Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Please workplace tell me how I should eat

The Victoria University staff club is strange in many ways. It is tucked away in the library, undergrads aren't supposed to go there, and know very little about it. But, despite the secrecy, it is very unexciting - except the alcohol is quite cheap, and sometimes the food is nicer and less over-priced than the rest of the university.

The staff club also has a mission, and that mission is to tell the people who eat there how to eat. As you go down the corridor every side is telling you to eat Blueberries! Low fat! Omega-3 Oil! and so on. Then they usually have little plastic triangle display things on every table - the sort that some restaurants put wine or specials on, but the staff club puts advice on how not to eat too much. Including one that said: "Eat like an Eskimo" followed by lots of praise of fish. Where do you even start?

1. Eskimo? For reals? After that shall we play Cowboys and Indians with any natives we can find on campus?

2. Advice about food is so fucking ridiculous. Why on earth should we eat like we lived somewhere where almost nothing grows? The fact that human beings have been able to subsist on large parts of the planet shows how resilient we are, and what a wide range of foods (as a species) we can survive on. The fact that historically people living in some areas have eaten predominantly fish, while people living in other areas have had very limited access to fish, is a reason to shut up about the one true way of eating.

3. These are workers at the university and post-graduate students. Are we somehow expected not to be able to feed ourselves? Are we in imminent danger of death from a blueberry deficiency? Is there a special section on the health deprivation index about how badly off staff and post-graduate students at the university are?

The Fat Nutritionist has a great post about how the vast majority people on weight-watchers are based on their socio-economic-gender-ethnicity profile are already going to live FOR-EVER. The same is true for the majority of people who work at university or those with post-graduate degrees.*

I'm not suggesting that this information would be anymore productive in, say, a meatworks tea-room. But given that you can't get more urban-liberal-middle-class than the staff club at a university, and the behaviours that are described as 'healthy eating' are the behaviours of urban-liberal-middle-class women more than any other socio-economic group. What is the purpose of bombarding those most likely to be already aware, and following, the behaviours that have been designated 'healthy' with?

I would suggest that the purpose is self-satisfaction - the purpose is rewarding the virtuousness, as much as it's about compelling compliance in those who eat there (they are after all only posters - the staff club doesn't even sell that much fish). I want to explore this some more, and look at the impact that a moral model of food has on those who do not follow it. But I don't think it's a coincidence that eating-places are most likely to push these messages among those who are presumed to be already following htem.

* And this in itself is telling. As PhD Comics can tell us post-grad students subsist on instant noodles and free food that can be scavenged around campus. While this stereotype isn't entirely true, it does have a basis in reality, as post-grad students are lacking in both money and time - which makes acquiring nutritious food you want to eat tricky. And yet, post-grad students generally survive the experience, and go on to live to ages that befit their socio-economic position.


Lindsay said...

What a pleasant surprise. Not sure which blog I an at now.

Lindsay said...

'am' I should say.

Hugh said...

Maia, I've often suspected that the main function of 'awareness campaigns' is more to make those who are already indulging in the behaviour feel good about themselves due to the official 'well done' pat on the head than any attempt to change the behaviour of those who aren't.

If the latter really is the intent, it's wrong headed - it seems to assume people don't eat fish because they've just never heard that it's good for you.

Hugh said...

PS: I'm actually rather fond of the Vic staff club. No, the food isn't spectacular, but it is cheap, has reasonable variety and is well prepared. Of course the fact that uni staff probably don't need cheap food is a good one (postgrads are another matter, though!)

Anonymous said...

Does the staff club actually sell healthy foods? Wow this is exciting. A bit off topic, sorry, but I find the food on campus at Vic absolutely disgusting. Especially that place near the Murphy overbridge with its slimy lukewarm noodle dishes, soggy potato wedges and six month old sandwiches. And it’s all ridiculously overpriced in addition to being unhealthy. They certainly wouldn't get away with displaying smug 'eat blueberries and salmon' posters there. This type of thing is irritating, but if they actually do sell food that is vaguely nutritious then I’ll be heading in that direction next time I forget my lunch.

Hugh said...

Yea, the staff club is no gourmet experience but it definitely offers the best food on campus. Which is not saying a great deal.

Maia said...

Lindsay - That's a strange comment. I've been writing exactly this sort of stuff for five years now.

Hugh - Oh I ate there today - there are couches and you can eat there even if you're bringing your own food. It's just the signs that make me grumpy.

Anonymous - There is a staff club, it's on the second floor of the rankine brown buiilding, but I do think you've missed hte point of my post. This explains my point in more detail

Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstood my post too. I know there is a staff club, I didn't ask this question.

I was just querying whether or not their bombardment of 'healthy eating' messages was matched with food that would conventionally be considered 'healthy' by those who use such terminology.

My post was one of general curiosity, not confusion. I realise this wasn't the point of your article which is why I apologised for going off topic with my comment.

Lindsay said...

Maia, I haven't been reading this blog for five years. But the impression I generally get is writers approve of paternalistic intervention or, to be trite, nannyism.

Sister Rose said...

Lindsay is spot on. I didn't know you supported a persons right to eat whatever she or he liked. I got the impression you quite liked a Government legislating (bullying) us into guidelines "for our own good". Hurrah for Maia!