I’m concentrating on fruit and vegetables, so any extra rhubarb in this column is entirely intentional. The government mandarins over here have issued new guidelines. They’ve released a report, or it might have been leeked, stating that their old advice of five portions a day is wrong and that the magic number is now seven. Initially, this did not strike me as something which would go down well, though driving past a field I was sure the cows were looking unusually chuffed. But, assuming they’re not going to enfranchise cattle, why, I wondered, did they do it?
I discovered that scientists studied the habits of more than 65,000 people, and the official conclusion was ‘the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die’. I’d always thought dying was an unpleasant certainty whatever you ate, but this was a dangled carrot of immortality that I’d be nuts to ignore. So I headed for the kitchen, and after some searching I discovered what appeared to be a secret compartment in the fridge containing a stash of these life-giving fruits and vegetables. Who knew! Anyway, I chose one that I recognised – an apple – and, with unpractised ineptitude, set about de-coring both it and my thumb. It was at this point that Mrs J entered and had to clutch the worktop for support; at the sight not of blood but of me and raw fruit in close proximity. When I told her what I was doing, and why, she smiled that special smile she reserves for me, and explained that what the scientists meant was that by following their advice you will live longer, but not indefinitely. Pushing the apple away I agreed that if you consume loads of rabbit food it probably would seem that way, but then I realised that was just sour grapes; if it lets us live longer, and prosper, then it’s worth investigating.
The idea is that we should eat more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to whom we are still very similar. They only ate what they could catch, and since plants didn’t run away as fast as animals – except maybe triffids – that’s what made up the majority of their diet. This all seems well and good, but while our hunting ancestors would have had more success hitting a mammoth than a marmoset, increasing the size of this particular target doesn’t make things any easier in today’s world. The average person in the UK consumes only four portions of fruit and veg a day, and I admit that, for me, that is not so much an average as an aspiration. So the instruction to achieve seven leaves me in something of a pickle, and not only because I am going to have to use both hands to keep count.
What I needed was a plan, and I started by making a list, cherry-picking the stuff that I like. My initial effort contained fruit pastilles, lemonade and French fries. I suppose I wasn’t too surprised when the first two were disqualified, but since potatoes aren’t mineral or animal – despite the eyes – how could they not be vegetables? It’s the starch, apparently, which is ruled ineligible somewhere in the small print. I had a fall-back plan involving real fruit and a certain amount of fermentation, (actually at seven a day it was more of a fall-over plan), but that was also banned. I didn’t even try arguing that two bread rolls constitute a pear.
But if I’m not allowed to cheat, this living longer lark is going to be one tough nut to crack. Meanwhile I’m getting through a lot of toffee apples, though I tend to stop once I’ve licked the outside off, which I can’t help thinking might reduce the benefits. The trick, apparently, is to hide the fruit and veg in something else, or disguise it. That’s probably sensible, but a banana and spinach smoothie still sounds like something you’d threaten kids with to make them do their homework. So for now I guess I’ll follow my usual routine with new ideas, and just write about it. And can I squash any more into this health-giving column? One more, maybe, then that shallot.