Forget the supposed benefits of olive oil, fresh fish and the Mediterranean diet. If health-conscious Brummies want to live to a ripe old age they should copy the eating habits of a former Iron Curtain country not normally noted for its fine cuisine.
That was the advice given yesterday by the city council’s deputy leader Paul Tilsley, who said it was significant that men and women in Leipzig lived on average to 78 - two years longer than their Birmingham counterparts.
Coun Tilsley (Lib Dem Sheldon) said he was mystified by the longevity statistics, but assumed the difference might be accounted for by the austere lifestyle imposed on people when Leipzig was part of communist-controlled East Germany between 1945 and 1990 and rationing was commonplace.
“Maybe they didn’t have the pleasure of chocolate or other consumables for many years. They had a staple diet instead.
“It’s quite amazing and it just goes to show that the Mediterranean diet isn’t always the healthy way,” he told a scrutiny committee.
Coun Tilsley said he was horrified by the amount of uneaten food thrown out and wasted by many families in Birmingham, most of it discarded because supermarket sell-by dates had been marginally exceeded.
He admitted: “I can live on out of date stuff in my fridge, no trouble at all.”
Describing wasted food as one of the greatest issues facing the world today, Coun Tilsley added: “Having worked in the food industry myself, it is something that concerns me a great deal because I know the amount of time and effort that goes into producing fresh produce.
“I am of an age when it wasn’t uncommon to go to bed hungry and to see food being thrown out offends me. We need to do all we can as a society to ensure that food is used properly.”
Committee member James Hutchings, a Conservative councillor for Edgbaston, said the amount of food routinely thrown away by large institutions and supermarkets left him speechless. He added: “I eat lots of things that are years out of date, it’s never harmed me.”
Coun Tilsley went on to admit that the council has no plans to respond to a suggestion from environmental groups that it should introduce household composting collection services.
Referring to his own arrangements, he added: “I chuck it in my composter at the bottom of the garden, but I know that is not practical for everyone.
“There are some councils that do collect compostable material, South Shropshire on a much smaller scale for instance, but it is not something that is on the immediate horizon in Birmingham. Perhaps it might be the next but one thing we do.”
He is concentrating instead on rolling out to all homes the council’s kerbside recycling service, which collects green waste, paper, cans and other household recyclables.
Coun Tilsley said he hoped soon to be able to offer the service to people living in flats and apartments, where he said private sector developers had failed to introduce recycling arrangements.
By the end of this year the council expects recycling to be available to 95 per cent of properties in Birmingham. The council is also involved in a £39 million partnership with health trusts to promote the importance of healthier lifestyles.
Coun Tilsley added: “We are very serious about this because health inequalities between people in the centre of Birmingham and the outlying areas is a major issue. It is something we have to address.”