There were stories on the evening tabloid current affairs shows in Sydney, a few weeks back, detailing how 'fresh' fruit on the shelves of supermarkets and veggie shops were up to ten months old. Apples that had spent most of 2007 in cold storage, but had been waxed and sprayed and buffed to look like they had just fallen from a tree out back.
If those seeking 'fresh' fruit had headed over to the freezer aisle instead, they would have found frozen apple pies and bags of berries that were many months younger, and had not been leeched of most their goodness.
The same also goes for a lot of what passes for 'fresh' vegetables, even in the biggest supermarket chains. If you really want some fresh vegetables, in most cases you'd be better off loading up on some bags of frozen corn, broccoli and peas. Frozen vegetables are usually sealed into their bags within days of coming off the farms.
But that head of lettuce you've picked up in the 'fresh' veggies aisle might be older than the tub of forgotten yohgurt in the back of your fridge which is now developing consciousness.
With the slew of cooking shows guilt-tripping busy parents and young couples into spending an hour in the kitchen every night reducing stock and grinding up their own Cajun spices, it's easy to believe that what you see the TV cooks creating in "just a few minutes" must be healthier than the bowl of pre-gravied frozen veggies you've prepared in just one single ad break.
That, too, is another food myth that needs to be busted :
...experts in nutrition pleaded for greater tolerance of the ready meal as a necessary constituent of the modern diet. "Convenience foods are a fact of 21st century living and fill a need in today's busy hectic and demanding lifestyles. They help to create time," said Becky Laing, a scientist at the Medical Research Council's Human Nutrition Unit.Unfortunately, adding extra butter and cheese to a Deluxe Kraft Macaroni And Cheese doesn't qualify as healthy eating. Curses.
The average amount of time spent preparing food (in England) has slipped to 20 minutes a day compared with two hours a day in 1980, according to a Department of Health report.
In two-thirds of families both parents now work outside the home, up from half in 1980, and for many working hours have lengthened and journey times increased. Ms Laing said: "As a nutritionist I know that some convenience foods are healthy. But as a mother I feel bombarded with messages to do home cooking for my family.
Though some convenience foods were rightly termed junk food because they were high in fat, sugar and salt, many others were not. Frozen fruits and vegetables were the perfect example of a healthy convenience food – quick from the freezer, readily available and often higher in nutrients than fresh produce which had been stored.
It was the ingredients that determined whether a meal was healthy or unhealthy, not whether it was bought from a supermarket or prepared at home.
Ms Laing said: "Convenience foods come in all shapes and sizes. If we continue to press the message that it is impossible to eat healthily while using convenience foods then we simply make healthy eating unattainable. Instead we need to press manufacturers to develop more healthy but convenient options – and we need to encourage people to read the labels and look at what they buy."
If you want guaranteed fresh veggies, but you don't want anything frozen, you can always grow your own.
The couple of hours you spend a week watching TV cooks ladelling cream and forklifting great chunks of cheese into their food-stylist touched up meals (Jamie Oliver has more food stylists than camera crew) is time enough to maintain a steady supply of carrots, beans, lettuce and tomatoes in old tubs on your apartment balcony, or in a raised garden bed in your backyard.
Our grandparents were really onto something.