Sunday, 29 August 2010

Talking about food

Maia's post below has a go at both my food blog post "Not Fit to Eat" and the Child Poverty Action Group's Facebook page response to it. There's some serious wire-crossing going on in what she and some of the commenters say.
I hadn't seen the CPAG promo for my post and I think the wording isn't the best, because it can seem to shift the focus away from the main point. But a group that works so hard just to get a better deal for kids doesn’t deserve condemnation over this either.

The problem that I and the woman who sent me the info have with a dairy marketing the pack of food shown as a "school lunch" has nothing to do with "promoting a diet mentality", nor with “seeing food in terms of morality”.

The point here is how commercial interests - from giant Coke Inc to the corner dairy - make it so easy and (apparently) cheap to buy food and drink which does not meet kids' needs even on one school day (as Maia agrees), let alone lots of days. And how even the very modest moves by the previous government to do something useful and non-parent-blaming about school lunches have now been scrapped. (Read Carol’s comment on Maia’s post – thanks, Carol.)

It was in that context that I headed my post, "Not fit to eat", and I stand by it: as a school lunch, this pack is not fit for kids to eat.

There’s plenty of useful debate to be had around this issue, but the trouble with the “diet mentality” and “food morality” labels is that they rule out even raising it. And that’s exactly what those who profit from making and selling such packs want. I hope no astute marketeers have found Maia’s post or some of the comments below it, because it's a textbook example of the best way to silence any objection whatsoever to what they're doing.

It’s brilliant PR. Just tell people that there's absolutely nothing wrong with any kind of food, ever. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is either a foolish tool of the meddling nanny state, or an anti-feminist diet freak hellbent on taking all the fun of food away and insisting that no one should ever eat Oreos, only oranges.

Yes, cheap calories are better than no calories. But this is New Zealand, and no or not enough calories is not the main problem. Coke is cheap because it’s incredibly cheap to make – the main cost is making sure as many people as possible keep drinking more of it. And don’t tell me that this insults consumers, by seeing them as helpless sheep at the mercy of advertisers. The campaigns run because they work – but only because they’re combined with cheapness, especially where food money is scarce.

Reading Maia’s post, I kept seeing an odd parallel with the arguments against hiking the price of “liquor” (there’s no catchall word that doesn’t sound wowserish, is there – why is that?). It’s one of the main things the recent commission recommended, along with curbs on promotion. But the industry has lobbied tooth and nail to stop those two things happening, just as Coke and Co lobby tooth and nail to stop anything effective being done about kids’ food. And the government has fallen obediently into line.

Something is at least being done about strongly alcoholic, ready-to-drink lolly-water. Or is this move too, as I’m sure the industry wants us to think, just another dreadful example of finger-wagging do-gooders intent on “seeing food in terms of morality”?

53 comments:

ideologicallyimpure said...

Anne, thanks for posting this. I stand by my previous comments and I think what still really bugs me is your comment about "not meeting kids' needs".

As I said in my post on the subject, we always seem to be talking about food "needs" in terms of fibre, and multivitamins, and OMG HAVE YOU HAD ENOUGH SELENIUM???

And the problem with that talk is that a lot of the kids who will be buying that "school lunch" aren't able to worry about those things because what has to come first is their "need" for any food at all. It's categorising this food as "bad" when, in terms of getting calories into these kids, it is *exactly* what they need.

It *is* food morality when we're hand-wringing about Poor Nutrition and ignoring the elephant in the room which is Any Nutrition At All.

And CPAG's reaction doesn't "seem" to shift the focus away from that. It does.

Psycho Milt said...

The point here is how commercial interests - from giant Coke Inc to the corner dairy - make it so easy and (apparently) cheap to buy food and drink which does not meet kids' needs even on one school day (as Maia agrees), let alone lots of days. And how even the very modest moves by the previous government to do something useful and non-parent-blaming about school lunches have now been scrapped.

My own personal view is that the kind of lunches recommended by busybodies reporting to the previous govt were also unfit to eat, in that they were woefully deficient in protein and fat, instead promoting sugars somewhat more complex than the ones promoted by the commercial interests, but in terms of how the body responds to them, little different. The fact that one unfit diet is promoted by commercial interests and one by busybody do-gooder interests isn't really of great consequence - in my humble, not to mention individual, opinion as a parent. This range of opinion is one reason arguments about "healthy" food are never-ending and largely pointless.

The thrust of Maia's post was that food isn't a moral issue. Your response seems to be that in fact it's the commercialisation of food that's a moral issue, not the food itself. I disagree - food is a market, whether we're talking about the Coca Cola company or somebody selling organic vegetables. That people involved in the market attempt to make their products attractive to customers (whether through discounting or through claiming organic foods have superior qualities to non-organic), is a given. Attempting to make that a moral issue is indistinguishable from making food a moral issue.

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

I am all for food morality. And I have known young people for whom any food is good food and bought food is the only option because there is literally never any food at home. I still want more for them than packaged, processed food.

I've had too many experiences with poor health not to believe in food morality. I've seen the effects of changing food choices on my own health and that of my family, particularly of my son whose eczema dominated my parenting concerns for 3-4 years. I've seen the effect of food choices on the ability of young people to function in a way which enables them to remain in a learning environment.

Hugh said...

Sandra, what sort of foods can cause eczema?

I'm not trolling, I was genuinely unaware eczema had a dietary component.

katy said...

We seem to be agreed that the "school lunch" as pictured is not an ideal meal. The question that Anne asks is, therefore, quite relevant, I think; how to ensure that we all have access to a lunch that will get us through the day?

I am reminded of that bit in "Food Inc" where a woman is explaining that she feeds her family McDonalds because it is cheap but regrets doing so because her husband has diabetes. My father-in-law has diabetes and only manages to avoid a serious medical intervention because he basically lives on steamed veges and fish; no meat, no rice, no bread, no alcohol etc. The thought of feeding him a cheeseburger makes me feel sick and it makes me sad that some people don't see other options.

ideologicallyimpure said...

Katy, I hate to keep harping on the same point, but: when you talk about "helping" people "see other options", you are still making a very massive, very privileged assumption that other options exist. For one heck of a lot of people, they don't, whether that's for time, money, energy, spoons, geographical, philosophical or whatever other reasons.

I find it hilarious that as someone who often cops the label "choice feminist" I'm having to constantly explain that sometimes we don't get to b!tch about people's "choices" when they aren't actually making any.

Maia said...

Hi there

I'm running a conference over the next two days, so I won't be able to respond in depth probably till Wednesday.

But the one thing I would like to refute (and may write a post about) is the idea that somehow my criticisms of the way people talk about food are some huge boon to large corporations.

Large food corporations don't sponsor the Fat Nuritionist, they don't sponsor, Paul Campos, and they don't sponsor fat acceptance bloggers more widely.

You do know what they do sponsor? They sponsor Michelle Obama's Lets Move campaign - the New Zealand version of what people seem to be clamouring for (great posts here and <a href="http://www.peopleofsize.com/blog/216/Why-Are-We-Letting-Michelle-Obama-Off-So-Easy</a>).

Like I say, I may write a full post on why you think that is. But to suggest that anyone who addresses the language people use when they discuss food is giving a gift to large food corporations, is ridiculous. It is perfectly possible to criticise how food corporations work without using the language of morality. Drawing attentions to the implications of people not doing so is not shutting down those criticisms, but asking them to be expressed in a non-damaging way.

And Anne - I will criticise any organisation which promotes associating food and morality, or a diet mentality (and yes calling for substitutions is diet mentality 101 - have you watched the Sarah Haskins video?), no matter what the work they do. Because I think that changing the culture about the way we talk about food and our bodies is also important.

Nostalgic said...

Hi everyone,

I agree with aspects of Maia's post, but I very much get where Anne is coming from. I would say that what is most important is to have this debate about the language we use around food. I grew up with a bulimic mother on the DPB, who would buy food for my brother but not for me and my two sisters. Yes, of course, we got fed, but I will insist that children have a right to learn proper nutrition (and no I don't mean faddish wonder foods, but vegetables, and meals that require a shopping list of a dozen different ingredients to prepare). Sure the "school lunch" that Anne blogged about is fine as a once off, if that's what it is. But there are kids who never learn what proper food is, and that is wrong - whether you want to blame the parents or the government that leaves people in poverty (there's probably room for both, in my experience...).

Psycho Milt said...

My father-in-law has diabetes and only manages to avoid a serious medical intervention because he basically lives on steamed veges and fish; no meat, no rice, no bread, no alcohol etc.

Katy: I'm a diabetic myself. Your father-in-law clearly has a nutritionist who doesn't understand diabetes. In my experience, very few of them do - you've got a clear and present danger to your health in the form of high blood sugar, and they fret about your weight. If your father-in-law can't find a nutritionist who understands his actual problem is blood sugar control, not weight control, the best thing to do is use his blood sugar test kit to figure out which foods are bad for his blood sugar and avoid only those ones. On the basis of lengthy experience, I can tell you most carbohydrates will raise blood sugar rapidly and should be minimised, and proteins, fats and vegetation can be eaten in pretty much any quantity you like. For us, food genuinely is a matter of dos and don'ts, but there isn't anything to be done about that (yet).

katy said...

"Katy, I hate to keep harping on the same point, but: when you talk about "helping" people "see other options", you are still making a very massive, very privileged assumption that other options exist."


Umm, no, I am aware that other choices often don't exist; that was the point of my post with the example of the woman who wanted to eat different food but didn't have the money to buy it.

katy said...

Pschyo Milt, my father-in-law isn't really overweight, that isn't the issue (he is Japanese and East Asians have slightly different triggers in terms of type 2 diabetes). Because he is Japanese, avoiding carbs is a big deal (because rice is so central to the cuisine).

Carol said...

As I have said on Maia's thread below, the more I see of this debate, the more confused I am about the way it’s being polarised - and the talk of "moral language" just misses me.

The issue, for me, as raised by Anna, and with respect to what I see as the main points she has raised, is one of "excess" and consumerist practices, largely by big corporations. I do think these practices disadvantage lower socio-economic groups more than others.... but also, in many ways they disadvantage many others as well.

The comments of most nutritionists I have heard or read stress a varied diet as being the healthy one. I do think an orange is healthier than some sweets or other foods, even those with added vitamin C (most vitamins work better in their natural form - something to do with the other elements naturally present). But I would be worried about the health of someone who ate ONLY oranges. That to me is not a healthy diet. (And many migraine sufferers avoid oranges altogether because they are migraine triggers.)

Most nutritionists say that a healthy diet would also include some "fun food" – including those with limited nutrients or nutritional value. IMO some such fairly regular indulgences can be good for the soul. And many nutritionists warn that an over-regulated diet is not helpful in achieving a healthy outcome.

As I see it, Anna is focussing on an excess of "unhealthy", or limited nutrient foods in some children's diets. And this has mostly resulted from some (often very manipulative) corporate practices that are more aimed at their profit margins than maintaining the health of consumers. This for me is the big issue. And, for me, polarising the debate over "moral language" etc, or talking about it being an issue of others dictating what we eat, really doesn't help in getting to the heart of the crucial issue.

IMO, the significant issue is that we need more light on way food industry corporates operate, and the impacts that this is having on the health of various sections of our society. AnnaE's post here has moved us a little in that direction, IMO. And that is the discussion I'm interested in.

Anonymous said...

I find it somewhat amusing how people talk about 'How do we fix this problem?' as if it's some great mystery.

My sons school has a healthy lunches policy that it has kept in place despite the government backing down. You can buy a lunch pack for $4 (a variety of rolls with a snack like fruit/crackers or yoghurt) or you can go as basic (and cheap) as a peanut butter roll. They do have some things like chicken noodles/sausage rolls but they are only available for one day each during the week.

There is one little girl who gets a school lunch every day of the week. When she started school she was so large that I had quite a lot of concern about her health. The availability of cheap decent food from school has meant that over the past few months I have seen the weight drop off her. While I'm sure she'll always be a cuddly little darling she is now able to play with the other kids the way she never used to.

It's really not a hard problem to solve at all.

Alana

Hugh said...

Alana

Thank you for being open about your anti-fat agenda, but some of us are not on board with the idea that less weight = good.

Tui said...

. Yes, of course, we got fed, but I will insist that children have a right to learn proper nutrition (and no I don't mean faddish wonder foods, but vegetables, and meals that require a shopping list of a dozen different ingredients to prepare).

Nostalgic, the very idea that having both the money and the time to buy a dozen different ingredients to prepare a meal (let alone doing that for three meals a day, seven days a week) is achievable for low-income people makes me gasp. I love to cook and have only two flatmates who aren't especially picky to worry about, I study and work part time and all things considered I have bags of free time - yet even with all of this working for me, even when cooking is actually a leisure activity for me and my flatmates, getting varied from-scratch meals on the table every evening is a big deal (and I consider myself lucky that I have enough disposable income to buy lunch frequently.)

It involves: getting up early on Sunday morning to go to the vege markets in town - this saves us money, but only because we can afford to run a car. Then we go to Pak n Save, much cheaper than our local supermarket - something, again, we only have the luxury to do because we can afford to run a car. We all have enough disposable income to put aside enough money every week so that we can buy things in bulk and buy things in quantity when they're on special, and we have deep cupboards that in tough, pay-the-power-bill weeks we can draw on. So even GETTING the 12 ingredients is a big deal - by the time we're done it's usually Sunday afternoon, you can't exactly ditch kids for six hours on a weekend.

Then there's the actual, you know, cooking. Neither my flatmate who cooks or I work full-time so some evenings one of us is home in time to cook at a fairly reasonable hour. But it's also common for us not to eat until eight - because we can prioritise cooking complicated meals over getting the kids fed and to bed at a sensible hour, and because there are two of us and so no-one has to cook every night and so someone has the energy every night (and, again, we both LIKE to cook.) Getting the kids fed by six or seven? Yeah, right.

The idea of doing this with kids; on your own; without a disposable budget; without being able to run a car (meaning you probably end up picking up tonight's dinner, or the ingredients for tonight's dinner, from the more expensive local supermarket on the way home, carrying them in a plastic bag); or if you have a disability and live alone, or live with other peole who have disabilities; not being able to drive; etc etc etc.

All food is "proper food" as long as it doesn't poison you.

Carol said...

Tui, yes this is all part of the reason why there is more use of pre-packaged and pre-processed meals. They have there place in our busy life-styles, IMO. But that is no reason why we shouldn't be holding food corporates (and our government policy-makers) to account for the kind of meals and snacks they produce, the pricing practices, and the way they are marketed and promoted - especially with children.

Actually, even in my busiest work periods, mostly I prepare meals from scratch. But I am probably happier with simpler meals than most people, because the additives and preservatives in prepackaged meals are likely to give me head-aches - especially if I eat them regularly.

One g/f I lived with, was more inclined to pop a pre-packed meal in the microwave after working late. She had a more robust system and they didn't affect her the way they affect me. For myself, after working late, I preferred a simple home-made meal - throwing together a salad, or even a sandwich, doesn't take that much effort. But my g/f also ate (and liked to cook) meals made from fresh food most of the time.

As I've referred to before, it's all a question of degree, variety and balance.... and yes, I'd add practicality to that, too.

And, even in our current context, I see nothing wrong with teaching children some education on nutrition and healthy food options - actually I think we have everything to gain from this.

ScubaNurse said...

Im a bit over people arguing that being over weight is ok.
I have experienced being overweight and underweight and neither is fun.
Underweight for me = dizzy spells, tiredness, crankyness, late development as a teen, prone to fainting.
Overweight - tiredness, feeling of ill health, reflux, inability to do the things I used to do easily, back ache from larger breasts.

In neither of those points do I mention my self image or confidence because the entire time I have been slightly insecure about my body with a touch of "fuck them, who cares what people think." My weight made no difference.

My concern is not a body image issue but a health issue, and I object to people PCing the fatness up.
No, its not ok for me. I eat too much and do too little and dont look at myself in a mirror enough to notice until clothes dont fit.
OR I cant swim 4 laps at the pool anymore, or run without chest pain, or do aerobics without breast pain!!

So if someone is bigger, dont assume it is genes, or medical conditions, or emotional, or metabolism.

A nice little rule of thumb is that if a stomach stapling Op will work, then the problem is very simply put, over eating.

And malnutrition is a tragedy in a country where in the poorest areas there are AMAZING markets for fresh veg.

what we need is education and cooking classes.
Food is only good if you know what to do with it.

ideologicallyimpure said...

ScubaNurse, it simply is not the case that "being overweight is not ok". It is a hugely complex issue (even starting from "define what overweight is") and I can only recommend visiting sites like kateharding.net, therotund.com, fatnutritionist.com.

"Poor areas" may have "amazing vege markets" but again, you and many comments here are making frankly obnoxious assumptions about the incomes and lifestyles and "choices" available to the truly poor in NZ.

Alison said...

Anne, I don't accept the assertion that in NZ "no or not enough calories are not a problem." Food security is a problem in many NZ communities, not to the same extent as in many other countries, but not non-existent either. Is a lunch of processed sugar the best lunch for a primary school child? Certainly not. But it is better than nothing. It provides energy, and if that is absolutely all it supplies, that's a start.

Noone is arguing that there are not foods which are more or less healthy, more or less tasty, more or less digestible, more or less filling. But unless a food is poisonous, or dangerous to a given individual, then it is fit to eat, and can serve a purpose in the diet.

That doesn't stop us making moral critiques of food production or marketing, or of the way in which corporates overhype the food which costs them the least to make, and overprice fresh produce, which isn't cheap. But that's different from labelling a food which many people DO eat, and perhaps rely on, as "not fit to eat." I make many moral decisions about the food I buy, make and eat, but not because the nutrients themselves have moral value. There is something very wrong with poor children being forced to eat oreos for lunch day after day, but our society already ostracises people who we perceive to make "bad food choices" and the "not fit to eat" label helps promote that discourse, rather than attacking the high cost of fresh food, or social deprivation.

@Sandra, I don't really understand how a condition like excema applies here - excema is an individual and abnormal response to food, and while it might very well be that in your son's case, it was an "unhealthy" food which caused the reaction, there are many of us who have allergic reactions to foods which are generally thought very "healthy".

Anonymous said...

@Hugh As anybody that knows me and knows my taste in men can tell you I most certainly do not have an anti-fat agenda. I can't allow scales in the house because of my problems in the past with the other end of the spectrum.
The child I was talking about was large enough that it was restricting her ability to do basic things like play with the other kids. To me it was an issue of quality of life not weight.

To answer your question that does not appear to have been answered, in my family we all got excema from cows milk when we were younger so could only drink soy or goats milk. We were able to handle cows milk when we got older though.

Alana

AnneE said...

Thanks for all these comments - especially, of course, the ones that broadly agree with me!! I did very carefully word my original post, and the one on THM, because I am extremely well aware of "food security", defined as "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active healthy life" -and no, we certainly don't have that in NZ. What I wrote on THM was that "no or not enough calories are not the main problem", and all the work I've read backs this up.

Maia said...

Carol - You are right that the way that I (and some others on this thread) talk about food is completely different from standard ways of talking about food. So I'm not suprised you find it confusing This was probably not the post I should have begin with - on my own blog I have developed my ideas slowly, so it's less of a leap.

However, you keep responding to ideas that Oranges are not intrinsically healthier than Oreos (or sweets in your new example). Oranges are healthier for a person who needs vitamin C, but doesn't need a large amount of calories. Oreos are healthier for someone who is short on calories, but not vitamin C. There is no either or

I really would appreciate it if you would be more specific with your langauge and ideas. For example, you talk about food that with limited nutrients I've no idea what you mean. Are you claiming that calories and carbohydrates are not nutrients, and coming back to the nutrients? Or are you thinking of something like sugar free jello, or diet drinks? Which are very low in nutrients.

ScubaNurse - I'll give you this - I hope your drive by fat hate will show people why I think this debate is important.

AnneE said...

"Oranges are healthier for a person who needs vitamin C, but doesn't need a large amount of calories. Oreos are healthier for someone who is short on calories, but not vitamin C." True - and there's a distressingly big pile of NZ studies showing that the one in five kids whose families don't have enough money to cover the basics are short on Vitamin C and other essential nutrients (especially for kids), NOT calories - especially not the kind of "empty calories" that pack offered. And there are very good reasons for this, which have nothing to do with consumer "ignorance" and everything to do with the kinds of "choices" you have to make when you don't have enough money.

Hugh said...

Anne, the very term "empty calories" is a weighted one, implying that a calorie that isn't accompanied by vitamins, fiber etc etc is somehow worthless. When you start describing an orange as containing "empty vitamins" because it isn't also chokka with calories, then you'll be onto something.

Maia said...

Anne - I'm not necessarily disagreeing (although I would point out that probably the only reason that people aren't short on calories is because they're eating cheap calories that you dismiss as empty).

However, my point was about language. Carol repeatedly stated that oranges were 'healthier' than Oreos - as if health is an intrinsic quality of food, rather than relative to our bodies. I was arguing that this construction was nonsense. As I have said before I think the language we use about food is important.

Just a final point - in your original post you focused entirely on the cheapness of the pack - rather than the expense of other foods. Eating the oreo, or this pack, doesn't stop anyone eating an organge, or other sources of protein and micro-nutrients. Why are you focusing on the cheapness of calories (which I see as a good thing) rather than the expense of other nutrients? That was the point in my original post. One that I haven't seen you answer (for more on what I think see this post)

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

I've thought about this post up, down and sideways. It certainly has been thought provoking.

Hugh, a number of foods are implicated in eczema for different people. There appears to be some kind of immune dysfunction mechanism which sends the wrong triggers and indeed as someone else has pointed out, these trigger foods are often ones widely lauded as 'healthy', such as eggs, citrus and milk. It is also true that less lauded components of food such as E numbers (mostly in the form of artificial food colourants) can cause problems.

I also accept that the case of eczema might not be relevant to this debate, but the initial comments were so broad that I didn't see it as irrelevant at the time.

I had read Anne's 'Not fit to Eat' post when she first published it on her blog and agreed with it. But after wondering what on earth I missed that had so incensed other people, earlier today I looked at Ideologically Impure's post responding to it and realised that other people inferred that Anne was worried these children would get fat. I hadn't inferred that at all. Fat really isn't the major consideration in a world of frequent hunger.

Since this debate opened up, I have had first hand interaction with some very hungry teenagers, young people I see on a regular basis. I spent time with them looking at alternatives (a cooking lesson in one instance, support for an unemployment benefit application in another instance) but I also was mindful of this debate and how it was relevant or not to them.

So with that in mind, I would still critique the oreos package as it seems not to offer the lasting sense of being full that a pottle of hot chips does. I have learnt to step out of my own world where I concentrate on home made food to a large degree and consider the importance of corner shop and other pre-prepared foods for children and teenagers who live in homes with no food.

A lot of young people live in homes which routinely have no food. I could talk about what I have learnt about the role of cigarette addiction in all of this (I do not back the endless price rises) but that is digressing further again.

Do I shirk from talking about good foods to young people who are hungry? No I do not. Just as I don't shrink from wanting more for them in other areas of their lives, neither do I think that just because they are poor and live chaotic lives that they do not deserve to know many of the useful things about what foods help our bodies to grow best.

katy said...

"Why are you focusing on the cheapness of calories (which I see as a good thing) rather than the expense of other nutrients?"

Maybe I read it differently to others but I thought that this was the point of the original post?? Mentioning the cost of the featured meal was contrasted with that of the invisible alternative. I found the post powerful because it brought it home to me that if you only have $2.50 to spend on lunch your options are pretty limited and this is the problem.

AnneE said...

Maia, I did not focus entirely on the cheapness of the pack (and it is in fact not really all that cheap). The post included the nutritional content of the pack and explained perfectly clearly what was wrong with it AS A SCHOOL LUNCH. Calories are simply a measure of energy. Proteins have calories. Carbohydrates have calories. Fats have calories. Kids need calories. This pack has calories. But even if you did eat a #*&@ orange with this it would not provide a sustaining school lunch!!! Please, read some of the research on kids, poverty and food.

Maia said...

Anne - I found your last comment really rude. As I have made clear I am coming from this from a different angle from you. Reading 'some of the research' (rather arrogant of you to assume that I haven't) woudln't change my ideas about useful and harmful ways to discuss food. If you don't want to engage with my ideas then don't - but don't imply that it's ignorance on my part that has lead to my differing views.

If someone has only $2.50 to spend on lunch on the way to school then (particularly if they can't go and get hot chips at lunchtime) that sounds like more nutrients than they'd be able to get most anywhere else. I don't see why you focus on selling food cheaply as shameful - rather than selling food expensively (that is the point I have made several times that you haven't engaged with - I wasn't trying to say that talking about cheapness was all that you did in the post - but that you focused on the cheap food as if that was the problem, rather than the expensive food).

Maybe it's a philosophical approach - I believe that people (including children) generally make the best choices about food (and most other things) that they can based on their situation as a whole. So it's not a problem that it's there - it's a problem that that's the best option for some people.

Eating that thing labelled 'school lunch' food wouldn't stop someone also eating an orange, a pottle of hot chips, a steak, sushi, KFC, Thai chicken salad or pizza. It's only someone's lack of resources which makes this pack the only thing they eat. You seem to argue that there's something wrong with the pack - I say that it's the lack of resources which is the problem.

Sandra - just so you're clear I didn't think that the original post said anything. My objection - apart from the one that I have just stated five different ways above, was about language such as 'healthy food' and 'empty calories'.

AnneE said...

I too believe that "people (including children) generally make the best choices about food (and most other things) that they can based on their situation as a whole." And I have been very careful not to suggest otherwise. Yes, it's the situation that's the problem - but as I have been trying to make clear from the beginning, it includes food manufacture, distribution and pricing as well as lack of money. This is my last contribution to this discussion on THM.

ideologicallyimpure said...

Anne, I recognise that you are not intending to make any further comment on THM on this, but I hope you don't mind the conversation continuing.

It took me a while to figure out why I was bugged by the focus in the original post about the label "school lunch" and how "this isn't a school lunch! This isn't sufficient/proper/"healthy" to be a lunch!"

To me, this goes straight to a point made much more excellently by The Fat Nutritionist: poor people aren't stupid. Poor people are not going into that dairy and thinking "ooh, this is labelled "school lunch" so it must be a complete, balanced, perfect meal!"

We can talk about education and supermarket price-gouging and "nutrition" and "health" till the cows come home, but at the end of the day your main issue seems to be that we must protect the poor dumb starving people from evil nasty dairy owners' pernicious lies. And that is privilege speaking, plain and simple.

Isa Ritchie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isa Ritchie said...

Wow. What a fantastic debate! It's interesting to find so much conflict in the comments. There seems to be quite a lot of agreement but maybe a bit of scrambling from people to promote their more valued perspectives (?)

My research is deliberately on a middle class food movement, so not particularly relevant to this. I have a friend who's specific focus is on foodlessness and she doesn't seem to be particularly concerned with nutritional value - not when there's starvation in the mix! (I'm picking up on a lot of anger and perhaps middle class guilt). I am concerned by nutritional value - and by a society where the cheapest, easiest food is rubbish! It is very hard to focus in school if you're eating highly processed carbs and have spiking blood sugar! I love the term 'empty calories' - it's a great term for calories that have been stripped of their nutrients and over-processed to ensure maximum profits... it's a shocking system. I'm not sure if kids do necessarily make the 'best' food choices (given the choice), not because they're stupid, but because 'junk' food is manufactured to taste appealing (lying about it's nutritional value) and marketed deliberately to children. I chose to eat a lot of junk food as a kid (when I had the choice)...

Isa Ritchie said...

...I'm interested in the language being used here: "Promoting a diet mentality" - doesn't everyone have some kind of mentality about their diet? (Whether it be nutritionally focussed or not starving?) I haven't come across this term before. Why shouldn't food be a moral issue - are we supposed to be trying to be non-biased and merely observing all the problems here? I'm interested in the nutritionism (see Gyorgy Scrinis) discourse here around vitamins and calories. food is an immensely complex thing and our language and ways of understanding it are often reductionist and limited.

Excuse the over-simplification but I'm pretty sure most people here would agree that: 1. people need to eat (starvation is very bad - especially for children!), 2. If people have the agency to choose food, there are far better options than the 'lunch pack', 3. Corporations are exploiting people, particularly those with little agency (unless you think they're doing us a favour by making oreos?), and 4. The government should do something about all of these things!

So what are *we* doing about this?

Great food for thought!

Maia said...

Isa - as I already said over at Sandra's blog. Please don't use the word agency in this way. Everyone has agency - agency is how you use your resources. It is resources people lack not agency.

To explain how I use language:

I think the use of the word 'diet' to refer to weight loss diet is reasonably well understood. The idea that you have to choose between an orange or an oreo (why not both?) is very much from - as is the idea that you should be looking to substitute a lower fat, lower calorie version of what you're already eating (that's the idea that Sarah Haskins was making fun of in the video I embedded in my other post).

I think I have discussed 'empty calories' a bit - my question is why you think calories that contain macro-nutrients are 'empty'.

What I find interesting is, like Anne, you phrase cheapness as the problem: "the cheapest easiest food is rubbish." (an idea that I disagree with and here's why). Why aren't you focusing on expense as the problem - "Foods that are most rich in a variety of nutrients tend to be resource intensive."

I honestly have no idea why the fact that some foods are cheap bothers people. What makes me furious is the foods that are expensive.

ideologicallyimpure said...

Isa - I actually think that no, we can't all just agree that "People need to eat and starvation is bad", because the core of the argument taking place here is whether "empty"/"bad"/"unhealthy" food is actually preferable to starvation until oranges are available.

I'm also not sure what some commenters are finding difficult about the concept of "food morality", because it's everywhere. This food is Good, so if you are a Good Person you will eat it. This food is Bad, so if you are a Good Person you will avoid it.

Or alternatively eat it and ensure you remove all sense of enjoyment with loud public browbeating, as I'm sure anyone who's ever heard the phrase "OH, this will go STRAIGHT TO MY HIPS, it's soooooooo baaaaaaad."

It's cheesecake. Not a stain on your soul.

Boganette said...

"I'm also not sure what some commenters are finding difficult about the concept of "food morality", because it's everywhere. This food is Good, so if you are a Good Person you will eat it. This food is Bad, so if you are a Good Person you will avoid it."

- This is just so true. 100% true. And it's EXACTLY why food should not be a moral issue. I'm at a loss to figure out why anyone would suggest it is or should be. I'm actually horrified that feminists would suggest it should be.

If I have a packet of chips I am not a bad person who is unhealthy and fat and miserable. And if I have an orange I should not be congratulated and told how healthy I am and how happy, shiny and skinny I will be if I just keep eating "GOOD" food.

Cheesecake is awesome. And I will not give it up or label it as bad or punish myself for eating it because somebody else has such an unhealthy attitude to food that they'd label it bad and insist I should too.

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

Thank you for your last comment Boganette. It makes clear things that I could only guess at before. When I make my own, personal decisions on the merits of a particular food for myself or my children or a particular situation (for example, not tipping heaps of brandy into the trifle for the shared lunch at my son's school), they are about that food.

I assess food for it's merits relative to the situation, assessing the food. Not the person. Not any person who eats any food or contemplates eating the food or nearly ate the food or whatever. I assess the merits of THE FOOD.

I don't think that people are 'good' or 'bad' according to the food they eat.

I think there is a place for discussing the nutritional merits of food and that the sphere of such discussion and the sphere of judging people according to the food they eat have crossed in this debate in ways that have had people talking at cross-purposes.

I'm sorry if I've given the impression to anyone that I think they are what they eat in a religious or moral manner.

Boganette said...

"I don't think that people are 'good' or 'bad' according to the food they eat."

I'm sure you don't think that but that's the message that is sent out when people put food into 'good' and 'bad' categories. I'm sure that's not their intention but that's how it ends up being interpreted.

I don't understand why people can't just let others decide their own diets and leave judgements and labels about food to themselves. I have a friend who has battled anorexia since she was 15. She has a "good" food list and a "bad" food list. Honestly in my opinion it is dangerous to label food as good and bad. No matter how much you don't want to make it about the person eating the food that's what it ends up being about.

Maia said...

Sandra - I still don't think you understand. Because a particular food may be 'good' or 'bad' for you or a member of your family at a particular time, doesn't make that universal.

I object to the universalising - as if the health effects of food you eat are intrinsic to the food, rather than a relationship between the food you eat and what your body needs at the time.

There is no need to talk about food in this universalising dichotomous way 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' 'good' and 'bad'. When describing the qualities of different foods it's possible to be specific and accurate.

ideologicallyimpure said...

I think there is a place for discussing the nutritional merits of food and that the sphere of such discussion and the sphere of judging people according to the food they eat have crossed in this debate in ways that have had people talking at cross-purposes.

I think (echo, echo) that where we're talking at cross-purposes is that to me, those things aren't separate issues.

We just do not treat nutrition as an objective, relative thing which has no moral value. And because we DO ascribe "goodness" (I don't think there's a more morality-based word in the English language!) to the nutritional impact of foods, of course we - even if it's just unspoken and implicit - we ascribe "goodness" to people based on the foods they eat (with the assumption, also playing a big role in this debate, that all people have a free choice in the foods they eat).

So where you see two separate issues - nutrition in a little box over there being simple and scientific and not debatable - and judging people in a different little box over there in the naughty corner being a problem - I see a single problem, rooted in the moral value we place on a certain view of "nutrition", which inevitably leads to judging people based on their food.

(And of course then there's the related issue of fatness, whereby we make assumptions about people's food "choices" based on their bodily appearance and thus on their morality, and thus fatness becomes moral because of the underlying food/nutrition morality issue).

weka said...

There seems to be the idea here that if the resource issue was solved (i.e. everyone had enough money to buy the food they need and want) then there would be no problem.

(and let me say at this point that I agree that poverty is a major issue in this discussion)

I know plenty of middle and upper middle class people, with more than adequate food budgets, who are struggling with health issues related to diet (no I'm not talking about obesity). Refined sugar causes all sorts of problems for humans biologically, and once the money issue is solved, those problems remain albeit in a different context.

Sugar (refined) is highly addictive. There also seems to be the idea here that aside from resource limitations, food choices are an intellectual activity. But people also choose food from biological impulse. Sugar will beget a craving for sugar. Not eating sugar makes it easier to eat veges. So the idea that one can easily choose to eat an orange (or say a salad) as well as an oreo suggests that the choice is simply a mental one. But it's not. The oreo will change biological responses in the body, including desire for certain kinds of foods. We can use mental will to override that, but it's often not easy.


While I agree that for far too many people there isn't a choice, for many people there is, including low income people. I know people on the dole who choose to eat well and I know others on the dole who don't eat well but it's not a financial issue. By well I mean healthy food in an overall sense. I don't think there is a problem with eating oreos sometimes, but eating oreos as a staple will make most people ill eventually.


I also follow the argument about not labelling food good or bad, but I'm curious if what some people are really saying here is that some food choices don't cause health problems. Because for many people there is such an obvious connection between food and health based on their own experience that it's just too weird to consider that others might believe the opposite.


I'm appalled that that dairy is selling those things as a school lunch. Let them sell those things individually as snacks, but why call it lunch? And yes I understood that for some people it is the only food they get to eat at lunch time, but why call it lunch? Why not call it the food I am eating because I live in a society that makes some people too poor to be able to afford lunch*. Or is that too moralistic of me?

*or, for the more well off, the food I am eating because I crave sugar more than savoury and I want to use the rest of the money I have to buy a new CD.

weka said...

There seems to be the idea here that if the resource issue was solved (i.e. everyone had enough money to buy the food they need and want) then there would be no problem.

(and let me say at this point that I agree that poverty is a major issue in this discussion)

I know middle and upper middle class people, with more than adequate food budgets, who are struggling with health issues related to diet (no I'm not talking about obesity). Refined sugar causes all sorts of problems for humans biologically, and once the money issue is solved, those problems remain albeit in a different context.

Sugar (refined) is highly addictive. There also seems to be the idea here that aside from resource limitations, food choices are an intellectual activity. But people also choose food from biological impulse. Sugar will beget a craving for sugar. Not eating sugar makes it easier to eat veges. So the idea that one can easily choose to eat an orange (or say a salad) as well as an oreo suggests that the choice is simply a mental one. But it's not. The oreo will change biological responses in the body, including desire for certain kinds of foods. We can use mental will to override that, but it's often not easy.

weka said...

While I agree that for far too many people there isn't a choice, for many people there is, including low income people. I know people on the dole who choose to eat well and I know others on the dole who don't eat well but it's not a financial issue. By well I mean healthy food in an overall sense. I don't think there is a problem with eating oreos sometimes, but eating oreos as a staple will make most people ill eventually.


I also follow the argument about not labelling food good or bad, but I'm curious if what some people are really saying here is that some food choices don't cause health problems. Because for many people there is such an obvious connection between food and health based on their own experience that it's just too weird to consider that others might believe the opposite.


I'm appalled that that dairy is selling those things as a school lunch. Let them sell those things individually as snacks, but why call it lunch? And yes I understood that for some people it is the only food they get to eat at lunch time, but why call it lunch? Why not call it the food I am eating because I live in a society that makes some people too poor to be able to afford lunch*. Or is that too moralistic of me?

*or, for the more well off, the food I am eating because I crave sugar more than savoury and I want to use the rest of the money I have to buy a new CD.

weka said...

Sorry for the double up of posts there. Blogger was telling me the post was two long so I split in two, but it seems it's published the original anyway.

katy said...

I think there is a discussion to be had regarding the role of cuisine here, cuisine being the historical and cultural context of the food we eat. I have thought about this in the context of different approaches to vegetarianism or veganism. I think there is a difference in approach in, for example, switching to basing ones diet on a cuisine that has developed over time to be vegan (such as South Indian) and taking an "abstaining" or "replacing" approach to developing a different diet.

ideologicallyimpure said...

@weka: I don't think it's correct to say "saying that some food choices don't cause health problems."

But one reason you may get that impression, at least from my comments (can't speak for others), is that I do not write under the assumption that people have a duty to "be healthy" - however we're defining that.

This is basically as radical an idea to a lot of people as the notion that eating cheesecake does not cause me feelings of guilt.*

I think it's easiest summed up by a line from 3rd Rock From the Sun: "But Dr Solomon, cigarettes will take ten years off your life!" Dick: "Well those last ten years aren't worth living anyway." Ignoring the ageism, the fact is that if a person, in full cognisance of the fact that X food/habit/belief will have Y physical consequences, and chooses (and is ABLE to choose) to do X anyway ... it's their body. And their life.

(Issues obviously abound in terms of dependents and financial inequality in relationships, but the fundaments still hold true for me.)

Nobody owes anyone else physical health. Nobody is under obligation to do everything possible to live to 80. Nobody is required to sacrifice happiness or spoons in order to pursue our society's obsession with ignoring linear time.

*It sometimes still does but I am working on killing them.

weka said...

I agree to an extent, ii, especially as we really don't know as a society what constitutes health anyway at this point in time. I do think there are serious public health issues in a country with at least a semblance of free health care - as someone with a lifelong disability that is woefully underfunded I find it hard to watch escalating health system costs that are to a large extent avoidable. This is why I support legislation that seeks to limit children's access to refined sugar (or say teenagers' uptake of smoking). I also of course support legislation that addresses poverty in a meaningful way.

But leaving that aside (and accepting that people still have the right to make their own choices) the thing that I'm finding difficult in this debate is that it appears almost impossible to talk about healthy food from a politicised place. It's almost as if discussion about health and food can't be discussed because it's seen as antagonistic to the other politics represented here.

There are whole communities of people that have taken the debate out of the mainstream and are doing amazing work on figuring out what actually constitutes healthy food, and it seems like in this particular arena (socialist ideas around diet, poverty, fat politics etc) that those communities are either invisible or inherently maligned. I'd rather see a more inclusive debate, that takes the time to understand that these apparently too diverse politics can actually be allies.

Isa Ritchie said...

Just to clarify, I'm not a fan of 'diet mentality' or labelling food as fundamentally 'good' or 'bad' - health is a relative concept, but I'm still appalled that this kind of food is so cheap (AND that more nutrient dense food is so very expensive) because of all the hidden social costs of this kind of industrialised food production - particularly the environmental cost and the burden placed on all the under-paid workers involved in producing that packet of oreos. They're subsidising the 'cheapness' of the food which still manages to make a ridiculous amount of money for shareholders in the corporation. Meanwhile 'consumers' are opting for the cheapest, most readily available energy because that's what hunger naturally tells us to do.

I don't have a problem with macro-nutrients, except that they naturally come with a whole bunch of goodies that help them to be digested, absorbed, processed... like minerals, enzymes, vitamins and so on. It is a very bizarre way to eat calories, scantily dressed in flavour enhancers and artificial colours and flavours - I'm quite embarrassed by it.

Hugh said...

Isa

Do you really think the production of fresh fruit and vegetables involves less exploitation of underpaid labourers than a pack of Oreos?

Maia said...

Weka - I really object to your whole "refined sugar is addictive". If you're going to make that as an argument then make it and back it up. Don't just expect people to agree with: this sort of food is super bad and i say so. I don't even know what you mean by "Not eating sugar makes it easier to eat veges." If there are people who have difficulty eating vegetables because they eat sugar, then that must be a very limited part of hte population, because I had never heard of it until now.

I think I've addressed this lots, but I'll say it one more time. "Because for many people there is such an obvious connection between food and health based on their own experience that it's just too weird to consider that others might believe the opposite."

Just because some people have negative effects to some food, does mean that food will have negative effects on everyone. It is the selective universalising of some things that are damaging for some people to all people all the time, that I objecting to.

Right the way through your comment you have a universalizing idea of what is 'good' and 'bad' and 'healthy' and 'unhealthy'.

I also think this construction is really offensive: "I do think there are serious public health issues in a country with at least a semblance of free health care - as someone with a lifelong disability that is woefully underfunded I find it hard to watch escalating health system costs that are to a large extent avoidable."

There are enough resources in the world to meet both your health care needs, and the needs of those you deem avoidable. To blame others in need, rather than those woh control the distribution of resources, is short-sighted at best.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to read all 50 posts here so please excuse me if I bring something to the table that someone else has already mentioned.

I feel that when we label foods as "good" and "bad" we give them a lot of power and run the risk of inadvertently glamorising the "bad" foods. As and as a result kids will just want them even more, in order to rebel, if you like.

It's the same with alcohol and cigarettes, we've all been told forever that they are BAD - but does this stop people craving them? People pick up these habits during a rebellious teenage phase that they never quite grow out of. Take that back a few years, make sugar and fat the "naughty" things and kids will just rebel against their parents and want them more because they're not allowed. These kids, not unlike the kids who were allowed to eat crap every day, will also form unhealthy relationships with food.

I would also suggest that the PR machine thrives on this good/bad labelling habit - it's that same "sinful" bullshit that they use to sell you Tim Tams.

Isa Ritchie said...

Hugh,
That is a good question. I'm assuming that the production of fruit and vegetables involves a bit less exploitation of workers because it involves fewer steps, I may be wrong here - but the whole food industry is a mess - I'm not a big fan of industrial agriculture. Apparently small farming is a much more efficient use of land, so I'm in favour of food being grown anywhere and everywhere it possibly can. I've heard Havana grows more than half of it's food inside the city. I wonder what their school lunches are like