Member of Parliament Barbara Creemers devoured Know What You Eat, Knack and Knack Weekend’s series on ultra-processed foods. “There are alternatives to the wave of burnout and complaints about mental and physical health. The starting point for starting from food is an exquisitely outstretched hand.’
“Ten Knack editors didn’t eat ultra-processed foods for a month.” I’ve told almost everyone I’ve come across in the past few weeks. And certainly what they learned from it. “They lost almost two kilos on average, even though it wasn’t meant to be. Health complaints such as migraines were noticeably better after that month, and they had fewer heavy metals in their bodies. And perhaps most surprisingly of all, they didn’t spend more money!’ These are just a few conclusions of an experiment that Eva Kestemont, Lotte Philipsen and Trui Engels wrote a number of articles about. That series deserves a large readership because every letter in it has the potential to make our lives and our world better.
‘Enjoying food sets in motion a radar system capable of changing the whole world’, writes Eva Kestemont in her concluding column. She refers to thinkers such as Carolyn Steel and Annemarie Mol, who put food at the center of their worldview and vision of how government should organize that world. We all do this unconsciously: in celebrations and traditions around important turning points in our lives, food is always central. And yet we no longer do it in our daily lives. It is high time to change that.
‘Change the world, start in the kitchen’
Because there is one stick in the whole experiment that actually determines all the next steps: time. We know that the time you invest in eating well will pay off in better health and stronger mental resilience. And yet time – or lack thereof – is the argument against making the experiment a habit. The food industry plays a joint but decisive role here. With their marketing, they make us believe that ultra-processed foods will solve our lack of time in a healthy way. And that is a lie. Even a tough one when it comes to health, according to general practitioner and author Staf Henderickx with examples from his practice. But also in terms of time, a ready-made dish does not win if you compare it with a quick pasta or with your preparations from the weekend.
It is the government’s job to protect the most vulnerable from harmful substances. This concerns tobacco, alcohol, PFAS, but also ultra-processed foods. Because in the meantime, we think it’s normal that it not finished is to smoke with a child in the car. We have clear rules on the sale of alcohol and tobacco to young people. So why not do it with ultra-processed foods? Where is free choice when everywhere you go you are bombarded with marketing for this unhealthy Bro?
But the discussion actually goes beyond that. Because I see many young families get stuck in rat race, hopelessly seeking peace in their lives and their families. They rush from school to daycare, to work and the children’s hobbies. In between, there is little time to cook quietly, let alone enjoy that food. Then we come back to the question of whether we should really work until we drop. Or that we finally realize that the system that imposes that reasoning on us needs an overhaul. Because if we start from the principle that less is more, we end up in a redemptive spiral of solutions, simply by reversing the reasoning. When we work less and are satisfied with the hunger for eternal economic growth, then it will be time to take care of our children and parents instead of using others to do it. Then there will be time again to work on our food and enjoy it together at the table. Maybe there will even be time for green fingers to grow at least some of our food themselves in community gardens. To learn from each other how to conjure up tasty dishes with a minimum of ingredients. Using every last crust of our bread and seeing that fewer ingredients and less food effectively lead to more enjoyment, more health and more rest.
We have clear rules on the sale of alcohol and tobacco to young people. So why not do it with ultra-processed foods?
These are the discussions that our society is currently having. Because everywhere you feel that we have to switch arms. One summer our villages are flooded, the next drought and heat worry us. The proportions are out of balance, both in nature and between people, and it shows. At the beginning of the pandemic, you felt the optimism that things would and should be different after corona. But now that we are resuming our lives and seeing that the pace is as fast as before, you see all sorts of signs that we have missed an opportunity. The experiment with Knack and Knack Weekend and the experiences that the journalists share with us are such signals for me. It’s not too late. There are alternatives to the wave of burnout and complaints about mental and physical health. The starting point for starting from food is an exquisitely outstretched hand. Because eating and drinking is one of the few things in life that you really have to do. Everything else is really secondary.
It is therefore good that Minister Van Peteghem proposes in his tax plan to bring the VAT on fruit and vegetables to 0%. And that is why it is good that Minister Vandenbroucke is working on a plan for healthy food. I hope he’s rereading the Knack and Knack Weekend series. Because the best time to make changes in the way we interact with food was yesterday. The next best moment is today.
When I was still teaching sustainable food for Velt, I always started with the slogan ‘Change the world, start in your kitchen.’ Because with the ten steps to a green kitchen, you really put consumers on the move. I changed one letter in the title of my opinion, but it immediately changes the whole perspective. Of course, we must continue to feed consumers the best ideas, tips and tools to help change the world in their kitchen. But more is needed, which is why we have to change the kitchens. The kitchens in hospitals, care centres, schools, nurseries, restaurants and public institutions. In fact, everyone’s kitchens. The challenges we face are too great to be left to consumers alone. But without the consumers who can show that they want something different with every bite they eat, the system won’t change. Therefore, a big round of applause for everyone who breaks the marketing of the food industry and cooks their own food. And it also saves a mountain of plastic waste. And an even bigger round of applause for the team behind Knack and Knack Weekend, who took up the challenge and thus put a stone in the river for the way we see food.