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Canned is cool!

Canned food is convenient, eco-friendly, and above all, nutritious. Who says so?
Celebrity chef James Martin, who‟s supporting a nationwide campaign to
introduce kids to basic, healthy cooking skills. Denise Barrett went to meet him at
the Good Housekeeping Institute

James Martin, unwitting poster boy of the current glut of media chefs, doesn‟t
disappoint in the flesh. He‟s tall, has good posture and looks great in a white
chef‟s-jacket. (If he‟s filmed cooking in a shirt, he takes two of the same so he
stays fresh and neat.) In fact, the Saturday Kitchen host is totally focused and
professional, and doesn‟t take on any prisoners. Like Jamie Oliver, Martin is
passionate about getting kids to eat healthily, and like Gordon Ramsay, he
doesn‟t mince his words: I ask him about what he thinks about all the fuss around
feeding children fish oil supplements to enhance their concentration: “That‟s
bollocks” he says, “give ‟em a tin of sardines”!
  In fact Martin thinks it‟s time foodies let go of their prejudices about opening a
tin and that‟s why he‟s backing Off the Shelf, an initiative developed by education
charity Focus on Food in conjunction with Canned Food UK (cfUK for short!).
Chaired by Prue Leith OBE, Focus on Food visits schools and communities
giving youngsters aged 4-19 cooking lessons, while training their teachers to
actually teach cooking. Every year over 20,000 pupils are visited by the
campaign‟s brightly coloured cooking buses, virtually expandable lorries housing
state of the art teaching kitchens.

Crucially, Off The Shelf highlights two important benefits of most canned foods:
the often-ignored nutrition factor and the recyclabilty of the container. “Buy a tin
of baked beans and up to 25% of the can is made up of recycled steel. Recycle
the can and it could end up in one of thousands of products like bikes, cars,
bridges, paper clips or another food or drink can,” says associate sponsor
SCRIB, also known as the Steel Can Recycling Information Bureau. (Who‟ve got
a wizzy educational website that kids can interact with.)

James Martin thinks we‟ve become way too snobbish about tinned foods.
“There‟s a ridiculous stigma – we fought wars on the stuff,” he reminds. In fact
canned food was invented in 1810, although the can opener wasn‟t invented until
1858. Tinned meats and chocolate provided „portable rations‟ and kept our troops
alive in the trenches from the Boer war onwards. Fast forwarding, cans are
indispensable to Martin in his restaurant on the Ocean Village Cruise Ship. “We
use canned foods for convenience as an adjunct to meals as certain fresh food
isn‟t always available when you‟re in the middle of the Atlantic!”
His views are coloured too by a stint working in France, cooking in the châteaux
often alongside the generations of families, where Mediterranean diet ruled.
“We‟d have tinned olives, pulses, tomatoes, haricots and puy lentils.” He also
has strong opinions on organic: “I can‟t bear this air miles crap. Even if it is
„organic‟ how do we know how far it‟s travelled! Food should come out of the
ground, as local as possible. I honestly don‟t think that organic is any more
nutritious than ordinary. Supermarkets are just jumping on the bandwagon.
What‟s all this stuff about „live‟ salads? It‟s a complete rip-off.”

Royal appointment
James Martin started young. His belief that parents should educate their kids
about healthy eating from when they are little stems from his own personal
experience, and is he says, “the nub of the Off The Shelf campaign”. Martin‟s
father managed the catering at Castle Howard and James helped him in the
kitchens. In fact he actually cooked a meal for the Queen Mother at the tender
age of 12. “She liked home cook meals, and I cooked her a favourite, rack of
lamb followed by apricot meringue and ice cream”.

So, I ask him, what exactly is tasty, nutritious and comes out of a tin?
“Sweetcorn is excellent,” says Martin “so are lentils, pulses, beans and of course
the staple of many dishes, tomatoes”. He has a thing about tomatoes. “The other
day I saw half a dozen of cherry toms from Holland in a supermarket for a daft
price. It‟s crazy – if English tomatoes aren‟t in season, don‟t buy the food-miles
ones, open can or a jar”. And that universal favourite, baked beans? “I make my
own baked-bean dish. I stir in soy sauce and chilli and brown sugar to make
barbecue baked beans‟. There‟s another bean dish I make too, „magic bean
soup‟, which I make from canned tomatoes and borlotti beans. Kids love it. On
the Cooking Buses, kids will try anything from the amazing ingredients on offer,
including more exotic ones like anchovies and olives.” And what do they like for
dessert? “We make Banoffi pie, with condensed milk – out of a tin.”

Focus on Food was founded by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in 1998 and is
managed and directed by the Design Dimension Educational Trust. The
campaign‟s mission is to teach youngsters cooking skills and crucially, train
teachers. The Campaign strives for a whole school approach to be implemented
in all schools, improvement in teacher recruitment and training, improved
teaching facilities in schools and for all school inspections to include food
education. The bottom line is to make food education compulsory in all primary
and secondary schools.

They are approaching their goal with three initiatives: Cooking Buses and Cook
School teaching and learning materials for both teachers and kids that includes
glossy menus, recipes, and a healthy eating and exercise plan. Also, the Grow It
Cook It programme, that gets kids to grow and cook their own garden produce,
and prepare and eat it together with their teachers. A Cook It crate of equipment
goodies is supplied to schools and it even contains cutlery. A pilot exercise in ten
south of England schools has proved so popular that the programme and its
cargo is now heading northwards.
 The Buses are on the road throughout the year and if they‟re not helping
schools they visit and support groups and organisations like ones for lone
parents. Focus on Food‟s Campaign Director, Anita Cormac, is realistic about the
enormous demand for the Buses. “If they hitched up at every school or
community needing our support – the journey would take seven years,” she says.

 James Martin believes that things are generally improving though and cites the
 hard work from his colleagues who also give up their time to support Focus on
 Food (a Who‟s Who of chefs including Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, Brian
 Turner, Antony Worrall Thompson, Nigella Lawson, Ainsley Harriott, Sophie
 Grigson and Gary Rhodes). “The positive side is that kids are more aware as
 more and more attention is focused where it matters”, he says. “We need to
 get to the dinner ladies educated too. In an ideal world dinner ladies would be
 trained chefs. Instead of shedloads being spent on research studies with school
 kids and Omega 3 fish oils, why don‟t they spend the time and money teaching
 kids about a basic balanced diet of fish, meat and vegetables. They‟d laugh at it
 in France and Italy!”

Martin‟s opinion aside – the supplements industry‟s stance being that today‟s
children are under additional stress and pressure to achieve and there‟s a limit to
how much tuna you can consume in a week – the consensus is that grass roots,
hands-on cooking and food education has been sidelined and technology
dominates, with lessons being based around the commercial angle of design and
manufacture. “But”, Martin says, it‟s brilliant that Focus on Food and Off the Shelf
are working to turn this around.”


Lifting the lid
According to Canned Food UK, It‟s a myth that all canned foods are high in salt,
fat or sugar. Due to advances in technology many canned products are
preserved in water rather than brine or fruit juice rather than syrup, and many of
your favourite canned meals come in lower fat choices too.

Food is canned when the flavour, vitamins and minerals are at their height,
ensuring the goodness is locked in. The canning process pressure cooks the
food in the can which retains the nutritional value and seals and preserves the
contents, meaning that no preservatives are needed except for a few cold meat
and fish products.

Contrary to popular belief, canned fruits and vegetables are a source of vitamin
C. A 100g serving of tomatoes, spinach or apricots all provide almost a quarter of
the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for vitamin C, providing more than fresh
equivalents. A serving of canned gooseberries or blackcurrants provides over
half of the RDA.

Canned salmon, mackerel, sardines and kippers are all sources of omega-3 fatty
acids, which play an active role in heart, joint and brain health. The omega-3 fatty
acid content is comparable to that found in fresh fish.


BNF study
Canned Food UK has commissioned The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to
conduct Britain‟s first comprehensive study comparing canned foods with their
fresh alternative. The latest nutritional data was collated on dairy, fish, fruit,
meat, pasta, sauces, soups and vegetables were put to the test. Canned foods
came out really favourably.

For example, canned rice pudding is lower in fat than homemade rice pudding
made with semi-skimmed milk. It provides the same amount of calcium, but three
times more vitamin E, and twice as much iodine as home made rice pudding.

Like corned beef hash? Canned corned beef is a source of vitamin D and zinc
and provides 50% more vitamin D, zinc, vitamin E and iron than delicatessen
bought corned beef. Canned corned beef is a rich source of vitamin B12, with just
one thick slice of canned corned beef (50g) providing 100% of the RDA and 9%
of the RDA for iron.

Popeye was right! Canned spinach contains almost 50% more vitamin C, 40%
more magnesium, and 20% more potassium and phosphorus than the equivalent
of fresh spinach boiled in unsalted water.

For more comparisons,          visit   the   Canned     Food    UK     website   at

Canned and nutrient-rich

Omega 3 fats: Salmon, pilchards, herring

Vitamin E: Tuna, salmon, prawns
Vitamin D: Sardines, salmon, mackerel

Vitamin C: Canned strawberries, blackcurrants, asparagus, tomatoes, pineapple

Folic acid: Canned broad beans, black-eyed beans

Thiamin: Canned chili, chick peas, black0eyed beans

Calcium: Canned macaroni cheese, spinach, sardines

Vitamin A: Caned carrots, spinach, apricot, mango

Riboflavin: Canned rice pudding, asparagus, macaroni cheese

Iron: Canned corm beef, baked beans, red kidney beans, meatballs in tomato


Copyright Denise Barrett, 2006

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