Posts Tagged ‘Diet’

Gove Thinks Poor People Eat Junk Food to Get ‘Solace’ in their ‘Difficult Lives’

June 7, 2018

Mike today has put up a piece commenting on articl3e in Mirror Online attacking Michael Gove for yet another utterance showing how completely out of touch he is. The Minister for the Environment, in charge of Britain’s food, has declared that the reason poor people eat unhealthy junk food, is not because healthy food is too expensive. No, it’s because eating unhealthy food makes them feel better. Gove said

“If you have got a difficult life and you have less money, then one of the things that can be a source of comfort, solace and pleasure will be buying and eating and consuming food that is not always going to be best for you in the long term.”

The Mirror article goes to state that critics have been lining up to point out to him the reality of the situation. And Mike comments, after pointing out that this is the man Some Tories want to take over from Tweezer after she’s forced out of Downing Street,

Michael Gove’s comments are typical of the privileged, entitled, out-of-touch toffs who currently hold the UK in a vicelike death-grip.

His words deny a simple fact of life for poorer people – that healthier food is more expensive and they simply cannot afford it, because Tory ‘reforms’ of benefits and wages have put it out of their price range.

He goes further, and says that if Gove really does believe this, then he must be a sad, squalid, blinkered little creep, and ends his article with the statement

This is certainly not the kind of man who could be hailed as a future leader of this – or any – country.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/07/hopelessly-out-of-touch-michael-gove-claims-poor-people-eat-junk-food-to-find-solace-in-their-difficult-lives/

Mike’s exactly right about this, and the way it reflects the received wisdom in the Tory party. And this goes back decades. Way back in the 1990s I used to listen to Joe Queenan’s Postcard from Gotham on Radio 4. This was a programme talking about current events in America, hosted by the American comedian, Joe Queenan, and his guests. On one edition they were discussing the obesity epidemic then beginning to hit America. One of the other voices on the programme was a journo from the Torygraph, who said pretty much exactly what Gove has said: that poor people eat fatty, junk food, like chips, burgers and pizza, to make themselves feel better. This was about 20+ years ago, so it shows how long that attitude has been around in Tory circles.

There’s an element of truth there, in that people do ‘comfort’ eat when they’re low or under stress. But as Mike points out, it isn’t really an explanation for the poor having a bad diet. Low ages and the greater expensive of healthier food is. And there are other factors as well. A few years ago, Jamie Oliver rocked up in Manchester or one of the other northern towns to teach the local people how to cook healthy food. He criticised one mum, who had joined the scheme, for not including many vegetables. This upset her, because she had no choice: there wasn’t a greengrocer near her, and she had only been able to buy from the shops she could reach, which didn’t stock much in the way of greens. And I’m sure this woman isn’t alone. We have seen the decline of local shops since the growth of the big supermarkets. When I was at school the local shops on our estate included a greengrocers and butchers. Now there are very few independent butchers around, and the greengrocers, at least in my neck of Bristol, seem to be similarly disappearing. There was one over on the rank of shops on the neighbouring estate, but they closed last year. If you want vegetables, you have to go to the local supermarket. And this might be difficult for some people.

Another reason why those on low incomes may be more inclined to eat junk food is because they’re quick and convenient. Not only have wages been held down, but working hours, for many people, are very long. Not everyone may have the time to cook a proper meal. And so for the temptation is buy a takeaway instead.

And there are also probably other reasons why Gove doesn’t want to go too far in trying to understand for himself why the poor, or some of them, eat unhealthily. And those reasons may be to do with corporate political funding and the power of the fast food companies. The Tories get much of their money from donations from big business. It’s why they ignore the wishes of their grass roots, to the point where many constituency Tory parties have either closed or are moribund, and concentrate instead on doing what their donors want. And you can tell just how powerful the fast food industry is by some of the adverts that appear on television and on hoardings. If you look at the adverts on TV, amongst the various car and perfume adverts are those for pizzas, KFC and McDonald’s. This advertising costs, though I don’t doubt that if someone suggested it should be banned, as happened with alcohol, the fast food industry would immediately respond with specially commissioned research claiming that they have no effect on how people eat at all. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye revealed in one of its issues just how many Tory MPs were connected to the drinks industry. There were calls to regulate alcohol advertising then. This has succeeded, but it’s only recently that some parts of Britain, like Scotland, have put the price of booze up in order to discourage binge drinking. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a large number of Tory MPs were either on the boards, or getting donations from companies like McDonald’s.

But Gove isn’t about to criticise them, despite the fact that one of McDonald’s salads was actually found to have more fat in it than their burgers. The Tories believe in unregulated capitalism, consumer choice, as repeated ad nauseam by Maggie Thatcher, and that whatever happens to you in the name of free enterprise is your own fault. And so they aren’t going to admit that the reason the poor may not eat as well as they could is because of low wages and long working hours. Indeed, I’m amazed that Gove even admitted that they have ‘difficult’ lives, considering how the poor have been demonised as feckless, ignorant, lazy chavs by both the Tories and New Labour, and particularly by the Daily Heil. They also aren’t going to criticise the supermarkets, which have killed off many community small businesses, because of the way Sainsbury’s and the rest have contributed very handsomely to party coffers. And the last thing they want to do is stop all those valuable donations coming in from the fast food merchants themselves.

So instead of placing the blame on poor working conditions and practices, and changes in retail capitalism, Gove did what the Tories always do: blame the poor. Just as they’ve blamed them for eating badly for decades.

This shows not just how unfit Gove is to succeed May, but how the entire Tory party – and corporate New Labour, when it comes to it – are for government. They don’t have any solutions to the real causes of poverty and obesity, only cod psychology. Get them out. Now.

John Brunner on the 1979 SF Book Show, Time Out Of Mind

May 4, 2015

‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work!’

I found this edition of the BBC series, Time Out of Mind, over on Youtube. Broadcast in 1979, the series looked at four SF authors, who were either British, in the case of Ann McCaffrey, an American based in Ireland. Apart from John Brunner and McCaffrey, the other authors featured were Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison. The fifth and final programme in the series was on that year’s SF convention in Brighton.

I vaguely remembered the series from the trailers running earlier in the evening, though I never watched it myself as I was probably too young. I’ve got a feeling it was broadcast long after my bed time.

Stand On Zanzibar

Brunner’s particularly interesting, as he’s known for writing very dystopian, near-future SF, such as his books The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. All of these are rightly classics of the genre, and I think Stand On Zanzibar has been republished under the Gollancz colophon as an ‘SF Masterwork’. It is indeed, though I think it’s also one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s very much a product of its time, which was the late 1960s-’70s concern about the ‘population bomb’ and the massive problems faced by an overpopulated world. It’s set in a near future, c. 2020, if I remember properly, in a massively overcrowded world, where living space is in short supply. The result is endemic domestic terrorist violence, and ‘muckers’ – frenzied spree killers. These are ordinary citizens, who’ve finally snapped under the strain of such oppressive conditions. They’ve taken their name from quite literally ‘running amok’.

In order to curb the population explosion, the government has passed eugenic legislation preventing those with genetic defects or inheritable diseases, like haemophilia, from having children. Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is legal, but still vulnerable to the interest of organised crime.

Far more sinisterly are the attempts by the various government to find ways to control the population using genetic engineering. This includes the research of an Indonesian scientist, who the Americans send a special agent to extract.

Brunner, CND and Environmentalism

Brunner was politically active for a time in his life. He was a member of CND and attended their meetings and marches. The programme shows how he even took part in an exhibition of the horrors created by the bomb, and how this influenced him. He states on the programme that when he turned to writing near future SF, he didn’t have to do much research. While it was harder to write than stories set in the far future, where the imagination could run freely, he found that much of the nightmarish conditions he describes in his works have already happened. This includes the dangers of chemical pollution on the environment and agriculture in The Sheep Look Up.

The ‘New Wave’ and Literary Modernism

Brunner’s like Moorcock and the other members of the British ‘New Wave’, in incorporating the techniques of literary modernism into his work. Moorcock in the programme dedicated to him said he wanted to use the techniques of such avant-garde literary authors as James Joyce. He was bitterly disappointed when his literary aspirations were rejected by the rest of the SF milieu, who considered these models to be pseudo-intellectuals.

Brunner acknowledges that in creating the background for the world on Stand On Zanzibar, he took John Dos Passos as his model, and included clippings from newspapers, even poetry. These clippings also show how rooted the book was in present-day reality. Several of the clippings explaining the ‘muckers’, for example, are taking from 1960s reports of real spree killers. As for the ‘partisans’ and their terrorist campaigns in America, this looks like it was based very much on the urban terrorists that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s, like the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the various French Maoist rebels and the Weathermen, Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Front in America.

America as Dystopia

The show also makes the point that although Brunner’s British, he’s popular in America, partly because he speaks with a mid-Atlantic voice. Brunner is shown talking to friends and his publisher in the US. But Brunner was also very critical of the US. He says that he took America as his model for the dystopias he created, as much of what he describes in his books has already happened there. He follows this with the statement I’ve quoted at the top of this piece ‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work’.

Folk Music and Dancing

I also found the episode interesting, as Brunner was a folkie, who lived in the small town of South Petherton in Somerset. He and his wife were the organisers of the town’s folk festival. I found it rather incongruous that an author, who was concerned with the future and the problems that it would throw up, should also be a fan of, among other things, such very traditionally English pastimes as, um, Morris dancing. Brunner and his wife are shown opening the festival, and watching a group of Morris men dancing with the white flannels, handkerchiefs and bells.

Here’s the video:

Population Explosion or Population Crash?

While Stand On Zanzibar is a classic, it’s also somewhat dated. Europe and America don’t have the teeming, claustrophobically overcrowded cities of books like Stand On Zanzibar, or Harry Harrison’s depiction of similarly terribly overpopulated world, Make Room! Make Room!, filmed as Soylent Green. Indeed, birth rates around the world are falling, and in some parts of the West, China and Japan they’re actually below replacement level. Some demographers are talking of a ‘population crash’, and the problems this will cause. This in its turn has created its dystopian prophetic fiction in the film Children of Men, with Clive Owen and Thandie Newton. This imagines a world where humanity has become sterile. No children have been born for 18 years. The result is political instability, violence and ruthless control by a Fascist state. The only hope in this dystopia is presented by an immigrant woman, who has become pregnant.

Spree Killers and Religious Violence

We also don’t have intelligent, supercomputers cooled in liquid helium, like Shalmaneser. Other predictions are so accurate, as to be actually prosaic, such as influence of the media and the emergence of the pop video. Unfortunately, so are the ‘muckers’ – such as the maniacs, who walk into schools, restaurants or cinemas with guns and begin shooting. The book’s also accurate in that some of the crazed killers are religious fanatics. In the book the religious violence is carried out by Christians. This is true of part of the American extreme Right, as shown in the Militia movement and their fears of an atheist government, which will begin sending Christians to death camps run by FEMA as part of the establishment of a one-world global dictatorship.

The Pieds-Noirs and the Legacy of Algeria

Other predictions look dated, but contain a kernel of truth that has been subsequently hidden, but still remains a powerful influence in contemporary politics. Two of the characters, for example, are a brother and sister, Pieds-Noirs – former French-Algerian settlers, who have been forced out of the colony after independence. Despite the decades that have passed since France lost its war against its former colony, Pieds-Noirs still suffer from considerable stigmatisation because of the atrocities the former colonial overlord committed. Now, nearly five decades or so later, there is little special shame attached to the Algerian War. Nevertheless, it has influenced French politics in that many of the Arab, Muslim population of France are the descendants of Algerians, who chose to emigrate to the former colonial power. These have formed an immigrant underclass, who have suffered racism and discrimination. Much of the political disaffection French Muslims come from this background of emigration, dislocation and resentment by the host society.

The Corporate Take-Over of the Nation State

One of the most extreme of the novels predictions, and one which mercifully hasn’t occurred yet, it the literal corporate takeover of entire states. Another of the characters is the president of a small, west African nation. Unable to improve conditions for his people through normal politics and democracy, he literally signs it away to an American corporation. In return, that company promises to invest in his nation, develop it economically, and provide jobs and training for its people. It also, as Brunner makes clear, condemns them to corporate slavery.

This hasn’t quite happened like that yet, but there are some close parallels. The Socialist government of Alfredo Benz in Guatemala in the 1950s was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup, after Benz nationalised the banana plantations of the United Fruit company, an American corporation. Similarly, Mahmud Mossadeq, the Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown by the Americans in the 1950s after his government nationalised the oil industry, including British-Persian Oil, which then became BP.

And the TTIP, if launched, will allow multinationals to sue national governments if they dare to pass legislation, which threatens to harm their business. Veolia has used similar legislation to sue the Egyptian government, after it raised the minimum wage for Egyptian workers.

The Psychological Legacy of Slavery and the Experience of Black Politicians

Another part of Brunner’s novel, that still retains its contemporary relevance, is that one of his characters is a Black American politician. This isn’t quite so novel as it was when the book was written, coming when Blacks in America were still very much fighting for their civil rights. America now has its first Black president in Obama. Nevertheless, the issues of racism, Black alienation from what they see as White power structures, and the psychological legacy of slavery, still remain a powerful presence. Although physically fit and able-bodied, the Black politician suffers from a psychological weakness in one of his arms, due to being told about how one of his slave ancestors had his amputated as a punishment by his owners. The organiser of a recent campaign against an exhibition on the White exhibition of Africans as subhuman others, staged a year or so ago by one of the Museums, stated that amongst her reasons for opposing it was a concern for the psychological health of Black people. She pointed to studies of young western Blacks, who have suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through material showing or discussing the sufferings of their slave ancestors.

Ambiguous Endings and Political Message

Brian Aldiss, discussing Brunner’s work in his study of the history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree, criticises him for failing to take an explicit stance. Despite being a very political novel, Brunner doesn’t take a party-political stance. There’s one incident, for example, in which an elderly lady is forcibly moved out of the home she has lived in for most of her life by the local authorities. This can be read in two ways. It can be seen as council busybodies, enforcing bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation, regardless of the harmful effect this has on the lives of ordinary people. Or it can be read in the opposite view, as local authorities blindly committed to corporate interests and commercial redevelopment.

Brunner also leaves the final results of his characters’ actions on the wider society ambiguous. One of the last sections of Stand On Zanzibar is entitled ‘And See Which Seed Will Grow’, taken from the line in MacBeth which about peering into the sands of time. He hints at their being two possibilities for the world and its millions: either pacification through specially engineered food introduced into its peoples’ diet. Or the possibility of genetically engineering humans themselves, as presented by the Indonesian biologist.

At the end of The Shockwave Rider, the authorities organise a plebiscite, which will hopefully liberate humanity from tyranny. This asks them to vote between two statements. These seem to offer strikingly different alternatives, but when read closely, don’t actually mean very much, and actually say pretty much the same thing. The book then concludes ‘Which way did you vote?’

Again, as in Stand On Zanzibar, the final result, the choice made by humanity, is never shown. There’s the possibility of hope, or a little more hope. But it doesn’t end with a total solution that will automatically improve everything, and the outcome is decidedly mixed.

Warning: 70’s Fashions on Display

I think Brunner died a little while ago. This documentary gives provides an insight into the life and views of one of Britain’s great writers of dystopian SF. As I said, his book’s don’t make an explicit party-political statement, but in his anti-nuclear activism, environmentalism and critiques of corporate power, Brunner does share many of the concerns of the Left.

You should be warned, however, that as the documentary was made in 1979, it shows it in some truly horrendous ’70s fashions.

Economy Food for Toffs: Cheap Means Under £20 per portion

December 13, 2014

I’ve just reblogged a couple of piece from Tom Pride and Johnny Void criticising Baroness Jenkins and similar patronising rich journalists, who have written in the Telegraph about how they would do a better job of feeding themselves than the dirt-poor folks, who actually have little choice about the type and quality of food they can afford.

The good Mr Pride shows the double standards behind Baroness Jenksins’ opinion that the poor should eat porridge instead of going to food banks. She may find it offensive that the poor are foregoing this simple meal in order to rely on public charity, but she and her brother, Bernard Jenkins, have absolutely no qualms about taking money from the public purse themselves.

Johnny Void has a more serious, factual piece about the comparative costs of the cheap foods that could feed a family living on the edge of starvation. This gives the lie to the Baroness’ statement that somehow porridge is a cheap food. It isn’t.

Just as important is the nutritional content of the food. As we all had it drummed into us at school, you need a balanced diet with the right amount of vitamins, protein and veg. You cannot survive and live healthily on just porridge. Back in the 1990s there was an urban legend going round about a student at Edinburgh University. Instead of spending his student loan on good, nutritious meals for himself, this particular lad decided instead to buy a vast amount of oats and live off porridge for the year. By the end of this, he was then taken off to hospital as the first person to come down with scurvy in the Scots capital for 200 years.

It’s an urban legend, and so not true, but it does give some idea of the dangers of trying to follow the stupid advice given by people like Jenkins, who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

A more glaring, and grotesque example of this is a cookbook a friend of mine had given to him. This claimed to be a book showing how one could eat well by making cheap meals. What they meant by a ‘cheap meal’, was one that cost about £20 per person. One of the recipes was for a salmon dish, which advised the reader to try and purchase the best salmon from a fishmonger. All the recipes were in this price range, so that my friend estimated that if you actually followed the book’s advice, then the cost of cooking all this for a family of four for a week would be about £500.

Billy Connolly made jokes about this type of cookbook in one of his shows. He’d got hold of a book of recipes from the 1920s, and compared its contents with the reality of buying food when he was growing up in Glasgae toon. One of the recipes included melons. The book advised its readers to be selective, and choose only the best melons from Afghanistan. Connolly compared the book’s attitude with the way veg was sold out of vans when he was a lad, and imagined what would have happened if you’d asked if the melons they had were Afghan. ‘Ah dinnae,’, replies the greengrocer, ‘Ah dinnae whaet it is. Ah thought it was just some kind of weird apple’. It wasn’t just in Scotland that people bought their vegetables from mobile vans. The same thing happened down south here in Bristol when I was growing up in the 1970s as well. And I imagine you’d have got pretty much the same response from the greengrocer if you’d started asking picky questions about whether or not they were Afghan too.

The impression my friend had from the cookbook was that it was written by and for the extremely affluent, who really did seem to think, like certain Tory MPs, that if you had an income below £60K you really were slumming it. It’s the same snobbish attitude that informs Baroness Jenkins’ ignorant pronouncements, and the patronising recipes in the Torygraph.

And while these rich aristos and journalists waffle on about things they know nothing about, the truly poor are starving unnoticed in front of their eye, but beneath their contempt.