Monday, 3 April 2017

Full Fat Politics

Conservative journalist Peter Hitchens once went on an epic rant against the rising popularity of skimmed milk in corporate coffee chains, but particularly the skinny cappuccinos sold by such franchises. Hitchens is right that the conflation of fat with weight gain has diverted attention away from sugar and its role in the obesity epidemic. He has done well to write about this subject in his column.

There is a great deal of confusion out there and advertising has taken full advantage. The trending support for healthy food - whether 'natural''organic' or even just 'low fat' - has been used to sell many of us barely edible garbage. Even 'low sugar' or 'zero sugar' is just a way of getting us to buy drinks loaded with vast doses of aspartame. Meanwhile the country gets fatter and suffers the results, as the collective anxiety about weight and diets intensifies.

Of course, the popular diets probably succeed in weight loss because they are effectively a form of self-imposed starvation. But this is also why so many people fail to eat well. They try to slim down by eating very little, and inevitably transgress later, only to feel awful about themselves. It's all about the super-ego. And I doubt many people are totally living healthy lifestyles (myself included) in terms of what they eat and how much exercise they ought to be doing (I write as the owner of a Fitbit watch).

Unfortunately, Blighty remains an island of ill-health and bad food. Yet British society continues to follow such celebrity chefs as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Cooking programmes are a staple of the viewing diet. One wonders the extent to which people just tune in and never try out the recipes. Perhaps the cooking programmes are just vicarious. I can only speculate about this.

On the one hand, we are bombarded with celebrity-endorsed diets and newly branded 'healthy' food in supermarket isles; while culinary luddites demand that we get on the 'slow food' train and rely on local produce, on the other. It's a rather farcical situation. The fast food culture is just as worrying - and certainly guilty of sugar peddling! - and it leaves us with a political question. If we can't fix our food by personal choice, what do we need to do about at the level of the polis.

On that note, I will defer to the writing of others. I recommend reading Rachel Laudan's article on 'culinary modernism' from last year for a start. Nick Srenicek and Alex Williams have a great section on 'slow' and local food in their book Inventing the Future. These are just starting points for the critically minded.

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