For many decades, cigarette manufacturers refused to accept a growing body of scientific evidence which suggested a clear association between their products and diseases such as cancer.
With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems extraordinary that anyone should have ever regarded smoking as anything other than an unwise and unhealthy activity.
Ultimately, though, it was through decisive governmental action – restrictions on sales, enforced labelling, high taxation, restricted advertising, bans on smoking in public places, and so on – that cigarettes and smoking gradually came to be widely regarded by the public as unhealthy.
I think it’s time we treated processed food in the same way, because some of the food we eat is clearly not at all good for us. What’s more, whilst we can choose whether or not to smoke, we cannot live without eating.
In the developed world we have seen a massive increase in recent years in the level of conditions such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart and cardiovascular disease. The prevalence of these conditions is growing exponentially, and much of it is due to consumption of fatty and sugary foods.
If obesity was a contagious disease, like Ebola, we would by now have witnessed widespread public alarm and our governments would have been forced into funding programmes of research, treatment, prevention and public education to bring the condition under control.
Instead, because many of the biggest food manufacturers are uncomfortably close to government (in the UK, for example, the government’s policy group on obesity, alcohol and diet related diseases unbelievably includes the multinationals McDonalds, KFC, Pepsico and Kelloggs) obesity is being regarded more as an unfortunate byproduct of modern day existence rather than a preventable condition.
If our governments forced food manufacturers to clearly label their food products with the level of salt, transfats, sugar and other unhealthy ingredients they contain it would at least help us to make more informed choices about what we choose to buy and eat.
It might also encourage those same manufacturers to stop using cheap and unhealthy bulking agents like sugar and salt in their products. A steep tax on unhealthy ingredients would encourage them still further.
And why not, for good measure, insist on manufacturers of unhealthy food products displaying photographs on their food packaging of the damage their bad food can cause, similar to the images of smoking related diseases found on cigarette packets? I am sure that in no time at all we would begin to be offered a range of much healthier choices!
On to the recipe.
At this time of year the growing season is largely over and the thoughts of most gardeners inevitably turn to the next season. But at any time of year there is always something growing on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, and in the cold chill of mid to late winter one vegetable that really comes into its own is purple sprouting broccoli. Its lovely delicate-looking florets belie the essential hardiness of the parent plant.
I’ve used it here in a simple tempura. At its heart, Japanese cooking is simple, quick and healthy, and tempura is a good example of this principle. The light batter quickly coats itself around the broccoli in the hot oil, sealing in the flavor and ensuring the vegetables do not absorb the cooking oil. The flavor-packed soy and ginger dipping sauce is a perfect match.
broccoli tempura with soy and ginger dipping sauce
400 g organic purple sprouting broccoli
groundnut oil, for deep frying
for the dipping sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp water
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 spring onion, green part, finely sliced on the diagonal
for the tempura batter
80 g cornflour
120 g rice flour
pinch baking powder
pinch sea salt
250 ml sparkling water (or beer, which works well too)
1. Make the soy sauce by whisking together the soy sauce, mirin and water then stirring in the spring onion and ginger. Set to one side.
2. For the tempura batter, whisk the cornflour, rice flour, baking powder, salt and sparkling water (or beer) together until you have a thin batter.
3. Trim the broccoli florets, removing any extraneous leaves if you wish. Pour olive oil in a deep pan to a depth of about 7-8cm. Place over a high heat. The oil is ready when a cube of bread dropped into it crisps and browns within 30 seconds.
4. Dip the broccoli florets into the tempura batter, ensuring each is coated. Carefully drop them into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning to cook on all sides, until the batter is light and crisp. You will need to do this in batches to avoid crowding the pan and causing the oil temperature to drop. Remove the cooked tempura from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on kitchen paper. Serve while still hot, accompanied by the soy and ginger dipping sauce.