. There was immediately public outrage upon release of the information highlighting the fact that many consumers have no idea what they're buying and feeding their family – yet despite the reaction the problem hasn't gone away. Chicken and bacon with added water 'for succulence' includes these proteins and additives to help the meat hold it all in until cooking, when it then shrinks beyond recognition leaving behind that all too familiar weird residue, and the bitter taste of disappointment. The rules vary for different classes of meat but there is an industry allowance of between 5 and 10% added water content without even needing to declare it on the label. I personally find the 'succulence' labelling an outright insult to our consumer intelligence since it's all too clear that it's an industry cheat to sell less meat for more money!

 

> Check out this article by The Food Commission http://www.foodcomm.org.uk/articles/processed_meats/

 

A final point worth consideration is that factory processing means a greater risk of contamination by residues of industrial cleaners and machine greases etc. Of course there are strict industry safety guidelines regarding unnatural chemical contaminants in the resulting food, but rather than making sure any contaminants are prevented altogether the guidelines merely set an upper limit to the levels of things other-than-food that are allowable in the final product. In instances where a company argues that it is impossible to make a product within the legal MRL (Maximum Residue Limit) more often than not (if the company has a large enough legal budget anyway) the legal levels are simply adjusted, as long as a scientist somewhere is willing to sign off that it would still be safe for consumption of course – whether they're paid to give a 'safe' result or not brings us to a whole other argument regarding corporate ethics and honesty. If that lot doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth I don't know what should!

 

If it's so bad then why do we still buy it?

Why is 'convenience food' so appealing these days? The clue is it the label - in our stressfully short mornings it's far less hassle to just pour cereal into a bowl than to make porridge or boil eggs. Some people don't even know what to do with real eggs in the first place! We don't have the time to prepare and eat a quality meal during our lunch break so we buy a sandwich from a van. When we're tired from a long day working and commuting, the last thing any of us want to do is to begin the exhaustive process of cooking a family meal from scratch so we speed things up by opening a jar of something, or ordering in. The high fat and sugar content satisfies our need for a quick fix solution, and the next time that we're in a pinch or feeling depressed we remember what helped us out last time... We may know very well that convenience food is bad for us but the knowledge doesn't change the limiting reality of our busy lives.

The lure of saving time cooking or cleaning up afterwards is a strong force to overcome, and I can totally understand why pre-chopped veg and cook-in-the-bag chickens exist. These products however, despite adding to landfill and the ridiculous price tags for the fractional time saving enjoyed, are not really the enemy of this article - unless the bagged chickens have been further interfered with by water injection! There's nothing wrong with utilising a frozen ready meal or tinned soup as long as there's no weird extras in the ingredients and as long as the meat is, well, meat!

 

In the middle ages, many communities suffered terribly with ill health due to malnutrition despite the fact that they were growing and handling all the grain and vegetables that they could possibly desire to be healthy. Why? Because there was an immoral and restrictive taxation system in place wherein they were forced to hand everything to the land owners in order to merely afford the rent of the land itself. They hoped that if they could just get by, next year the harvest might be better and they might be able to afford to keep or buy some of it back and one day eat better, the harsh reality being that they and their children would continue to live their entire lives in a constant struggle for survival until cut short by ill health.

Today's modern day comparison to the starving peasants and over-indulged lords of yesteryear would be those who, despite having jobs or receiving state pension, still find themselves choosing between food and heating. Those families that are living hand to mouth and have nothing left to spend on good quality food because they had to fork out for a new school uniform this time, the car needed fixing, or because the mortgage or rent just went up again... I could say that it's funny how history has not changed much, but in reality I don't find it funny at all that families are being tricked into buying adulterated meat when they wouldn't if they knew, or are finding themselves forced by budget restraints to eat such low quality food that it's slowly killing them!

My main concern with our modern system is that people shouldn't have to spend over ¾ of their income just to have somewhere to live, leaving nothing in the budget for healthy food nor the personal time after working all hours to be able to cook properly.

 

What are we really paying with?

By consuming processed foods not only are we often starving our bodies and brains of vital nutrients but we are often adding to it's workload by consuming toxins that must be processed away before it can even begin making new cells etc. Our liver and kidneys already have important jobs to be doing aiding proper digestion, cleansing the blood, and supporting the immune system without throwing foreign substances into the mix to be identified and responded to.

To save ourselves a pound here and there, or a few precious minutes per day, we're likely cutting short the very lives of ourselves and our family members by years! Is it really worth it?

> http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11795/

 

There is much more to be discovered about the 'flora' of helpful bacteria our bodies employ, and unbalanced gut flora due to imperfect body conditions have been attributed to many serious health problems. Consuming anything detrimental to the health of our intestinal 'helpers' can have a knock on effect that causes years of suffering.

> http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/04/28/ultrawellness-lesson-4-gut-digestive-health/

 

What does our future hold?

So far it seems that advances in medicine and surgery has resulted in a remarkable increase in the human lifespan, only for it to be undermined by a pitiful food production system and poor public education regarding nutrition which is sad. People are suffering terribly and dying from diseases that frankly should not exist.

 

Money is as usual the driving factor on both sides of the problem. We buy poor quality because most of us can't afford much else, and the companies sell us fakes and fillers because they can make more money doing so! Personally I can't see how it can make financial sense for a company to put so much time and effort into faking meat instead of just properly butchering the real thing, but loopholes in cheap imports and the legal quantities of additives and bulking agents allowed in food products make for some big profit opportunities. The recipe is simple and very tempting to a great many people with low morals; take a popular food, add some money saving legal loopholes along with a cheaply run factory and some quality advertising executives and you have yourself a big pile of cash!

The appeal of meat glues and the like can stem from a naive trust of new technologies in this modern era, we naturally assume that anything advertised to us has been thoroughly tested and proved safe where it is often not the case. Perhaps also the problem is from companies that specialise in producing just one meat product. In a traditional butchers shop the odd shaped yet high quality trimmings left from cutting attractively shaped steaks would simply be minced for making their own quality burgers, minced meat, sausages, and pies. It would simply take far too much time messing around with glue to construct a few extra steaks compared to just selling it in another form. A factory that only deals in producing whole steaks that doesn't want to invest in extra machinery or training for other products will of course look at the pile of scraps as money and so something they should be making use of, and I agree that the meat should definitely not go to waste just not by turning it into 'frankensteaks'! Again the title of this series is more poignant than ever – progress isn't always a forward direction. I feel it's an area that I can only see being improved by manufacturers with a wider product range to use the off cuts more wisely, by increasing restrictions on low quality imported food and potentially dangerous additives, and for now by increased public awareness and boycotting of the companies using particularly bad practices.

 

Despite the restrictions of our modern lives, we are still in charge of the decisions we make and in reality we can shape our future into anything we like! Personally we decided that the house price and rent issue was so ridiculous that we chose to do away with it and bought Waki the motor home, and boy are we glad we did! Although it was an easy move for us to make and allowed us a much bigger budget, and time, to spend on food and improving our health, we appreciate that not everyone can (or would want to!) do it the same way.

The thing is that everybody has something that they can do to improve their lot, so a brighter future for you and your family starts with you. It could be growing your own fruit and veg, starting your own business, learning how to bake your own bread instead of buying the chemical crap (p.s. bread-making machines exist!), ditching another expensive habit, leaving the car at home more often to free up some cash, or even joining or starting a community co-operative to help spread the cost and efforts of producing and buying better food in your area...

If you're one of the lucky ones that has time or money to spare, consider working with charities that help poorer families or champion better food production methods and allotments etc. Whatever your situation I urge you to take a close look at your own lifestyle, examine your budgets and decide where you can take steps to help forge a future you'll be happy in.

 

People power works!

The human race evolved as a social animal able to communicate ideas and work together to achieve incredible things, so let's use it to our advantage instead of struggling on alone!

Social media isn't just for trolling your colleagues with holiday snaps, it can be instrumental in spreading awareness about exactly these kinds of important health issues and for mobilising the masses. Where did you find a link to this article? Having a moan on your social media platform is also something of a magic wand for getting the attention of a business you want to see results from! Have you ever noticed how incredibly quickly a company will respond to a public complaint or negative response on a post compared to weeks of ignored calls or letters via their proper channels? ;)

Supermarkets monitor our buying habits very closely, any changes to which are soon noticed and investigated in order to minimise profit loss and to quickly take advantage of new trends. Customer feedback is gold in the marketing world and is often taken very seriously, especially if the same values are clearly reflected by other customers as well.

Write to your supermarkets however you find easiest and tell them what you want to see, and perhaps what you don't, in your local stores. Explain to them why it means so much to you, adding who else may win your business instead if you don't see any improvements will likely make them take note! Waitrose, and even Aldi, appear to be leading the way with high quality and high welfare meat and organic groceries so buckle up Asda! ;)

 

How to buy and eat better right now:

Read more - Read the labels to check what's declared, read up on any additives you're not sure about, and read more books about health and nutrition. Add a good cook book to the reading list and perhaps you can do away with some of those over priced processed products altogether!

Question more – Ask where your food comes from and how it was produced, an honest and ethical company will be more than happy to tell you all about their practices so beware those that give vague responses or refuse completely for fear of losing sales! Ask yourself why something is being sold at such a low price and remember if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is!

Savour and save – Good quality food is one of life's simplest pleasures and should have our complete attention so savour every bite - appreciate the flavours and the effort it's taken to get that food from field to fork for you. You're less likely to overeat when you're mentally present and also much less likely to waste good food when you think about the whole process. Save any leftovers and make the most of them for lunches and easy evening meals, you've already paid for it after all!

Take back control - You are the one ultimately responsible for your own health and well being so make sure that you are the one that decides what you are eating. Ideally, buy your food whole and directly from reputable sources to ensure that there has been no interference along the way. If something doesn't live up to your standards, don't settle for it and leave it right there on the store shelf!

Use your imagination – It can be tough to think of alternatives to the usual go to conveniences (especially with a continuous train of adverts for it all in our faces everyday!) which is why we inevitably end up eating the same boring sandwiches and easy rubbish week in week out. No matter your specific lunchtime requirements, there are plenty of much healthier and exciting things that you could be making yourself and enjoying hot or cold if you just expand your imagination. Ryan's favourite eat-anywhere packed lunch is a nice big slice of quiche or a home made pasty, and for when he's back at base a hot soup or leftover stew is something to look forward to! Have a browse of our recipe sections and get out there on Google to rekindle the flame of your own imagination, your taste buds and body will thank you.

 

This guide by Hampshire Trading Standards, below, is especially informative and gives some good pointers to follow when shopping - http://www3.hants.gov.uk/tradingstandards/tradingstandards-consumer/food-consumers/tsguide-meat-content.htm

For more tips check out our guide to switching to an Organic lifestyle for pointers on how to balance the budget when sourcing higher quality food.

 

We hope that you found this article and the series informative and helpful, we'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject so leave us a comment below. Remember also to share this link on Social Media to help us reach even more people in need of help!

 

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About us:

My name is Sarah and in 2011 my husband Ryan and I decided to buy and re-fit an old motor home - we named it Waki and now live in it full time in the UK!

We live neither on or off-grid, rather somewhere in between, and are not the first and I dare say not the last to choose this way of life... read more>> 

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