I CAN’T GIVE UP READY-MEALS – SO WHAT CAN I EAT?

With ready-meals, it’s not just about additives. According to a recent Which? report, some contain up to nine times the amount of salt of their rivals. So, make sure to read the packaging: 0.5 grams of salt (often listed as ‘sodium1 to fool you) per 100 grams of food is a lot and 0.1 grams of salt is a little. But my greatest gripe about ready-meals is that they rarely specify where their meat comes from, which is why I only trust the following companies:

GRAIG FARM ORGANICS

Organic pioneers for the past 17 years, Graig Farm uses meat sourced from family-run farms in Wales and the Borders.

Each pack details the breed of animal. Main courses from £4.99. Call 01597-851655 or visit www.graigfarm.co.uk.

THE REAL MEAT COMPANY

Chef-prepared ready-meals from a company that puts an emphasis on animal welfare. Vegetarian dishes are available. Main courses from £3.49.

Call 01985-840562 or visit www.realmeatco.sageweb.co.uk.

DUCHY ORIGINALS

Prince Charles’s company produces ready-meals based on traditional dishes. Available from Waitrose and Budgens. Main courses from £3.49.

Call 020-8831 6800 or visit www.duchyoriginals.com.

l turning into an abattoir. There was no smell and no sound, until the sheep neared the gates: when they opened, out poured a river of brown. ‘That’s pure fear,’ whispered the slaughterman. I felt ashamed. Now I try to find out where my meat comes from and how humanely it was slaughtered.

I owe it to the animal.

Then there is the matter of‘laboratory’ food. Because so much of our food’s natural flavour has been lost over the years, there’s now a huge industry supplying colourants, flavourings and additives to make it palatable again. In the UK, we consume food containing Sunset Yellow, banned in Norway; tartrazine, banned in Austria and Norway; and amaranth, banned in the US, Russia, Austria and Norway.

There are chemicals on the outside of our food, too. Currently, over 400 chemicals can be regularly used in conventional farming to kill the weeds and pests that attack crops. A British apple, for instance, can be sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides. And a lot of those pesticides can’t simply be washed off. No one really knows what damage they do or what effect they have when they combine in the body.

So, are we doomed to spend the rest of our lives munching glumly on organically grown celery? Not necessarily. We just need to be choosier about our ingredients, like the French and Italians are. And we don’t need to give up our fast food, either. Leon, a new ‘fast food’ restaurant in London, sells a fillet of crunch-coated fish that tastes like a fast-food fish burger. And I mean that as a compliment. The taste of ‘fast food’ is usually chemically enhanced, and has more to do with men in lab coats than men in chef’s whites. Not here. And the fact that the fish comes from environmentally friendly sources is of secondary importance. It really is a happy meal. ‘We want to make it possible to get away from empty, sugary foods that make you fall asleep in the afternoon and wake up fat,’ explains John Vincent, Leon’s co-owner.

5 THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T EAT

BAGGED SALAD

Unless it’s organic, the chances are that it will have been washed in water with chlorine. Not great.

NON-ORGANIC CARROTS

Along with vegetables in the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, etc), carrots absorb the most pesticides. Even the Government ministry Defra has advised us to cut 3mm off the tops of non-organic carrots before we eat them.

styl-95NEW ZEALAND LAMB

When it spends six weeks on a freezer ship getting here? And we’ve got Welsh lamb?

CHEAP, FACTORY-FARMED CHICKEN

Look for the ‘hock burns’. The dark marks on the leg show where the ammonia from the bird’s own excrement has burned into its own flesh. Yum yum.

PROCESSED CHEESE

Need I say more?

At the other extreme is, wouldn’t you know it, an idea from the United States. The latest trend among health-obsessed foodies in California is raw or ‘living food’ restaurants, which use only vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits in their dishes, and don’t heat anything above 46.7°C (the point at which, some believe, enzymes begin to degenerate and harm the body). Actress Demi Moore’s new body was said to have been perfected by the regime.

There are 30 gourmet raw restaurants in the US, offering Caesar salads with sea kelp and ‘burgers’ made of sunflower and flaxseed meal. It’s a world away from the other America

– the America of doughnuts and fried chicken. As in Britain, the divide between the haves and the have-nots is growing – eating well takes education and money.

But if you can afford £200 for the latest iPod, you can afford better food. And, for me, that means organic. The backlash, saying that organic food is overpriced and not as pure as it seems, isn’t justified. The ‘organic’ label guarantees that the food is inspected at least once a year by the UK Register of Organic Food Standards.

It guarantees fewer pesticides and no genetically modified ingredients. Even if it costs me, on average, 25 per cent more, it’s a price I’m prepared to pay. And until science proves that I’m a fool, HI keep on paying it.B Full on Food will be back on BBC2 in the summer. Look outfor Richard Johnsons new column, starting in Marie Claire next month.

HOW TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR SHOPPING

Visit www.bigbarn.co.uk to discover good local food in your area. You can also find your nearest farmers’ market at www.farmersmarket.co.uk. But don’t expect to stop using the supermarkets altogether – just try to shop around a bit more to see what else is available.

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