Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Defense of Food

Here is a brief excerpt from an excellent book I’ve been reading:

People eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. Scientists can argue all they want about the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon, but whichever it is, the solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: Stop eating a Western diet.

In truth the chief value of any and all theories of nutrition, apart from satisfying our curiosity about how things work, is not to the eater so much as it is to the food industry and the medical community. The food industry needs theories so it can better redesign specific processed foods; a new theory means a new line of products, allowing the industry to go on tweaking the western diet instead of making any more radical changes to its business model. For industry it’s obviously preferable to have a scientific rationale for further processing foods – whether by lowering the fat or carbs or by boosting omega-3s or fortifying them with antioxidants and probiotics – than to entertain seriously the proposition that processed foods of any kind are a big part of the problem.

(In Defense of Food, an eater’s manifesto, by Michael Pollan.)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Break in Beechworth

I may have done things differently if I’d visited Beechworth several years ago. Would I have chosen THAT town for my tree-change instead of the town I now call home?

Gloria and I recently stayed in Beechworth for a few days, living in a cottage that was over 150 years old. We both loved the town. It had historical character, with many of its old buildings in the main street retained. And it had natural beauty, set alongside stunning bushland with waterfalls and exposed rock visible from parts of the town.

Our first day started with some disappointment. We set out to explore and found most of the town was closed – the majority of businesses didn’t open until 10.00am. And one of the cafes we had hoped to try was on the market, and not currently trading. The weather was also unpredictable. It rained, the sun came out, and it rained again, making us change our plans to try a couple of guided walks run by the tourist information office.

It took us a few hours to get our bearings but the more we saw of the town, the more we started to enjoy the place. Highlights of our short holiday include visits to the Beechworth Honey Experience and The Potters Beechworth .

We made a few visits to each. The honey shop not only sold Beechworth Honey products, it had a very interesting video tour about their business, bee keeping, honey and the importance of bees. The series of short videos was very well presented and has made me want to find out more about the role bees play in maintaining the security of food supplies.

My interest in Beechworth Pottery started weeks ago when I bought two “One Tree Hill Pottery” vases from an antique shop. I wanted to find out more about the makers and an internet search introduced me to The Potters Beechworth which is run by the makers of One Tree Hill pottery. We spent a lot of time in their shop admiring their work and added some pieces to our small collection.

Another highlight of the town was its Farmer’s market. We were driving out of town on the way home when Gloria remembered we’d earlier seen the market being advertised. We turned around and drove back to the church where the market was being held. It left our local market for dead.

There was a good number and variety of stalls selling fruit and veggies, organic meat, preserves, olive oil, wines, art work and plants and attracted a lot of shoppers, contrasting significantly with our local farmers market which now has few stalls and few shoppers.

The atmosphere of the Beechworth market was enhanced by its location in the church grounds (ours is held in a public car park) and the ringing of the church bells definitely added to the experience.

Our holiday was not limited to time in Beechworth. We spent one day driving to neighbouring towns. My main plan was to visit Glenrowan, site of Ned Kelly’s failed stand against the authorities, but we managed to also fit in the antique shops of Chiltern, Rutherglen, and Benalla.

Glenrowan was a disappointment being mostly tourist shops exploiting the story of Ned Kelly. Two of them had their own museums dedicated to Kelly, but after seeing what was on offer I wasn’t prepared to pay the few dollars admission. Maybe it would have been worth the price, but I’ll never know.

We had been to the town about 20 years ago and had fond memories of being welcomed by a bearded man shouting “Howdy peoples!” while he handed out pikelets with cream and jam to arrivals parking in front of his café. That generosity led to us entering to have pumpkin soup and damper for lunch. Of course, after all this time the man was no longer there.

A couple of doors down the road is an animatronics show about Ned Kelly’s shootout with the police. Said to have cost millions to create, this is perhaps the most worthwhile attraction the town has on offer. It is a partly interactive experience using the same kind of technology of several Disneyland rides. We tried it during our earlier visit to the town and Gloria found it quite frightening, so we didn’t go in this time.

For me the highlight of Glenrowan was finally seeing the actual site where Kelly and his gang met their end. The location of Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn, where the gang were cornered by police, is now an empty block. It is signposted and has some naive sculptures of the Kelly gang beside it, but not much more to see: not even signs of a recent archaeological dig featured on an ABC TV documentary hosted by Tony Robinson of Time Team fame.

Around the area of the siege site are sign-posts and more naïve sculptures, giving details of various incidents associated with the Kelly shootout: including the police position and where Kelly was captured. Without these I would have found the visit to the town a waste of time.

It’s not a place I’m planning to visit again, having already seen the best of what the town has to offer (the animatronics show and the siege site). For someone who has never been to the town, a short detour from the Hume Freeway may be worth it for those experiences, but for myself, I’ve now seen enough.

There is still a lot of Beechworth and the surrounding area that we haven’t seen. We didn’t get to take the guided walks to find out about places of historical significance associated with the gold rush and the Kelly story. Those are things we’d like to try next time.

Until we have the opportunity to return, I’m sure we’ll continue to wonder whether Beechworth would have been a better choice when we moved from Sydney. But I suppose the differences between a short term holiday and a lifetime home are significant. At least we have discovered a very pleasant town suitable for an occasional escape from reality whenever we can take a break away from home.