A grandmother’s wisdom

Green Lifestyle magazine

Having dismissed his grandmother’s old food mantras when younger, Richard Cornish has since learnt of the wisdom behind the clichés.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom

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My Nana was a fount of folk wisdom with scores of mottos and sayings for every occasion. Although many of her customs seemed clichéd at the time, with hindsight she now seems an oracle.

“Chew your food 20 times.” This was one of Nana’s incessant favourites. And how right she was – digestion starts in the mouth. The physical act of the teeth tearing and grinding breaks food apart into smaller more digestible particles. Saliva is released and this not only lubricates the food but also changes the pH (making the food more acid). Enzymes are released that start breaking the food down chemically. Chewing also sends messages to the rest of the digestive tract to prepare for food heading its way – and as a result the gut produce chemicals to break down the food.

“Wait an hour after lunch before swimming in the sea or you’ll cramp and drown.” Actually, since more blood goes to the stomach to aid digestion after eating, it’s good to have a siesta as she did with her sun hat pulled over her face with us kids making sand castles by her side.

“Carrots will help you see in the dark.” Apparently the miracle of carrot-induced night vision was an urban myth generated during WWII as a form of obfuscation for the newly developed radar that allowed British pilots to shoot German planes out of the night sky. Although Nana has swallowed allied propaganda with the night vision bit she was on the money associating carrots and eyesight. The orange colour in carrots is due to the beta carotene which is metabolized as vitamin A. Lack of vitamin A can cause poor vision.

“Eat what is on your plate,” was one of her mealtime mantras. Nana loathed waste. In 2011 the FAO released a report that started with the sentence, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted,” Around a third of this occurs on farm, another third at the processing and retail level and a third in our homes. We now have problems with hunger, lost productivity and landfill. Buying the right amount of food and eating what is on our plate could reduce methane in landfill by 450 million tonnes.

And lastly, we always started Sunday lunch at Nana’s place by saying grace, a simple prayer of thanks for what we were about to receive. Decades later, as a restaurant reviewer, I still bow my head and clasp my hands before a meal. No longer thanking god, (I lost my religion decades ago) I am simply clearing my mind of the chaos of the day to calmly start my meal. The benefits are many. Food and wine taste better when you concentrate on what you eat. In doing so you digest food better. You’re also more aware of your appetite being sated therefore you don’t eat as much. Listen to your grandmother.