Apr 192012

Are you confused about which butter/margarine type spreads are healthy? Even if you aren’t then you probably should be! Craig Adams enlightens Voice readers.

Most people think they understand the difference between saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fat, yet there are two key pieces of information relating to these that the food industry has deliberately occluded.

Firstly in terms of health, monounsaturated is best, then polyunsaturated, then saturated right?

Not quite – not all saturated fat is bad. Some saturated fats are among the healthiest fats of all. Furthermore, fat can turn into something chemically nasty when you heat it, and saturated fat is more resistant to this change than the other types of fat.

Unless you restrict frying to low temperatures, it’s actually safer to fry food in a saturated fat such as butter or lard. Unfortunately, telling people that would not help increase the sales of cooking oil.

Secondly you may have observed that saturated fats are a solid grease, whereas unsaturated fats are oil? This is not mere coincidence, in fact it’s pretty much their defining trait. In order for an oil type unsaturated fat to become a spread, it somehow needs to be solidified. The reason that saturated fats are solid is because they are more saturated with hydrogen.

The process that makes a fat more solid is called hydrogenation, but it could just as easily be termed saturation… So in other words, to make an unsaturated fat more solid you saturate it, hence the issue with spreads.

Unfortunately because the public have been told that “saturated = bad” they’re probably going to look at the label, see how much saturated fat something contains, and judge it accordingly. Therefore the manufacturers tried to hydrogenate as little as possible, just enough to make it appear solid in the tub.

That’s why most of these spreads liquify almost on leaving the fridge; you’d be as well pouring oil on your toast! This is also where it turns nasty, because this “partial hydrogenation” has put the fat into an in-between state known as trans fatty acid, and trans fatty acid is very bad for you, much worse than saturated fat. Trans fatty acid kills.

Most products these days are labelled “Trans Fat Free!”… but that doesn’t mean they actually contain zero trans fatty acid. Oh no, no, no.

The politicians have allowed the manufacturers to label something “trans fat free” and even “zero trans fat”, provided it contains less than half a gram of trans fatty acid per serving.
That may not sound like much, but it’s 25% of the allegedly safe limit.

Since so many processed food now contain, ahem, “zero trans fat” there’s a high chance that you are unwittingly consuming way more than the 2g a day than may or may not be safe. Actually, let’s not beat around the bush, trans fatty acid is not safe.

Now here’s the ironic part. If you take an unsaturated fat, and you fully hydrogenate it, turning it into a saturated fat, there will be no trans fatty acid left in there. It will really contain zero trans fat, and actually be trans fat free. Although the now solid end result will be loaded with saturated fat, it’s not actually the bad kind of saturated fat, it’s just stearic acid, and your body will easily convert this back into a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. No harm done whatsoever. It’s safe, and may even be healthy despite the saturated fat content.

Here is how to read the labels. Avoid anything that contains any: “trans fat”, “trans fatty acid”, “partially hydrogenated”, and plain old “hydrogenated” (because that is just marketing code for partially hydrogenated).

Anything containing “fully hydrogenated” is perfectly OK. The important part is “fully hydrogenated”. Now although a fully hydrogenated product will undoubtedly contain more saturated fat, this is a harmless type of saturated fat, so don’t be put off by it.

So just to clarify that last part: “fully hydrogenated” is safe whereas just plain old “hydrogenated” is a cunning marketing ploy, which really means “partially hydrogenated”, which is in turn just code for “trans fatty acid” – which kills.

100% fully hydrogenated products, although perfectly healthy, are extremely rare. This because the consumer is put off by the high saturated fat content.

Instead the manufacturer tends to thin out the hydrogenated fat with an unsaturated oil (yet more irony), in order to reduce the saturated fat content. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided you refrain from heating the end result.

Also on the perfectly OK list is anything containing un-hydrogenated oil. In other words oil that has been left alone. There are some ‘oils’ such as coconut oil and palm oil, which are already high in saturated fat, and fairly solid at room temperature, that don’t require any hydrogenation.

This is why there are more and more products using palm oil. Palm oil is fine, although not as healthy as coconut oil, and in its refined (as opposed to virgin) state it’s not particularly good for you, but it’s way better than a trans fatty acid. The main problem with palm oil is that people are tearing down rain forests to plant palm trees.

So what about butter? Well butter is a naturally occurring almost entirely saturated fat. It does contain some naturally occurring trans fatty acid, but this is thought to be of a harmless nature (a hypothesis that has not yet been scientifically verified).

The saturated fat in butter is not all the good type, but it’s not all the bad type either, and at least butter is a natural unprocessed food. There are some spreadable butters now that have been blended with oils thereby reducing the overall saturated fat profile. Butter may not be a health food, but it certainly won’t kill you either. It’s certainly among the best of a bad bunch.

There is one saturated fat product that is believed to be healthy – coconut oil. This only contains the good saturated fat, is natural, and usually unprocessed (but check the label). Coconut oil is the safest fat you can use for any sort of frying. It may however impart a slight coconut taste to the food, and it’s quite expensive.

On the plus side it possesses both antibacterial and antiviral properties, promotes weight loss, and can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It’s all but a superfood. There even exists coco-butter, which can be used as a (slightly coconutty) substitute for butter and other spreads.

So to summarise:

  • BAD = trans fat, trans fatty acid, partially hydrogenated, hydrogenated.
  • OK = fully hydrogenated or un-hydrogenated.
  • Butter is possibly healthier than most spreads, and safer for frying than cooking oil.
  • Coconut oil is a healthy solid fat, and the safest thing to fry with. It’s actually very good for you, as are coconut milk and coconut cream.

As an aside, the most nutritious oils, or unsaturated fats, are hemp oil, closely followed by flaxseed oil, so use these for salad dressings. Both of these oils should be stored refrigerated at all times, and it’s doubtful that you’ll find any refrigerated oil in a supermarket, so best use a health food shop.

And lastly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating avocados. They are high in healthy fats, very good for you, and even aid weight loss.

Mar 092012

The black calendar of Aberdeen’s civic history has a new entry: 2nd March 2012, the day that its citizens, evident sufferers of apathy and myopia, handed both its natural heritage and its economic future to a cabal of businessmen.  Arthur Taylor writes.

The fight to retain and improve Union Terrace Gardens hit the buffers on that day when the public – or rather 27.5% of them – voted to support the plans to destroy this unique piece of the city’s heritage and replace it with a concrete monstrosity – presumably confused by the smoke and mirrors of the PR campaign which branded it “The Granite Web”.

Whether the battle turns into a war, protracting the debate, and driving further wedges between parties already badly divided, remains to be seen, but it is hard to see a rapid healing of the wounds that this process has created.

It is also difficult to stop the passion that fuelled the Retain campaign from dissipating, before all avenues of challenge are exhausted against a process labelled as democratic – but which in reality has been anything but that.

What is clear is that events from 2008 to now should be reviewed and recorded for posterity, so that future generations when looking back can seek to understand a number of things:

  • why we allowed our heritage to be given away to a clique of egoists and nepotists, who deluded the public and maybe even themselves into believing that they were altruists and philanthropists
  • why the local authority whose primary function is to act in the citizenry’s best interest handed control to an unelected quango, immune from public scrutiny
  • and why we allowed the city’s future to be mortgaged on the most questionable of business cases, flagged up as high risk by Audit Scotland in the final days of the campaign – when most votes were already cast.

Not that this was a revelation: Friends of Union Terrace Gardens had identified the risk months before, but their claims were played down in the media.

The last two months have seen a referendum conducted by a returning officer who sought to have the campaigns run to a fair set of rules.

The dominance of the local print media in forming and steering public opinion, and its incestuous relationship with local business, is deeply concerning.

While it appears that the retain groups stayed within their £8000 budgets, the pro groups – aided and abetted by the collaborators in the local media – spent an estimated £1,000,000 to buy the votes of the people of Aberdeen. Their cynical campaign saw radio adverts dressed as public information broadcasts, and a drip-fed daily editorial in the local press, with each day’s evening paper offering more extravagant promises than the last, as part of a fawning hysterical clamour.

That the retain groups, variously composed primarily of grey-haired men, beardies, tree-huggers and an enthusiastic schoolboy, ran the referendum right to the wire, losing by such a slender margin, is testament to their energy, enthusiasm and resourcefulness. That they did this against a campaign co-ordinated by the BIG Partnership, Scotland’s largest PR agency, is little short of a miracle.

The dominance of the local print media in forming and steering public opinion, and its incestuous relationship with local business, is deeply concerning.

The public need a source of true facts rather than propaganda dressed as objective reporting.

That said, there have been two positives to emerge from the press coverage of the campaign: the amusement derived from watching the Evening Express contorting itself like an India-rubber prostitute in a bid to champion the development, while not entirely abandoning its habitual council-baiting; and the emergence of the STV Local site as a place where all parties can present their voice without editorial bias.

It is hard not to see the future of local journalism as lying in hyper-local online spaces, as counterpoint to the shrinking of print to the point of complete insignificance.

the dead-eyed, gape-mouthed novelty-seekers who lurch zombie-like through the malls

Returning to the proposed development itself, it should be remembered that Union Terrace Gardens is the only part of the city where one can see the original topography of the land on which the city is built.

Sadly the local authority in the last century has allowed almost all traces of the city’s history to be erased like some embarrassing legacy instead of retaining and celebrating its character. Compare this with Edinburgh’s old town or York’s centre.

We are now confronted by the effacement of the final part of our history in order to satisfy the dead-eyed, gape-mouthed novelty-seekers who lurch zombie-like through the malls that have brought about the systematic homogenisation of the city centre and obliterated all individuality and character.

If we do not continue to challenge this proposed act of civic vandalism, by:

  • opposing the planning application,
  • challenging the use of Common Good land,
  • exposing the business case as one which will leave the city bankrupt (as it was last in1817)  when the TIF scheme plays out as feared,

then we should at least ensure that we record for posterity the names of the businessmen who proposed this vanity project; note the politicians and faceless unelected quango-ists who eased its path to realisation; and ponder the many, many idiotic consumers who swallowed the hype, without challenge or analysis.

If we do nothing else, we should record those names on the black calendar’s page for 2nd March 2012.

Feb 222012

Almost every time Karin Flavill looks at the design for the Granite Web, the same question comes to mind. “What would Howard Roark think?” Intrigued? Read on.

Howard Roark is the hero of The Fountainhead, a novel by Ayn Rand.

Rand is a controversial writer; aspects of her objectivist philosophy were transported across the Atlantic decades ago and transformed into what we call Thatcherism, so it’s safe to say that she draws strong opinion, from those who have heard of her, both here and in the US.

The attraction of The Fountainhead for me was that it gave me a glimpse into the unknown, that a philosophy designed to help the wealthiest members of society feel not simply financially superior to those who struggle, helps them feel morally superior to them too.

What is it that tyrants see that allows them to derive a sense of well-being when they look in the mirror? Reading Rand can help you find out, even if it’s unlikely that in reality, many of society’s bullies and elitists have the personal qualities and ethics Rand depicts in her heroes.

Roark may be a more interesting and relevant reference point than some other fictional characters who have entered the Granite Web versus Union Terrace Gardens debate. Jake the Ghost and Morris the Monkey for example, as promoted by the BIG Partnership, seem to have a peculiar and hopefully incorrect impression of what moves Aberdonians to vote.

Roark is his own man, and is Rand’s idea of the Perfect Man. A gifted and original architect, loathed by the majority for his innovation and commitment to the future, he despises architecture which draws irrelevantly from the past. His designs are modernistic and often hard for people to understand. The few who do understand become his friends, and are held up to the reader as exemplary beings.

In some ways, Howard Roark would seem to be another ideal spokesperson for the City Garden Project. On the other hand, this objectivist hero’s deepest contempt would be reserved not for those who disliked his designs, but for that partnership between business and government which is so conducive in the long run to crony capitalism. Hello, ACSEF.

  The pro-Union Terrace Gardens lobby regards the existing Gardens as a unique prize which could be something magical

Leaving the politics aside for a moment, would Roark look at the design and love it? I don’t know. I’m not an expert on architecture, but I do know a little more about people, and about conflict, and about the factors causing people beginning to feel alienated in their own city. Such doubts seem to be at the heart of this debate.

The pro-Granite Web lobby feels that Aberdeen requires a drastic makeover for it to become a place they would want to continue living in and that others would want to move to. The pro-Union Terrace Gardens lobby regards the existing Gardens as a unique prize which could be something magical if only people who understood it were listened to. The original Peacock Visual Arts design symbolises what could have been.

Throughout The Fountainhead, examples and analyses of the character’s genius as an architect are provided. One passage is, for me, particularly telling. Self-made man Mr Mundy has heard that Roark is a great architect, and would like Roark to design a house for him. Roark meets with him to ascertain what kind of man he is and subsequently what kind of house he would be happiest in.

“There was a place,” said Mr Mundy, “Down there near my home town. The mansion of the whole county. The Randolph place. An old plantation house, as they don’t build them any more. I used to deliver things there sometimes, at the back door.”

He goes on to describe the ways in which he would like to recreate that dream house, the house of his aspirations. From what we already know of Roark, he would dislike the notion of recreating something from the past. However, that’s not at the root of his disapproval of Mr Mundy’s aspirations. This is:

“It’s a monument you want to build, but not to yourself. Not to your life or your own achievement. To other people. To their supremacy over you. You’re not challenging that supremacy, you’re immortalizing it….Will you be happy if you seal yourself forever in that borrowed shape?…You don’t want the Randolph place. You want what it stood for.”

In other words, it’s not simply technical skill, the vision of the artist and the ability to give the client what he wants that makes Roark a great architect. He sees who people are, not as they want to be seen, or as they try to be seen, but as they are. It’s this ability to look past the hype, the pretence, self-advertising and PR that enables Roark to build houses in which people can feel truly at home.

Think of your own dream house. Would it be one that somebody else had designed? A talented design team who would create something that was a compromise between their personal tastes and your picture of who you would like to be? Who furnished it in accordance with those same principles? Would it be your home, or would it be a design piece reflecting aspirations of who you wish you were, rather than who you really are?

  Who are we, in Aberdeen? A conflict like this forces us to consider that question in some depth

The promotional video for the Granite Web presents a futuristic world peopled with white, transparent figures ambling aimlessly through flower beds, staring uncomprehendingly at car parts dangling from a roof, drinking coffee. Observe, consume, observe and consume.

These transparent figures aren’t creators or innovators. They simply absorb, passively, that which has been transported from elsewhere to make the city seem more impressive to outsiders. A place that might, at some future date, be awarded City of Culture status!

The promotional literature keeps insisting that this will be the people’s park. It encourages readers to imagine themselves consuming all that the park has to offer, in the belief that this will result in them achieving a sense of ownership over it. There will, we’re promised, be spontaneous performances, but it’s not clear who will provide these. Perhaps musicians drafted in from outside.

Who are we, in Aberdeen? A conflict like this forces us to consider that question in some depth. My impression, living here, has always been that Aberdonians tend towards reserve, despite night-time scenes on Union Street when alcohol loosens inhibitions. The notion that we can buy a totally different character for Aberdeen, via an expensive raised park, seems dubious at best.

Union Terrace Gardens exemplifies the typically reserved nature of the Aberdonian. Like a Christmas tree that contains only a few, semi-concealed fairy lights, it is capable of emitting the magical quality that a garishly decorated tree cannot. The magic of mystery and discovery, and something very different from the usual variation on the iconic city centre park that is springing up all over the world.

One person’s iconic, radical, inspirational park is another person’s pretentious vision of future dystopia. I’ll admit I belong to the latter category, which is why I’ve already voted to retain, and improve, Union Terrace Gardens. Peacock Visual Arts was a local initiative which would have provided a place where people interested not just in consuming the arts but in contributing actively to them could have congregated. That was an exciting notion.

The Granite Web, on the other hand, constitutes yet another ‘space’ in which the people who live here may perform a passive consumer role.
Sir Ian Wood believes that he is giving Aberdeen a gift, and has expressed hurt that many in the city fail to appreciate this. The difficulty is that altruism doesn’t always create a sense of self respect in the recipient.

The price paid for that altruism is that the opportunity to create and innovate is taken away from people in the community, limiting their opportunity to participate to that of being passive consumers. For some, regardless of the risk of being branded ingrates, that may be too high a price for them to enter voluntarily into this particular contract.

Sep 162011

By Bob Smith.

The fitfa’s up in yon Union Square
Aboot iss news I dinna really care
Wi material wealth I’ll hae nae truck
Fae me thae malls winna mak a faist buck

Tho’ fowk can spend ony wye they wint
At times a think their brains hiv got tint
Fair fleein aboot fae here ti there
Iss lemming like steer is hard ti square

Shoppies are placies I dinna like ti dally
So’s aa their spiel I dinna hae ti swally
A buy fit a wint then oot the door
Syne “faar ye gyaan” ma wife’ll roar

Some fowk o coorse wid bide aa day
Gyaan in blonde an cumin oot grey
They’re in the malls for aat lang
Peerin at windas throwe the thrang

Fashions noo are fair aa the rage
Ye maun hae the richt gear fitivver yer age
Wifies in ticht troosers wi erses richt fat
Some mannies ye winner fit the hell they’re at

Shoptill ye drap iss aa the malls cry
Even thingies nae nott they wint ye ti buy
Jist shove it aa on ti aat wee plastic card
Hiv some fowk’s brains aa turned ti lard?

Shoppin it wid seem is a national obsession
It’s aa aboot spendin an gettin possession
O as muckle stuff yer hairt dis desire
Afore oot yer body yer last breath dis expire

Aa the stuff fit ye’ve githered
Efter the money ye’ve shelled oot
A doot eence yer deid an beeriet
A fair puckle micht be chucked oot

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011
Image Credit: © Brent Wong | Dreamstime.com