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Fighting fat

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

George Monbiot, whose blog I enjoy in spite of the criticisms of his detractors, this week blogs about the UK government’s planned deregulation of the food industry, in the context of the government’s seeming tendency toward deregulation generally. This, he says, is a bad idea, because it unduly penalises the poor and the rich don’t feel the brunt of it. As he writes about deregulation, “The referee is government. It is always biased and often bought, but in principle in a democratic society it exists to prevent us from being fouled. More precisely, it is supposed to prevent those who have agency – the rich and powerful – from planting their studs in the chests of those who don’t. When the government walks away from the game the rich can foul the poor with impunity. Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading.”

In the case of food and obesity, he says, “Last week the health secretary Andrew Lansley sought to shift responsibility for improving diets and preventing obesity from the state to society. He blamed the problem on low self-esteem and deplored what he called ‘a witch hunt against saturated fats, salt and sugars’. In future poor diets would be countered by ‘social responsibility, not state regulation.’ From now on, he announced, communities will be left to find their own solutions. The companies which make their money from selling junk food and alcohol will be put in charge of ensuring that people consume less of them. I hope you have spotted the problem.”

Indeed. Speaking as a consumer, I can tell you the cheap fix is always much more enticing than the healthy diet; to eat healthily on a consistent basis requires dedication and dosh in equal measure. In my mother’s generation it was cheaper to cook your own food than to eat out; that may be true in the wider sense because it still costs $8 for a bundle of bhaji and $23 for a box of KFC, but you have to cook the bhaji (with other ingredients, naturally), and the KFC is right there in the box, eat it and go.

We have had some campaigns in Trinidad & Tobago encouraging people to eat well. Not enough. And the price of fresh fruit and veg seems to me prohibitively expensive, even taking into account seasonal fluctuations with drought, flood, etc. It’s now $15-22/lb for tomatoes. Tomatoes? I kid you not. Same thing for sweet peppers.

This fluctuation and the generally high prices speak to a national agriculture policy failure, in my mind. There is a need for subsidies (all the cool countries are doing it!), for better infrastructure for farmers, and for help with getting them to develop their markets. Farmers is folks too and if they aren’t feeling the love, so to speak, is we to catch–and pay through the nose for their produce.

As for encouraging people to eat well, there must be some way to do it; whether through increasing the already present attempts of the School Nutrition Co to educate children on diet; through pumping up the Health & Family Life Education curriculum in the area of diet and nutrition; or through a tax on fast foods. I sure don’t want to have to pay more for fast foods but if you’re taxing cigarettes and alcohol you  might as well tax them too; obesity is linked to enough lifestyle diseases that it should warrant about as much attention as a fag or a beer, not so?


One Comment on “Fighting fat”

  1. 1 Global Voices in English » Trinidad & Tobago: Eating Wisely said at 7:55 am on July 15th, 2010:

    […] we to catch–and pay through the nose for their produce”: Lisa Allen-Agostini has a few suggestions “for encouraging people to eat […]


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