There’s been a bit of controversy swirling about in the health food industry over the past few weeks, with the scandal over Healing Belle and the veracity of her life story, and then chef Pete Evans’ widely repudiated advice about Paleo baby food.
While I’m not qualified to give a commentary on either of those cases specifically, it does remind me of a promise I made to myself when I started out with this business – I will never make a health claim about my food that is not widely supported as fact.
I do believe that good food is medicine, but I do not believe that specific foods should be sold as specifically medicinal. There is so much good, natural food out there for us to nourish ourselves with in order to give ourselves the best opportunity for good health. But human nutrition is a complex thing and much about it remains unknown, so I feel that by concentrating on whatever certain aspect of nutrition that is so hot right now (antioxidants are a bit passé now, but there was once a time where you couldn’t eat anything that didn’t claim to contain enough of the things to wipe out entire continents worth of free radicals in a single serve – I suppose the current equivalent is all those perfect proteins we’ve apparently been languishing for so long without), we risk neglecting the balance and variety needed to satisfy our remarkably resilient omnivorous constitutions.
If I were to subscribe to the approach of any one person towards food, it would definitely be that of American writer, Michael Pollan. Pollan writes that the best advice he knows of pertaining to diet is this: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He explains that by food he means stuff that occurs in nature – stuff that your great grandmother would recognise as food, and not all of those edible food-like substances that are marketed to us – both as mainstream and supposedly natural, healthy alternatives. His essay, Unhappy Meals, remains one of the most enlightening and liberating things I have ever read on this topic.
It is with this approach in mind – which I have paraphrased for myself into the maxim simple food is good food – that I set out to start my own food business. I mean, you can’t get much simpler than peanut butter (at least the way I make it!)
As I spend a lot of time selling my products in farmers markets and health food stores, people frequently ask me what are the health benefits of my products. To this I really only have one answer – they’re simple and natural and nourishing, and in the end that’s what food should be. The way I see it, I am always striving to make my food as healthy as possible, but I did not set out to make health food per se.
There are two more dimensions to what I make, however. Simplicity should not be an excuse for blandness, so each product has to be able to stand on its flavour alone if it’s going to provide a really compelling alternative to all the sugar and salt-loaded processed foods out there. But when you’re using lovingly produced natural products that are out there in abundance (if you know where to look), then really that is not so hard to achieve.
Then there is the ethical aspect. I felt when I was developing these products that I wanted to make really good food – that is food that you can feel unconditionally good about eating because not only is it good for your health and it tastes amazing, but it is also good for our planet and the communities that produced it. The truth of the matter is that I did not start out on this journey fully convinced of the benefits of organic farming (that has come since), but I did know for certain that I did not ever want to use an ingredient in any of my products that had reached me as the result of any kind of human exploitation. It just so happens that all of the cacao that I found that is Fairtrade is also organic, which is what set me down that path, though that is a story that is probably best left for another day, which is what I shall do.
Until next time, may all of your ideas be irrepressible!