Thursday, 16 February 2012
Is rhubarb and pineapple a winning combination?
Will eating rhubarb and pineapple together kill you? I have been thinking recently about the myths I grew up with, particularly those involving food. It's not the bizarre ones that are problematic and I suspect they were confined to my slightly eccentric family anyway. The rhubarb and pineapple combination always seemed an unlikely culinary choice, even if it is harmless. However, I also remember being told to add bicarbonate of soda to green vegetables "to keep them green". Unfortunately this is a practice that destroys the Vitamin C. It also seems pointless, as I have never noticed that vegetables do lose their colour, except when seriously overcooked. Fortunately that once-common advice does seem to have died out, but other damaging food practices persist. A good (and intelligent) friend insists that she always cooks vegetables without a lid on the pan "to get rid of the poisons" and tells me that she has read advice on this in several womens' magazines. Googling the topic does indeed bring up recipes that specify cooking vegetables in this way to "release volatile acids". I'm more inclined to believe the food scientist colleague who assures me that although some vegetables do indeed contain natural compounds that are potentially poisonous in large doses, they are not present in large enough quantities to cause harm (if they were they would make the vegetables too bitter to eat), and in small quantities may actually benefit our health. Moreover, it will make no difference to the levels whether there is a lid on the pan or not. So do our cooking habits matter? They might, when we consider that Relu research into the relative merits of importing vegetables or eating locally grown produce noted that the cooking process is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions of food. For example, 48% of all energy used during a potato's life cycle is expended in the kitchen. Simple actions to reduce fuel consumption - like putting a lid on the pan - can actually make a difference. But knowing this at an academic level isn't going to help, if there is a different message prevailing in the kitchen. How can we bridge the gap? Interdisciplinary research can be useful because it brings social science into the picture and helps us to understand human behaviour and how we use knowledge. But we also need better sources of information and better ways of telling people about research findings.