I’ve often heard men say (and women agree) that they couldn’t be trusted to do the shopping – they’d end up coming back with all the wrong products. And whilst I may have previously thought that this was yet another example a man feigning incompetence into order to get out of ‘women’s work’, I’m starting to have a little sympathy for their plight.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it yet but it is increasingly difficult to go to the supermarket and buy the basic foodstuffs, without your brain becoming completely spammed. Because there is no such thing as ‘basic’ food products any more. Everything I come across is enriched with a barrage of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics… you get the picture. And while we women are adept at the multi-tasking involved in scanning through the various options and weighing up what we really need, it could constitute sensory overload for our male counterparts.
Take omega-3 oils. They’re added to orange juice, to butter, to milk, to eggs, to cereal, to bread. Hell, I’ve even come across them in dog treats. We’re told to add omega-3 supplements to our children’s diet to boost their brain development and, if the volume of omega-3-enriched food on our supermarket shelves is anything to go by, we’re undoubtedly buying into this. After all, not doing so would make us a bad parent, right?
And as for those foods with antioxidant properties, which promise to make our skin glow, our hair shine and our eyes sparkle…Well, what’s a girl to do? Nescafe’s Far Eastern operation recently launched a product enriched with collagen, to pack our your wrinkles while you drink. Oh, bring it on.
I’ve written before about how gullible I am when it comes to food marketing. In truth, like many others, I treat food as a kind of alternative medicine, so I was fascinated by a report I came across from the ‘Restaurant of the Future’ at Wageningen University in the Netherlands recently.
The key laboratory of Europe’s biggest research centre in food science, Wageningen is making some fascinating observations on the eating habits of its staff and students when it comes to the many and varied foods it’s asked to test. Subject to their agreement, of course, the restaurant weighs each customer, records what they choose to eat and their heart rate as they consume it, films the reaction to the food and notes what’s left on the plate.
Now it does seem a little too voyeuristic to me to consider a researcher in a lab observing my every bite and I seriously wouldn’t fancy being hooked up to the machine which squirts tastes and smells via a tube into subjects’ mouths and noses and measure their reaction. But the results are fascinating and quite indicative of where we are going in the 21st century in terms of the way we munch, crunch and graze.
What was particularly fascinating was the manner in which our environment influences eating – like if a certain type of food is on the table, or the food is on a certain coloured plate, we’ll eat more. Powerful stuff, for any parent struggling to get adequate nutrition into a picky child. And I’m sure restaurant owners would be keen for more information on this too.
Intriguing and a tad disturbing is the notion of ‘oral wetting’, whereby food producers are adding a chemical to such products as ice lollies to make the consumer produce more saliva, ergo making the brain think that the product is more refreshing. You can make up your own mind whether this is marketing at its most cunning or truly food science of the future. Me, while I love the idea of particular foods making our lives easier (say by speeding up the process by which fat is broken down in the body), I’m not so comfortable when the tables are turned and our bodies are being ‘tricked’ into craving more of a product.
And, going on some of the research being done at the ‘Restaurant of the Future’, things are only heating up in the world of food science/ food marketing. How would you feel about those products which, experts say, will soon be making an appearance on our shelves? Like foods and drinks that contain encapsulated liquids which will turn to fibre in your stomach. Or anti-stress chocolate GABA, already available in Japan, which contains gamma-amino butyric acid that occurs naturally in the human brain and has been shown to help people relax and feel better about themselves (in my innocence, I thought all chocolate did this)? When I hear about this kind of innovation, I can’t help thinking there’s a lot to be said for a diet of fresh food only.
In the meantime ladies, the next time you see a man behaving like a complete basket case in your local supermarket, be kind.