Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Parma Ham and Pregnancy: A Recipe for Disaster? (Food)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Parma Ham and Pregnancy: A Recipe for Disaster? (Food)

Article excerpt

The midwife began to read me her list. Her voice contained that same mixture of briskness and boredom you hear from air hostesses as they intone, for the thousandth time, the standard safety warnings before take-off.

"Pate, soft cheeses, unpasteurised cheeses, shellfish, swordfish [because of the nasty things they ingest], liver [because of the nasty toxins that gather there], uncooked eggs, peanuts [in case of allergies], raw or rare meat ... oh, and Parma ham."

Parma ham! This was a disaster. I was about to fly to Parma for the weekend for a festival of ham, where my greedy intention was to do little except eat the delicious local prosciutto. "Are you sure?" I asked querulously. She checked with two doctors and a health visitor. They were all sure. Prosciutto di Parma counted, in their eyes, as raw meat. As such, it carried a risk of toxoplasmosis (which you can also catch, if you are not immune, by petting unclean cats). The helpline of the Centre for Pregnancy Nutrition at the University of Sheffield gave the same gloomy prognosis.

Perhaps it was gluttony on my part, but the information just didn't add up. How could slices of Parma ham, those divine, rosy canopies of sweet, cured flesh and melting fat, be classified the same as an undercooked pork chop? Anxiously sensing my epicurean junket slipping away, I telephoned the English representative of Parma ham with whom I was to travel. Obviously, it was to her own advantage as well as mine to reassure me that Parma ham is safe. But vested interest aside, her consoling advice really did seem to have a strong empirical basis.

Not only do Italian doctors not forbid the consumption of Parma ham to pregnant women; they positively encourage it. During the curing process, much of the saturated fat in the pig becomes unsaturated oleic acid, the main component of olive oil. …

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