The recent announcement by the makers of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s, advising consumers that their sauces should only be consumed once a week, struck me on two levels.
Firstly, as the manufacturer was not required to make this declaration, I wondered what could have motivated it to take such a unilateral step.
Ever the cynic, I believe this move was less about serving the interests of consumers and more about protecting the long-term interests of the company itself.
The introduction of sugar taxes in a growing number of countries is a sign of governments starting to take action over the content of unhealthy processed foods, which have undoubtedly contributed to recent huge increases in chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. This gradual shift in governmental attitudes is reminiscent of similar moves in the 1980s and 1990s against harmful tobacco products. In due course, many tobacco companies found themselves on the wrong end of a number of expensive lawsuits from individuals with inoperable lung cancer, relatives of those who had died from smoking-related illnesses, and even some US states who sued the tobacco companies under consumer protection legislation.
I don’t think it too fanciful to imagine, in years to come, the same happening with the manufacturers of unhealthy, energy-dense, sugar and salt-laden processed foods. Could the move by the manufacturer of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s be part of a cynical long-term strategy to avoid exposure to similar lawsuits in years to come?
The second interesting aspect of last week’s announcement was that it revealed, to those who did not already know, that Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s are owned by the giant multinational Mars.
In fact quite a number of ostensibly independent and heathy food brands that we buy are, in reality, in the hands of just a few multinational giants.
Take, for example, Seeds of Change, a company which produces a range of organic cooking sauces. It is also part of the vast Mars empire.
Here in the UK, Able & Cole, an upmarket company specialising in the delivery of boxes of organic produce to customers doors, is in fact owned by the multinational William Jackson Food Group, which also owns the Aunt Bessie’s label (producing ready-made Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes, amongst other products).
Dorset Cereals, which produces muesli, granola and porridge, is owned by Associated British Foods, which also owns the brands Silver Spoon sugar, Allied Bakeries, Kingsmill and Ovaltine.
Innocent Smoothies, which sells “100% pure fruit smoothies”, was acquired by Coca-Cola in 2013.
In the USA, Boca veggie burgers is owned by Modelez (formerly Kraft). Kashi, which makes snack foods with “simple wholesome ingredients, and everything we believe” is in fact owned by the multinational Kellogg’s.
These are just a few of many, many examples of company ownership not always being what it seems.
What does all this tell us? Well, firstly don’t always judge the food you put in your shopping basket by appearance and claims on the label. Secondly, no sector of the food industry is safe from the rapacious appetite of the food multinationals, so if you care about whose pockets your money ends up in it’s worth being aware of who owns what.
Of course, the safest and soundest food any of us can eat is fresh food we have cooked from scratch ourselves, using ingredients we have either grown or which have come from a trusted supplier.
When Suma contacted me back in 2014, suggesting a collaboration, theirs was one offer I felt comfortable accepting (I have turned down similar approaches from other companies, on ethical grounds).
Suma is a workers cooperative which specialises in ethically sourced, wholesome, vegetarian ingredients. Under our agreement, I receive a box of ingredients from Suma every two months, from which I create an original recipe.
Here, as well as Suma products, I am using a seasonal treat to create the latest such recipe. Wild garlic (“ramps”) is now – briefly but gloriously – in season. You will find it growing in damp and shady woodland areas. It is prolific but its season only lasts a few weeks.
If you do go foraging for wild garlic, please only collect what you need and pick the leaves only, don’t uproot the plants.
This protein-packed vegan recipe is a version of the popular Indian subcontinent dish tarka dhal in which I have used split peas. Unlike lentils, split peas hold their shape. The wild garlic is added at the final stage of the cooking process so that its unique garlicky flavour remains a prominent element of the lovely combination of flavours at the heart of this rich, spicy comfort food dish.
yellow split pea and wild garlic tarka dhal
200 g yellow split peas
60 g wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tin organic chopped tomatoes
1 tsp turmeric
1 green chilli, seeds in (de-seed for a milder heat), finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp fresh coriander
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 litre water
For the tarka (spiced oil)
1. Place the yellow split peas in a sieve and wash under cold running water until the water runs clear.
2. Place the oil in a large pan over a high heat. Once hot, add the chopped onion. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the split peas, the ginger, chopped chilli, turmeric, and sea salt and stir to combine, then add the tomatoes and the water.
3. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low so that it bubbles and simmers gently, stirring occasionally. When the split peas are tender, but still holding their shape (this will take about an hour), add the wild garlic and most of the coriander. Stir to combine.
4. Now make the tarka. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over a high heat. When it is hot add the sliced shallot and stir constantly until it begins to brown. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and chilli flakes. Stir and cook for thirty seconds before adding the asafoetida. Cook for a further thirty seconds, stirring as you do. Remove from the heat.
5. Carefully pour the tarka mixture onto the dhal. Stir to combine. Serve the dhal piping hot, sprinkled with the reserved coriander and accompanied by rice and/or Indian flatbreads.