Yummy or yucky – all about food

Food: why all the fuss?

Like all living things, people need food to live… but how much? And what sort? Why are so many people overweight or obese? Why so many hungry Why are some foods ‘good’ and others ‘bad’? Come with me on a journey through my Food Guide and find out just what food is all about.

“You are what you eat”

What does ‘obese’ mean?

An obese person is someone who has so much fat in their body that it becomes a threat to their health. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight. Of these over 600 million were obese and 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese [World Health Organization figures].

About 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world — one in nine — do not get enough to eat [UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures].
Eyes of Hunger Image: Alex Proimos
Everyone knows that. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. For me, it’s very simple: food is fish. I just love fish (especially eating them!). Your favourite? I wonder what your favourite food is? Let me guess… hamburgers? Ice cream? Candy bars? Well that’s probably more likely than raw carrots or garlic.

So anyway, what exactly is food? Let’s look at what it’s made of.
Food (which really includes many types of drinks too — like milk shakes and cola — but not water) is made up of nutrients. These are the things which give you energy or help build up your body as you grow.

Maybe you already know what the most important Big Three nutrients are:

protein proteins which you find in meat, fish, beans and stuff

carbohydrates — sugar is one and you find others in bread, cereals and vegetables

fat fat — I guess you know what that is. You find it in fried foods, cheese, butter, margarine and oils
Almost all the food you eat has some of the Big Three in it. But there are other things too which you need to eat in much smaller amounts. They are vitamins and minerals. You need small amounts of both.

I’m sure you know about vitamins. There are quite a few and most of them have letters: vitamins A, B, C, D and E.

And minerals? One is salt. Other important ones are calcium and iron.

Anything else? Well yes. Scientists have discovered that all kinds of other things in fresh fruit and vegetables are very useful in helping stay healthy. This is part of the reason why it’s a good idea for people to eat lots of these foods. They contain useful things like flavonoids as well as lots of vitamins. They also have stuff in them that people can’t digest very well called fibre (so do cereals like oats) which turn out to be useful too because they help prevent nasty diseases like cancer.

Where does food come from? How is it made?

Easy. You know the answer already, don’t you? Food comes from farms — right?


It’s true that most food comes from farms in the first place, but most of the stuff people eat today has been processed so much in factories that the only way you can know what’s in it is by looking at the list of ingredients. And if you do that, you may get a shock because you won’t know what half the things are.

What do you make of these, for example?

What is this stuff?

  • butylated hydroxytoluene (in some chips, salted peanuts, breakfast cereals and many other things)
  • calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetra acetate (in salad dressings and some drinks)
  • sodium L-ascorbate (a form of vitamin C)

Scary sounding names, and some of these additives may be harmful.

The raw materials for food come from farming. Some of these get eaten raw like lettuces or apples. Most gets processed and packaged up. Farming has a long history but has now got so huge that it has become a serious problem for other life on the planet.

The other big source of food raw materials is from fishing including shellfish. People eat some seafood raw, same as me (YUM!). Everything else is processed. But sadly, fishing — like farming — has got to be such a huge industry that it is natural balances upsetting in the world’s rivers, lakes, seas and oceans.

Let’s have a look at Farming, Fishing and Processing over the next three sections…

What are ingredients?

That means what the food is made of. Many foods have a dozen or more ingredients in them, often things you’d never guess were there.

What are shellfish?

These are animals which live in the sea but which don’t have backbones (unlike fish, you and me). Instead, most of them have a hard armour-like shell. The ones you will probably know are things like crabs and lobsters, scallops and mussels. And then there are other creatures which are neither fish nor shellfish: things like squid and octopus. Penguins love squid and so do many people.


What it all comes down to is that people are taking vast amounts of fish. It’s called overfishing and the main reason for it is that modern fishing boats are enormous and so powerful that they can use giant nets. They also use clever technologies like sonar which allows them to ‘see’ exactly where big fish shoals are so they can grab much more than they should. The total catch made by humans every year is close to 100 million tons of fish!

When and where did farming start?

Farming seems to have started in various different parts of the world. Pigs were probably the first animals to be domesticated 15,000 years ago in Mesopotamia — what is now Iraq. Actual farming of crops began about 11,500 years ago in the countries bordering the east Mediterranean Sea: the Levant. Not long after, other peoples domesticated crops such as rice in China, maize in Mexico and potatoes in Peru and so on.

Sowing seeds in what??

To give their seeds the best possible conditions for growing well, the first farmers invented the plough (also spelled ‘plow’). This device was pulled by an animal and steered by somebody walking behind. The idea was — and still is today — to break up the soil and kill all the other plants (weeds) so that the seeds the farmer planted had no competition.

Orangutans and palm oil

Orangutans are in peril because all their rainforest home is being cut down for yet more plantations of oil palm. Oil from these palms is used in all kinds of things, particularly in food products. Most of Indonesia’s forests have now been cut down and burned for endless oil palm plantations. These tropical rainforests were home for orangutans which are now listed as critically endangered and face extinction. For more on this, go to Orangutan Conservancy

Around 90 million metric tons each year!

Humans now take up to 200,000 tonnes each year of these free-swimming crustaceans upon which so many larger sea creatures depend for their food.

Farming is a very efficient way of growing the sort of food people want to eat, in very large amounts. Until early last century, all farming was based on sustainable methods because there was no choice. Today, people in poor countries continue this way of growing food because they cannot afford the machinery and chemicals needed for modern industrial farming. Industrial farming certainly makes loads of food but it damages the land, sea and air. modern farmingThere are alternatives such as organic farming which is sustainable. The problem with organic farming is that the farmers have to be much more skilled. They can’t rely on spraying and ‘instant’ fertilisers and have to plan their crops in a very different way. This means more people have jobs and this type of farming is nature-friendly… but organic food is more expensive. There is a huge argument about this at the moment. Modern industrial farmers say that only they can ‘feed the world’, preferably using genetically engineered crops.

They may well be right but at a terrible cost to the environment and, in particular, the world’s remaining forests.

The sustainable farmers say this is nonsense.
But sustainable farming has to be the future because industrial farming does so much damage to the world we all live in and the oil it depends on will run out. So do we really need industrial agriculture to feed all the world’s people? Food MythBuster Anna Lappé says no in this video.

Fascinating food facts

  • hydroponic growing can produce 100 times more in the same area as traditional methods. And it can use 99 percent less water than outdoor fields more on this
  • in Peru, the local people keep guinea pigs (called cuyes) to eat
  • in Australia, kangaroos are farmed for their meat and fur
  • in South Africa, ostrich farming is big business. They are farmed for their meat (which is much lower in fat than beef) and feathers. Happily, no one farms penguins, although people did once kill us for meat. The only animals that ever eat people are occasional tigers and other humans (cannibals)
  • insects are getting more popular as both tasty and a good source of protein. Eating insects is perfectly normal in many countries. People eat: crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, beetle grubs and even scorpions and tarantulas

What does ‘sustainable’ mean?

Something that people can carry on doing forever without damaging the environment.

I’ve made another guide all about genetically engineered food and stuff. Take a look to find out what’s going on.
These are arachnids (spiders) not insects, but both are classes of arthropods
Increasingly, no-till agriculture means that energy-guzzling ploughing is going out
According to Farm Aid, every week approximately 330 farmers in the USA leave their land for good.
Antibiotics have been heavily used in livestock — particularly poultry — to control infections caused by overcrowding and insanitary conditions and because they make animals grow faster
Colistin is the last resort antibiotic treatment for life-threatening infections caused by certain strains of bacteria such as Escherichia coli, common in peoples’ guts. But now, some of these dangerous bacteria have become resistant even to that. This means infections caused by such bacteria can’t be treated. There are several more such bacteria like Clostridium difficile and MRSA which are now also nearly untreatable.
Once, people who lived near lakes, rivers and the sea often depended on fishing for much of their food. Today, most small fishermen who just catch enough fish for themselves with some left over to sell locally, have lost their jobs. Why? Because humans always want more and more of everything. They’ve built big ships which can catch millions of fish in just a few days so there aren’t enough left to breed and make baby fish. No baby fish means no new adult fish… which soon means no fish at all! And because of the pollution from chemicals from farming and factories – which gets into the rivers and then the seas – many fish are either not able to breed or contain so much pollution themselves that they are not good to eat any more. This is very sad because fish are yummy and the oily ones are very healthy for people and penguins to eat… or were.

Some people have found that they can farm fish too. This seems like a good idea until you find that they too use poisons on the fish to stop diseases which only start because the fish are kept close together in tanks or floating net cages in the sea.

Of course, not everything that comes out of the sea is a fish. People catch lots of animals like squids (I like those!) and octopuses, shellfish, crabs and lobsters. Some people farm prawns in big open ponds along tropical coasts, once protected by mangrove trees. The ponds for the prawns meant the mangroves were destroyed. This can be very bad because when big storms happen, the coast isn’t protected any more.

I’ve made another guide all about pollution. Take a look to find out what’s going on.
Even if you buy flour to make your own bread, that flour is processed. First the wheat grains get ground up in a mill and then different parts, like the brown outside of the seed, get separated. Then, if you don’t make your own bread (hardly anyone does this anymore), the flour is mixed with other ingredients and baked in an oven to make the loaf you buy in the shop. That’s an example of simple food processing. Almost every food you buy in a packet, box or tub is processed in some way. This is where some problems can start.

Most of the food you eat will have been processed in a factory in some way.
A fresh orange is not processed – though unless you eat the peel too (ugh!) you will process it yourself by peeling the skin off. Food processing used to be done at home but now, people have become rather lazy – or just too busy – and prefer to have someone else do it so they can buy and eat right away. This adds to the cost. How many of the foods you eat come from factories, do you think?

Processed or natural?

Here are some examples of foods made — processed — in factories:

Milk (which is a food) usually gets put in packages after being heated to kill any bugs (pasteurised). Then it’s cooled and taken in big trucks to supermarkets and shops. Milk can be made into cheese too. Skimmed milk has the cream taken off to be sold separately as cream or butter. Some milk gets made into yoghurt

Snack foods like chips. There are hundreds. Most of them are made from potatoes, corn (maize) or other grains with added salt, sugar and fat which makes them taste good

Tinned, frozen or dried (dehydrated) food

Breads, biscuits, crackers

Soda drinks (pop, fizzy) like cola and fruit flavours. Some of these really are foods because they contain “hidden” nutrients like sugar

Meat – animals are killed in special factories called abattoirs (slaughter houses). Almost every scrap of them is used for something. For example, their skins become leather for clothing and shoes, and other stuff that nobody would much like the look of gets made into sausages and pie fillings

Sugar. This is made from crushing either sugar beet or sugar cane


And so on. I’ve only mentioned a few of the main sorts of processed food. How many more can you think of?

TIP: Everything is processed if it’s not fresh. Foods you buy in sealed packages like cans are processed.
“You are what you eat”, goes a well known saying. It’s not quite true but its message really means that if you eat healthy foods, you are most likely to be healthy. If you eat nothing but corn chips, you won’t get to look like a corn cob but you certainly won’t be fit and healthy. This is because your body needs a good mix of foods.
So…good foods:


Good foods

Almost anything fresh is a good start. Better still is fresh organic food.

Oily fish

Vegetables, particularly orange or dark green ones (carrots, chard, broccoli, squashes like pumpkins)


Oats and other fibre-rich grains

Pulses (beans, peas, lentils)

Certain vegetable oils which are high in monounsaturates (olive, canola/rapeseed)


(By ‘bad’, I don’t mean they will make you sick or anything. Just that you should eat them in moderation. You don’t need any of these to live. Trouble is everybody likes them and, because they are cheap, tasty and easy to eat, people eat far too much of them.)

bad foods

Most processed foods — which generally contain sugar, salt and fat

Fatty foods like margarines, butter, cream, most cheeses, fatty meat

Sugar and sugary foods like cakes and candies

Food containing additives and colourings

Sugary or diet soda drinks

Salty foods

Fast food and takeaways

fats (some of which are normally liquid whilst others are solid) vegetable oils which are high in saturates or trans fats)

Click here to find out about vegetarians and vegans

Does everyone have food? If not, why not?

Sadly no. Nearly 1 billion people on our planet — three times more people than live in the United States — are constantly short of food or near starving. This seems doubly wrong when you think that almost the same number have so much food they get to be overweight and even obese. Couldn’t humans divide things up a little more fairly? Seabirds eat what they need. You know why? We can’t afford to get fat! Can you imagine a fat penguin trying to catch a fish? We have to stay sleek and healthy. Humans can get fat and it doesn’t matter (though they might be quite unhappy about it) because they don’t have to hunt their food. They can just get into their cars and drive to the supermarket or takeaway when they feel hungry.

Why are some people hungry? That other billion people — the hungry and starving ones — can’t get enough food to eat because they are so poor. They can’t afford to buy food — or can only afford the very cheapest, low quality stuff no one else wants. If they each had a little piece of land, they could grow their own. But they don’t because most of them live in slums. They can’t get jobs because there are none, so often they have to beg, steal or scavenge the garbage from richer neighbourhoods.

What a miserable life.

The elephant in the room

Sometimes when there’s a problem (represented by the elephant) so huge, people just pretend it’s not there. One of the biggest problems of all is the rapidly increasing number of humans on the planet. How will all these people get to eat? Check out this video — a voyage through time since humans first appeared on planet Earth about 200,000 years ago. Look what happens when farming got going 10,000 years ago…

Called favelas in Portuguese-speaking Brazil; pueblos jovenes) in other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.
Long ago, all people gathered or grew their own food. But gradually most people specialised into other lines of business, exchanging the time they worked for tokens which you call money. With that money, they could buy food. Today in the rich countries, hardly anyone grows their own food any more. Hardly anyone knows how to. So growing and selling food has become a big business.

This involves several giant corporations which increasingly own all rights to vital seeds and also make the chemicals farmers have to use to make them grow into plants ready to harvest. fertilisers get made in vast quantities, upsetting natural cycles and using equally vast amounts of fossil fuels.

Machines harvest the food (in most cases) which then has to be stored in silos or refrigerated buildings. Trucks and airplanes then transport the food around the world and it ends up, after processing, on supermarket shelves… where you buy it. This system is very new, it makes lots of money for those who run it and it is very good at producing lots of food. But there are hidden costs … and I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about damage to people’s livelihoods damage to the environment (land, sea, rivers, air, forests) and damage to people’s health.

Let Moophius (a bovine sleuth!) take you and Leo, a rather-simple-minded pig, on an animated tour of industrial farming.

It’s not all gloom though.

Take a look at the video (below) of a farm that produces food in a way that works with nature, not against it. It could be a game-changer!

For the times they are a-changin. People are beginning to see that money isn’t everything if making it damages the planet so badly that the future is bleak. sustainable farmingSo many farmers are beginning to convert their farms to sustainable farming (which is what they were anyway before industrial farming took over).

This was the title of one of the best-known songs by one of the best-known folk singers, Bob Dylan. He was right; they are!
You know all about ads if you have a TV. Companies spend billions… yes, hundreds of billions of dollars on trying to get people (including, especially, kids like you) to buy things they don’t really want and don’t need. Advertising is really all about making people desire things. The ads do this in various ways. One of the most successful is by ‘spinning’ the product in such a way that it becomes cool, trendy and fashionable to have it — whatever it is. This is what designer labels (very well known brands) are all about. And kids fall for it as well as adults! Just check out how many items of clothing or shoes you or your friends have got that carry these ‘must have‘ labels.


We penguins just don’t get the point of it.

We all wear the same feathers all year round. We keep them neat and clean and oil them regularly so we stay sleek and waterproof. Each year we grow new ones as the old ones get worn out and fall off. This is called moulting and all birds do it.

Food and drinks are high on the advertisers list

And it works! Advertisers wouldn’t waste money advertising if it didn’t. So all your life, you get bombarded by ‘messages’ — dozens a day, and not just on TV — trying to get you to buy stuff you don’t need.

Result? Kids everywhere buy food and drink they don’t need — or pester their mums and dads to do it. The food companies even sponsor schools. The idea is not just to sell you stuff now but to make you loyal their ‘brand’. They know that if you start buying a particular brand of cola or hamburger, you’re likely to stay with that… which over the years could mean thousands of $$$ from you flowing into that company.

And there’s another result; a really serious one which I’m sure you can guess...

Peer pressure

If your friends all eat and drink well-known products, or they wear particular brands of shoes and clothing, it’s very hard not to copy what they do. If you don’t, you’re un-cool. This is called peer pressure and it’s a dream ticket for product advertisers because it gets the message across that it’s cool to buy their product.

The obesity epidemic

More and more kids are getting to be overweight or obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as “one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century.” There are many reasons for this but as you might guess, the relentless advertising of high fat and sugary food and drink is not helping.

Advertising is a $580 billion a year industry

“The average American child age 8 or older spends more than seven hours a day with screen media, watching TV, using the computer, playing video games, and using hand-held devices. Even much younger children, age 2-8, spend nearly two hours a day with screen media. And through virtually all these media, children are exposed to advertising.”

Find out how food and soft drink companies are targeting you and your friends while you’re in school. Maybe you can make your school an ad-free zone.

It’s fun to eat out or grab a takeaway. Junk food – who needs it? But it can also be fun to create really good food yourself – or help your family do so. It’s a great way to spend time together. I eat my fish raw but most people like their food cooked and hot. This is why you have a kitchen in your house… so use it! It’s cheaper and better for your health if you prepare your own fresh food rather than buy everything processed or ready made. Takeaways can be a great treat but not every day.

Here’s some things you can do to help you and your family to a healthier and, often, cheaper way of eating:

8 things you can do

Buy locally grown food whenever you can

Check for farmers’ markets in your area. Many places in America have CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) schemes you can link up with. Ask your local shops or supermarket to stock locally grown food. They usually try to provide what their customers want. Some farms run a delivery service – vegetable boxes – so you don’t even have to go out. Some mail order companies can supply quality foods (including fresh) which they also deliver. tips for finding veg box scheme near you

If you can afford it, buy organic

Better for you, your family and the planet. And you don’t have to do without many cans of soft drink or takeaway meals to save quite an amount of money.

If you’re thirsty, try drinking water.

It’s free – unless you buy the bottled sort – and it’s the healthiest drink there is. If the water out of the tap tastes bad (chlorine or something), you can get simple filters which remove the bad taste. Or just fill a jug with it and leave it for a day (no lid so the chlorine escapes). Then drink it.

Learn to cook:Watching a cook on TV is no substitute for cooking yourself

If people did as much cooking as there are programmes on TV (and books) telling them how to, they’d never be out of the kitchen!

Be bold when you cook: try different recipes or even invent some yourself.

When you have plenty of fresh veg, make salads

These are easy to prepare – especially if you have a food processor with a grater attachment. Salads are very healthy indeed and yummy (so I’m told) with a delicious dressing — which you can also make yourself. You can use lots of root vegetables like squashes, carrots, rutabaga (swede) and so on, to grate into your salads.

Invite your friends to have a meal with you that you’ve made

It will probably be a new experience for all of you and an opportunity for fun!

Grow your own food

Even if you’ve only got a small space, you can still grow some of your food. What’s more, it’s fun: sowing your seeds, watching your plants grow as you care for them and, finally, harvesting. You can even grow tomatoes (or other plants like capsicums) by the window in your room… wherever there’s good sunshine. Many cities now have local community farms where you can join other people who grow their own. It’s cool!

Cut the meat!

By cutting down on meat-eating or — better still — by becoming vegetarian, you will

Help slow global warming

Happy cooking and happy eating! As for me, I’m tired and hungry after all that and I’m off to catch my fish for dinner!

What do you think about food? Have you any good ideas about what we can do to make things better? If you do, please write to me. As long as your message is sensible and friendly, I promise to reply.

If you’ve found my Food Guide useful, please would you be kind enough to make a donation to help run my website. I know you kids don’t have credit cards or anything but perhaps you could persuade either your parents or your school to make a donation. It’s so easy and you can do it here.

How to find a veg box scheme near you

Copy and paste “veg box delivery” followed by the name of your town/city/state/county/country (choose one, for example “Chicago” if you live in that city) into a search engine. It may surprise you just how many schemes there are.

Want to find out more for yourself about food? Here are some of my favourite sites which you might like to visit. Please avoid disappointment and don’t send me more links, no matter how useful you think they are. Lots of people do but I simply don’t have time to deal with them. Sorry!

FishOnline If you are worried (as I am) about declining fish stocks and the welfare of our seas, the Marine Conservation Society FishOnline is a wonderful website. Find out why it’s better to eat, for example, a line-caught mackerel than a roundnose grenadie

PETA Kids – Creating an animal-friendly world

There are loads of places to visit so I’ve just selected a few which I like the best. And please avoid disappointment and don’t send me more links, no matter how useful you think they are. Lots of people do but I simply don’t have time to deal with them. Sorry!