Let's bring a little balance

It’s good to be certain. Believing that you’re absolutely right about something a little contentious can give you that feeling of superiority; or a confidence in yourself that you might not otherwise have. Even if you’re wrong.

A good example is that Scottish police chief constable you may have read about who, in the 1930s, not only believed in the Loch Ness monster but was actively trying to provide it with police protection. “That there is some strange creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt, but that the police have any power to protect it is very doubtful,” he said.

But as time’s moved on and we’ve become more savvy and sceptical, I think most reasonable people accept that, despite wishing these things existed, there isn’t much chance of Nessie ever popping her head up and posing for the cameras. Because, like fairies at the bottom of the garden, she doesn’t actually exist. No, she doesn’t.

Or take St George and his dragon. Aside from the fact that the man himself makes a doubtful English patron saint, hailing from Turkey and never having visited our green and pleasant land; dragons are a touch contentious too. Admit it, when did you last see a genuine, fire-breathing dragon? Therefore, unless Turkish George was just too good at his job and wiped them all out, it seems they’re a bit of a myth too.

It was while reading about the quaint Scottish copper that, at the same time on the radio (yes, I can multitask), I heard a lady telling me about various superfoods. And she was very certain about everything and was probably convinced that because she lives on blueberries and doesn’t eat fat, she’ll live to be 150.

She was very enthusiastic and brimmed with confidence. There’s no doubt that she believed she knew something we didn’t and was desperate to share it. Just like those that used to tell us that a surfeit of carrots would mean that we’d never need a torch again. Or that wolfing down spinach would make us as strong as Popeye.

Sure, carrots are a good source of vitamin A and without it our eyesight would suffer. However, eating more of it has never been shown to improve sight. It seems (or is this another myth?) that a story was circulated to fool the Germans during the second world war saying that our gunners were being fed carrots so that they could shoot down more enemy aircraft. When in fact it was the newfangled radar that improved their sight.

And spinach may contain lots of strength-making iron but, due to other chemicals in the leaves, our bodies aren’t terribly good at absorbing it.

Then there are cholesterol-packed eggs that we were told would, sure as eggs is eggs, give you a heart attack if you ate more than one a year – until we were told otherwise and it’s now fine to eat an egg a day. Poor old prawns seemed to suffer from a similar myth.

So I can’t help but be sceptical when I hear that some new fruit smoothie made from yaks milk and gooseberry leaves will be more likely to keep me alive than the varied diet I currently enjoy. The enjoyment of food itself is such an important part of my life that it rather spoils it to examine each bit and question whether it’ll change the length of my life rather than its quality.

Let’s stop trying to eat what’s good for us and just learn to eat a bit of it all. Food itself isn’t mythical but the effects in can have on our lives can be magic – especially when cooked and consumed in the company of family and friends. However, there’s always the exception that proves the rule. So don’t go trying to tell me that half a dozen oysters won’t have an effect. Because if I believe they do, they do.

Originally posted June 2010

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