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an to of SpectatorScoff! A Z

by Hattie Ellis

L is for Locavore The term ‘locavore’ was coined in 2005 by a California chef, Jessica Prentice, to describe a person with a diet based on local food. Some set themselves the challenge of doing this exclusively, perhaps with the odd exception such as coffee and wine. The 1,000 members of the Fife Diet in Scotland have an 80:20 concept: 80 per cent local and 20 per cent fairtrade to cover such matters as bananas.

Counting cash? The Atkins product range

K is for Ketogenic Diets The Atkins Diet, and then the South Beach, the Dukan and others have got dieters into counting carbs rather than calories. The secret of such diets is said to rest on a process called ketosis. Our usual energy source is glucose, which comes from eating carbohydrates, be it a baked potato or a Mars bar. But if you severely restrict carbohydrates, to 60g or less a day, the body switches to another energy source: stored fat. The process of burning fat means you get a rise in your blood of ketones, acidic chemicals that are released as part of fat metabolism, and account for the ‘pear drop’ breath of ketogenic dieters.

Opponents, however, say low-carb diets make your body acidic, potentially leeching away calcium and minerals, and possibly lead to kidney problems. They often encourage people to eat more saturated fats and therefore could increase the risk of heart disease, even if you are thinner, and restrict or ban vitamin-rich foods such as fruits and some vegetables. Such diets go against current healthy eating advice, which is to base your meals on carbohydrates and low-fat foods.

Proponents of low-carb diets, including some NHS obesity medics, argue that low-carb diets are safe, the medical objections are theoretical and not proven, and not all low-carb diets encourage eating excessive saturated fat. They are an effective way of losing weight and the government is doing dieters a disservice by encouraging the overweight and obese to eat carbohydrates when these may be the problem in the first place. Furthermore, low-carb diets are in line with how our bodies evolved as hunter-gatherers: ketosis is a survival mechanism to see humans through times of food shortage. Ketogenic diets are healthy, they argue, not least by helping you lose weight. One reason for this is that ketones are appetite suppressants, so you feel less hungry and eat less. Perhaps the way such diets work is, at least in part, down to calories after all.

How local is local? There is no legal definition of the term and in the UK some take it to mean a county while others set the limit at 100 miles (or more, or less) in any direction. Oliver Rowe, the chef at a notable local food restaurant, Konstam at the Prince Albert, in King’s Cross, London, tries to keep his sourcing within the M25.

Locavores say the focus of a local diet makes them appreciate the seasons more, and seek out what’s on their doorstep. They go to farmers’ markets and farm shops and join communitysupported agriculture schemes, perhaps buying a share in a local pig or lamb. Eating locally means more time in the kitchen, preserving the summer’s glut for winter, for example, but is rewarded by taste and a sense of connection with food, place and community. It may be healthy and economical, since homecooked food in season can be cheaper and higher-quality than imported and processed foods.

According to a recent survey by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), the number of people buying local foods has doubled in the last five years, to 30 per cent. Freshness was the top reason given for buying local, and more people (54 per cent) cited supporting local businesses as a reason for buying local than environmental factors (30 per cent). But the bias of locavores is towards sustainably produced food rather than the fact that Bernard Matthews turkeys, say, happen to be local to Norfolk.

How many miles to market?

SpectatorScoff! Summer 2010