Apr 192016
 

I’ve finished marking the coursework blogs for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production. The assignment focused on developing a social media campaign that engaged a group of participants in the debate about sugar and it’s role in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

The idea was to develop a campaign that used social media to raise awareness of the role of sugar that the way that messages about processed food are embedded in our food culture. The impact that sugar and refined and processed foods have on people has become more prominent in recent years, with a lot of attention being paid to the issues in the press, and the government announcing plans for a Sugar Tax in the last budget.

Sweet Truth Logo

Sweet Truth Logo

The campaign that was developed by the learners on TECH3022 is described and explained in their collaborative wiki post on the DMU Commons Wiki. It gives a good overview of the shift in attitudes by the learners from thinking about media as something that is predominantly industrial and focused on mass entertainment, to something that is participative and based on DIY principles.

Given the seemingly unending increase in rates of obesity and diabetes in the UK, it’s essential that we use all forms of media to form communities that are equipped and empowered to make changes in their lives, to go back to the simple skills of family cooking, and to avoid the crap that is promoted by the major food manufacturers.

While this project is limited in its scale, we’ve identified some important lessons that will help to develop projects that are better equipped and funded. After all, prevention is always better than cure.

Sep 102015
 

Who does Jamie Oliver think that he is? Is he some messiah figure who has come to save us from the perils of eating too much sugar? Or is he a self-aggrandising minor TV celebrity who is very good as convincing the people around him that things are his idea in the first place?

I’ve watched two films today about the dangers of sugar in our diets. The first was That Sugar Film with Damon Gameau. The second was Jamie’s Sugar Rush on Channel Four. Both have a very worthwhile message about the use and consequences, not only of excess sugar in our diets, but also the daily use of sugar as a staple of modern industrialised cooking.

But where That Sugar Film attempts to explain the issues in an entertaining, visual and personally engaging way, Jamie Oliver just comes across as being a quick leap onto the passing bandwagon.

Yes, Oliver’s name and record has a bit of pulling power in terms of getting the issue talked about, but when he comes across as the first person to have discovered the crisis of obesity and diabetes, then his film loses credibility.

Where That Sugar Film demonstrates the effects of sugar consumption on an otherwise healthy person, Damon Gameau himself, Jamie’s Sugar Rush just comes across as an indignant lurch that offers only a knee-jerk response from Jamie and his multimillionaire friends who run the chain-restaurants in the UK.

Both films have heart-wrenching moments that everyone should see, and I certainly don’t doubt the sincerity of Oliver’s response. I’m just a bit cynical, perhaps, that the real answer lies elsewhere, and that challenging the food giants to stop killing people with their food-like products, and their aggressive marketing techniques, is a bit like standing in front of an army of tanks and waving your shopping bag at them, screaming ‘no sugar in my bag!’

Sep 092015
 

I don’t know if it is just me, but is the quality and availability of decent greengrocers and market stalls selling fruit and vegetables in decline? I’ve largely stopped buying my fruit and vegetables from supermarkets, because the produce is too uniform, too expensive and over-packaged.

So I try to shop at independent stores and Leicester Market as much as I can. I enjoy shopping at a market rather than in the clinical space of a supermarket. It’s a bit more haphazard, but I tend to get a wider range of food at a much cheaper price.

Leicester Market has a proud history selling fresh food, and the re-vamped indoor market has given the meat, fish and dairy side of the market a massive boost. No doubt the planned redevelopment of the outdoor market will do the same.

At least I hope it will? Because is it only me but is the standard of intendent greengrocers dropping like a stone? Not only is the range and selection of produce becoming more uniform, but the quality is dropping massively as well.

Yeah, I know, Leicester Market is renowned for being as cheap-as-chips, with its bowls of banana for a pound, and its wide range of international foods. But I can’t help but feel that the availability, the number of stalls and the quality of a lot of the fresh food is heading in the wrong direction.

Quite why Leicester Market has stalls dedicated to selling accessories to stoners I don’t know, but is this sending out the wrong set of signals and reinforcing the idea that markets are a no-go area?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, so I will continue to shop at Leicester Market. But I was wondering what the general state of fresh food shops is in the UK, and how much of this is a barometer for the ailing health of the nation?

We seem to be good at opening bars, bookies, coffee shops and charity shops, but butchers or greengrocers are an endangered occurrence these days, and I’m getting worried that its gone too far.

Feb 142015
 

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is reported in the press today to be willing to force overweight people to accept treatment or loose their benefits. According to the Mail Online “Obese people could be forced to get help for their ‘treatable’ condition or have their benefits cut.” The Mail Online reports that the Conservative Party is considering a plan to force “almost 2,000 people registered as long-term sick because of obesity” into taking ‘treatment’ for their condition or “face having their benefits docked unless they agreed to lose weight.”

In The Telegraph the Prime Minister is reported saying that “taxpayers should no longer ‘fund the benefits’ of people who refuse to accept the treatment that could help them get back into employment.” According to The Telegraph,  David Cameron believes that “It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.” And so “The next Conservative Government is determined to make sure that the hardest to help get the support they need to get them back to a fulfilling life.”
Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.38.02All of which would be understandable if addiction – whether its drugs, alcohol or food – was genuinely a choice and not something that is beyond the rational and reasonable control of individuals. David Cameron is playing with lazy stereotypes and blaming vulnerable people for being feckless, lazy and stupid. A typical Tory stance on social problems then. Lets blame the victims and do nothing to support and correct the underlying problems that people face in regulating what are highly addictive substances.
Blaming people for being obese is like blaming smokers for getting a cough. It is the inevitable consequence of a society that is dominated by a food industry the peddles carbohydrate-overloaded processed foods. These foods are designed to be addictive and the lack of recognition of the dangerous role that sugar and excessive carbohydrates play in our food industries is the real culprit.
Rather than blaming a few people who struggle, lets challenge the supermarkets and the food industry who are making billions of pounds in profits to change their practices, and to stop stuffing their foods with salt and sugar in order to increase their massive profits.
If David Cameron was serious about dealing with the obesity and diabetes epidemic he would bring in a Sugar and Carbohydrate Tax and remove the government subsidies from the processed food industry. He would ban sugary drinks and snacks from schools, and he would stop supermarkets from further decimating the local food networks that allow people to buy fresh food on a daily basis, rather than the long-life processed foods that stack the shelves of the convenience stores.
The nasty prejudice against people who suffer from obesity is clear in Cameron’s attack. It is an attack which isn’t supported by any evidence, and stigmatises addition by linking it with personal morality and will-power. Believe me, I know what it is like to be a carbaholic. It’s a tyranny that is almost impossible to break free from. If David Cameron really wants to do some good he can stop blaming people and set-up the alternative community-based well-being services and food networks that would re-educate people to live without excessive carbohydrates and processes foods.
Dec 192014
 

I’ve been tweeting about some of my meals and the food I’m cooking, as a way of keeping track. It’s better than writing things in a notebook, as I can include a picture and a location of where I was. This morning I’ve tried something new. I’ve been seeing this Bullet Coffee popping up in some newspapers and some websites over the last couple of weeks. There’s a good feature by Joe Shute in today’s Telegraph, where he gives a good outline of the whole phenomenon of mixing coffee with butter and coconut oil.

I must admit I was sceptical, thinking that it is just a Hipster fad, so I dug out the blender and made myself a quick one using the stuff I had to hand in the kitchen. I tend to use Lavaza coffee anyway, and I have plenty of butter on hand, and I’ve even got a small pot of coconut oil. So I boiled the coffee in my Mocha Pot and then heated the blender jug, dropped a knob of butter and a knob of coconut oil in, then added the coffee and gave it a whirl.

The texture is great. It’s very creamy, and not at all oily. It takes away the bitterness of the coffee, and feels quite refreshing. I’ll probably keep experimenting with this now. I’ll buy some better quality butter, the recommendation is unsalted grass-fed, and there are more concentrated versions of the coconut oil, but I’m not spending more than I would normally. I will probably invest in some better ground coffee as well.

Now, can we persuade any of the coffee shops in Leicester to start to sell it?

Dec 152014
 

I’ve promised that I will keep a food blog over the Christmas break, to keep track of what I cook and eat, and how I feel about it. So, I’m going to try and keep a bit of a diary about some if the culinary exploits I attempt over the next couple of weeks. Actually, they won’t be very interesting from a creative or skills point of view, as I’ve brought my cooking right back to basics. Lots of stews and casseroles, simple ingredients and nothing that requires thinking about very much.

On Sunday I cooked two dishes that will no doubt last me the week. [I will upload some pictures later]. The first is a pan of minced beef and onions, with some mixed herbs, some red wine thrown in and some peppercorns added. The second is a pan of belly pork, with onions, stock and some added tarragon. I should have added some cider but didn’t have any.

I left both cooking all day when I went for a walk and later to the cinema, so I was out over eight hours. I bought some cast-iron pans after reading Michael Pollan’s book  Cooked, that brought to life the joy of cooking stews and using cuts of meat that aren’t the top-of the range and excessively lean. The way that Pollan describes sharing these meals is great. My oven is great, so to get the heat low enough I have to use a couple of cast iron frying pans underneath each of the pots to distribute the heat even more evenly. Lucky I bought some a couple of years ago, and I can regulate the heat in the pan much more effectively.

What I really like about making stews is that you can cook the meat and the broth at the weekend, and add the vegetables as you need them. They last me the entire week, both lunch and dinner. All I have to do is add is some greens, either cabbage or broccoli, or some cauliflower, and I’ve got a quick meal that I don’t have to prep for each night. Forget ready meals, spend an afternoon making some stews and you’ll not need to worry about cooking when you get home from work.

I looked at the mince beef this morning, and there is a rich layer of fat on the top of the meat and sauce. I used to run a mile from fat in my diet, but since giving up carbohydrates I’ve come to learn that the fat is where the flavour is. It also protects the food from going off, and so I’m not paranoid about putting it into the fridge. I’m not sure about this, but I reckon that fridges are containers for bad bacteria, and that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking they are essential. I don’t keep cheese in the fridge any more as it kills the taste so my fridge only has yogurt and uncooked meats in it. I’m thinking of experimenting with salting my meat as a preservative and flavouring so the fridge becomes even more redundant.

I bought some courgettes on Leicester Market earlier, along with some Comte cheese, some eggs and a trout. I’ll let you know how I get on with them. I probably need to buy some more garlic before I head back home as well.

[Update: I’ve just found this site with some fantastic ideas for low-carb Christmas cooking. I’ve got some good stuff to try out now]

 

Nov 222014
 

It’s a story that is common to many of us. Modern life is rubbish, and no more so than our diets and the way our diets leave many of us feeling. I used to be something of a stress-head. Not so long ago I was short-tempered, well overweight, always hungry, and pretty unapproachable. I used to find it almost impossible to get out of bed in the mornings. I was unable to get to sleep at night, and I was pretty much dependent on caffeine to get me through the day. And in those circumstances it was easy for me to loose control of my drinking. Being stressed and generally unable to cope wasn’t pleasant.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle Changes

I would get into arguments for little reason (for some reason especially on trains). I felt like a different person when it happened. It wasn’t really me, but this little monster that was normally hidden inside me and who occasionally reared his head. I found it hard to make good choices. My self-esteem was low, and I was hyper-sensitive to comment and criticism. I found it impossible to win-people over to my ideas, and I became reclusive and over-protective of my remaining identity. I also became reckless and impulsive, and didn’t think through the consequences of some of my actions, so the people around me suffered – even though I tried to protect them from my generally poor disposition by following the well worth path of hiding from it and not talking about it.

So how did I stop what I now look back on as a period of decline? Well it wasn’t easy, but with some good advice from a few people around me who I trust, and some poor advice from my GP which I chose to ignore, I decided to make some changes to my life and the patterns of my living. The first thing I did was stop drinking, and I removed myself from the situations where I felt most vulnerable to the excesses of my dependencies. Effectively I cut myself off from the life I had previously been living and went into a reflective and contemplative mode. I started to exercise on a regular basis again, and as I’d done many times in my life before, I started to follow a diet plan (Slimming World) and made some effort to control my food intake. Over six months I dropped from 92Kg to 82Kg and started exercising four or five times each week.

Cooking Low-Carb

Cooking Low-Carb

In the summer of 2014, though, I made a massive change which has had a much wider impact on my life. I cut sugar and carbs from my diet, almost completely. This was after reading both John Yudkin, who had warned about the dangers of excessive sugar intake in our diets in the 1950s, and Booth and Bilton, and their book Know What To Eat. So, no rice, no potatoes, no pasta, no biscuits, no bread, no crackers, basically no carbs or starchy stuff. I now cook with plenty of butter and fat, and my food tastes so much better for it. I use butter, lard and olive oil generously because it tastes so much more like real food. I use salt generously because I don’t eat any processed food – it’s very difficult to reach the levels of salt that we find in most processed food, so when you are adding salt to your own tastes from scratch in a dish it’s good to add plenty.

Here’s a list of things I’ve started to do or include in my daily and weekly routine:

  • I eat a lot of green veg, cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower – and use the leaves on the cauliflower.
  • I cook a lot of mushrooms, peppers, courgettes,
  • I don’t eat a lot of fruit except for berries, strawberries and avocado.
  • Breakfast is often an omelette with onion, celery and cheese.
  • I cook at lot of stews (after reading Michael Pollan).
  • I cook with the fat in a joint and avoid buying lean meat.
  • I use the fat for the base of a sauce or a broth.
  • I eat cheese on a regular basis, mainly harder cheeses, which I wrap in greaseproof pa-per and keep in a cupboard rather than putting it in the fridge.
  • I use cream to cook with and as the basis of a desert.
  • For a snack I eat almonds or brazil nuts.
  • I eat oily fish twice a week, something like mackerel, salmon or sprats.
  • Under no circumstances do I eat any low-fat food.
  • I stay away from food in packs and that has been produced in a factory as the result of any kind of processing.
  • I buy my food on Leicester Market.
  • I only buy what I can carry and what I need for the next few days.
  • I’ve started to cook once a week so I have meals ready for when I get home from work.
  • My treat is a bar of dark chocolate (85%).
  • Coffee is generally limited to once first thing.
  • I drink pots of tea – either Earl Grey or Green.
  • I have a drink of broth/stock first thing in the morning.
  • I take a prepared meal to work for my breakfast and lunch.
  • At no point do I skip meals or reduce the portion size.

So what have I noticed? Well I can taste my food again that’s for sure. When I first cooked onions in butter after not doing so for years, it was a revelation. The succulence and the aroma of the fried onion erupted into something that was physically emotional. The supposed low-fat oils I’d been using over the years did nothing but burn the onions and leave them with an artificial taste. As a result my appetite is back under control. I no longer snack between meals, except for a handful of nuts. I used to feel hungry before a meal and then about an hour after a meal. There’s nothing worse than going back to the cupboard foraging for more food. Now I feel full after a meal and don’t think about food again for hours. I try to eat no later than 7pm and go through to breakfast, when I eat after exercising in the morning.

I now have more energy to get out and about and I have energy to exercise regularly. My clothes are fitting better, my waist has lost a couple of inches and keeps getting smaller. I’ve even bought a tighter belt. As a result I spend a lot less on food because I seldom visit a supermarket, so I’m avoiding impulse buys. But the biggest difference I’ve noticed is when I’m working. My concentration has improved vastly. I used to struggle to focus for twenty minutes at a time. Now I can focus for four or five hours of detailed work and writing. I can complete lengthy tasks again without having to pace around, buy sweets and snacks or disturb other people.

I feel comfortable in my own skin again, and I’m relaxing with friends once more. I find it easier to socialise, though I still try to avoid the places that I associate with the bad-old days. I seldom go to pubs anymore, or walk down the centre isles of supermarkets where all the rubbish sits. I still drink, but only occasionally and not when I’m alone. Only with friends on a special occasion. I don’t know if it is true, but people are starting to say I’m getting a set of hips again, and that my face is becoming better defined. I am definitely more interested in clothes and my appearance, and dare I say that my libido is pretty healthy as well.

Things I couldn’t control in the past, on my old standard, processed and carb-ridden diet, I now have no problem with. I seldom go back for seconds. I seldom want more later food. I don’t panic or fret if I miss a meal. I don’t miss drinking, and perhaps above all, I can taste my food again.

So what are the lessons I’ve learnt? The reason we eat, as Gary Taubs points out, is because we are getting fat, we don’t get fat because we eat. Exercise, in and of itself will not make you slim. Nor will starving yourself make you happy – or slim. At the heart of this process, of getting rid of carbs from my diet, is the recognition that controlling my insulin levels, and therefore my blood-sugar levels, is the key. This means rejecting the idea that calories are all the same. They are not. I can eat as much fat and protein as I want, but I won’t put on weight. If I eat carbs then my weight piles on. So, I am intolerant to carbohydrates, and the way I’ve dealt with this is not to restrict my diet but to correct it.

The UK is massively carb-loaded. It’s almost impossible to eat away from home without being overloaded with cheap, processed carbs and sugars. Access to traditional cooking, that is unprocessed and pre-prepared meals, is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Big Food is exploiting us and making it hard for us to keep trim because they are saying that we need sugar and carbs. This is a big fat lie. And a lie in the same way that the food triangle that has been provided by health experts is a lie. The fitness industry tells the big fat lie that exercise will make you slim, and the media scream at us that will-power is all you need to get trim. Big fat lies all of them. Will power won’t make you thin, exercise won’t make you thin, starving yourself won’t make you thin. Changing the environment we are in is the answer, and steering clear of insulin busting foods is the key.

Oct 112014
 

This week I wanted to find a quick way of putting the forms, structures and patterns of our media culture into a shape that made it stand out because it seems strange. Using an analogy I wanted to demonstrate that the media and communication industries that we take for granted for most of the time, are in fact an industry that is structured around specific ideas of mass production, standardisation and homogenisation. Relating the media industries to the modern, Western, food industries, is a very useful way to draw attention to the artificial, constructed and contested world that we inhabit.

Food, like media is an everyday cultural practice that has great significance and importance to each of us as individuals, to us as communities, and as broader societies. As Zygmunt Bauman suggests “these matters are about our experiences and their relationship to our everyday practices, the control we have over our lives and the direction in which our societies are unfolding” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 6). For Bauman and other students of social organisation, “the only way we can make sense of the human world around us is to draw our tools of explanations solely from within our respective life-worlds” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 9).

Food is Culture is therefore a good place to start to think about how we interact with the world, how we interact and make sense of each other, and how we understand the mediation processes that are at play between different groups of people. As Jones and Hafner point out: ‘To learn to eat, you have to learn to use a spoon or a fork or chopsticks, which come between you and your food and facilitate the action of eating. To learn to read, you have to learn to use language and objects like books that come between you and other people and facilitate the action of communication’ (Jones and Hafner, 2012, p.2)

I posed a couple of questions and statements that we could reflect on when thinking about our relationship with food. After all, food is more than fuel.

• Food is a cultural thing. We need food, but we shouldn’t think of it simply as fuel, what about the erotic experience of eating?
• How often do we sit down for a meal with other people?
• How often do we take our time to eat?
• What choices of food do I have when I’m out? The DMU campus centre?
• I eat sitting at my desk because there is no other place that’s convenient or private, as a dedicated eating area, where I can take my own food.
• Whatever happened to dining rooms?
• Do I want to be ‘careful’ about my food continually (paranoid)?
• Do I want to be hungry most of the time, never feeling full or satisfied?
• I try to eat healthily, lots of fruit – at least five-a-day?

Indeed, we use food as a marker of significant events in our lives. We celebrate with food, we use food to comfort our egos when we feel stressed, we use food as a way of being accepted into our social networks and peer groups. My personal experience of food, and my relationship with food has changed over the year. From never thinking very much about food, to being obsessed, almost addicted to food, my weight has gone up and down. I’ve done diets. I exercise regularly and I think I eat healthily. And yet my weight is far higher than it should be, and the fat around my middle is persistent and difficult to spread. Is this just middle-aged-spread, or the consequence of eating habits that are out of synch and unbalanced?

Comfort & Emotion:
• If I had a problem I would have a drink, or a bag of crisps.
• When I would sit and write I would have crisps and caffeine for the stimulation.
• I’ve never had a sweet tooth, so avoided cakes & sweets.
• At a family celebration the sweets and cakes come out automatically.
• Look at how binge drinking is such a part of British life, it’s seen as being normal to fall about in the streets after a skin-full on a night out.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2768442/It-s-not-easy-overweight-benefits-says-25-stone-mother-two-wants-MORE-money-government-help-diet.html

Fast Food Culture:
In Western, industrialised countries the consumption of food has taken on a highly regulated form. It’s largely based around the industrialised food production process. It’s based on products that are produced in mass-volumes, and it’s significantly reduced in nutritional value. Underpinning this processed-food culture is sugar, and the way that it is included and hidden in seemingly healthy products. As Bilton and Booth point out:

“In many cultures, with the possible exceptions of the traditional Inuit, sugar has become a ubiquitous source of pleasure and self-indulgence. Research in the new millennium has shown why many of us are hooked on sugar. There is now compelling evidence that sugar can alter our brain chemistry by the same biochemical mechanisms that drive addiction to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and to a lesser extent, nicotine and alcohol. Furthermore, this effect is rein-forced by the presence of fat and salt in highly palatable sugar-rich junk foods” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 32).

All of which has incurred drastic consequences for the health of people in Western countries.

“In 2000, the average American consumed an astounding 2 to 3lb of added sugar per week in their diet (USDA Economic Research Service), and Britain is not far behind with a Defra report indicating a consumption of 1.9lb per week in 2006. This is an average US consumption of 5,600 calories per week from sugar alone, and is almost three days’ worth of total calories every week with no nutritional value and the potential to gain at least 1lb of body fat per week” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 35).

 

Hardly a week goes by now when news reports about the state of the health service crop up to alarm us about the epi-demic of obesity and diabetes that we are living through.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25576400

http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB13648/Obes-phys-acti-diet-eng-2014-rep.pdf

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/02February/Pages/Latest-obesity-stats-for-England-are-alarming-reading.aspx

Where we are now, however, is unprecedented. Never before has human society, and particularly Western society, been faced with the problems of an over-abundance of food. As Bilton and Booth point out:

“Our present way of living has only become typical within the past two generations. Diets consumed in modern indus-trialised countries today have evolved considerably from those of our early Stone Age ancestors. It was the industrial revolution that completely altered our diet, along with the shift of populations from the country to towns and the limited success of town dwellers to fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 9).

And as a consequence, and as Michael Pollan argues:

“Rates of obesity in Europe are rapidly approaching those of the United States, and increases in diabetes and cardiovascular disease are certain to follow. This has been the sequence wherever traditional diets and ways of eating have succumbed to the modern diet of processes food” (Pollan, 2009, p. xiii).

This is a problem decades in the making, and can be traced back to the 1950s when nutritional thinking changed to focus more on the availability of saturated fats in our diets. As Michael Pollan describes:

“Beginning in the 1950s, a growing body of scientific opinion held that the consumption of fat and dietary cholesterol, much of which came from meant and dairy products, was responsible for rising rates of heart disease during the twentieth century. The ‘lipid hypothesis’, as it was called had already been embraced by the American Heart Association, which in 1961 had begun recommending a ’prudent diet’ low in saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products” (Pollan, 2009, p. 23).

There are some interesting films that are worth watching about these problems. “Food, Inc. is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Emmy Award-winning film maker Robert Kenner.] The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees. The film is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. “
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food,_Inc.

Recap:

  • Food is a medium.
  • Food is a cultural product.
  • The experience of sharing food is culturally mediated.
  • Western Diets have become highly industrialised.
  • Sugar, salt and processed fats form the basis of the processed diet.

Processed Food & Industrialisation:
Access to food, then, has become highly mediated. It is controlled and shaped by the large supermarket chains who don’t sell food any more, but instead offer, as Michael Pollen says, ‘Food-Like Substances’. As Pollen points out:

“The supermarket has become the only place to buy food, and real food [is] rapidly disappearing from its shelves, to be replaced by the modern cornucopia of highly processed food-like products. And because so many of these novelties lie[…] to our senses with fake sweeteners and flavourings, we c[an] no longer rely on taste or smell to know what we [are] eating (Pollan, 2009, p. 14).

We have a food system, which prioritises the following:

• Industrialised, processed, simulated, convenience, addictive.
• High-Fructose Corn Syrup
• Long-life products.
• Refined to be attractive – roughage is removed from four, etc.
• Can be stored and centralised.
• Towns used to mill flour locally, then bake it very quickly.
• With improved milling in the 18th Century, milling became more centralised, flour could be transported, stored for longer. I have flour in my cupboard that’s been there for two years. Nothing else will eat it, so why should I?
• Obsessed with low-fat – they don’t tell you there are more calories.
• Predicated on simply calorie exchange model.
• Sugar is the next tobacco.
• Pepsi and Coke sell drinks in Third-World in places with poor water supply.
• Where the western diet has been introduced, the Western diseases soon follow.

There is some suggestion that we might rethink our attitude to food and return to some basic principles. As John Yukin pointed out long before this subject became a topic of popular discussion:

“It is generally agreed that our earliest ancestors, the squirrel-like primates of some 70 million years ago, were vegetarian. They continued as vegetarians up to 20 million years ago, for they had no difficulty surviving on fruits, nuts, berries and leaves. But then the rainfall began to decrease and the earth entered a 12-million-year period of drought. The forests shrank and their place was taken by ever-increasing areas of open savannah” (Yudkin, 2012, p. 8).

This is because “in order to survive, [early humans] had to forsake the vegetarian and fruitarian existence… and change to a scavenging and hunting existence that was largely carnivorous” (Yudkin, 2012, p. 8).

So we can look at our food culture and work out to what extent it is:

• Based on standardisation – through the supply chain.
• Products are frozen, dried, canned, and stored for long periods.
• Fruit is now grown to be high in sugar, and is available all year around.
• It’s very difficult to get fresh vegetables, locally to where we live.
• Leicester market has lots of fruit stands, but a declining number of veg stands.
• Supermarkets pre-package a lot of veg. The traditional grocer has disappeared from the high-street.
• Sugar, corn syrup and other carbohydrate products are used extensively in processed foods. Extends shelf life, palatability.
• Supermarkets stack the shelves high with low-cost sweets, crisps and biscuits.

One of the origins of the culture of fast food that we are now living with is the ‘drive-in’ fast food restaurant, typified by McDonalds and other American convenience food retailers. As Eric Schlosser describes, the “southern Californian drive-in restaurants of the early 1940s tended to be gaudy and round, topped with pylons, towers, and flashing signs. They were ‘circular meccas of neon’… designed to be easily spotted from the road” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 17).

However, “at the end of the 1940s the McDonald brothers had grown dissatisfied with the drive-in business. They were tired of constantly looking for new carhops and short-order cooks – who were in great demand – as the old ones left for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. They were tired of replacing the dishes, glassware, and silverware their teenage customers constantly broke or ripped off. And they were tires of their teenage customers. The brothers thought about selling the restaurant. Instead, they tried something new” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 19).

Schlosser gives an engaging and detailed account of how “the McDonalds fired all their carhops in 1948, closed their restaurant, installed larger grills, and reopened three month later with a radically new method of preparing food. It was designed to increase the speed, lower the prices, and raise the volume of sales. The brothers eliminated almost two thirds of the items on their old menu. They got rid of everything that had to be eaten with a knife, spoon, or fork. The only sandwiches now sold were burgers, replacing them with paper cups, paper bags, and paper plates. They divided food preparation into separate tasks performed by different workers” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 19).

All of which led to “the new division of labour meant that a worker only had to be taught how to perform one task. Skilled and expensive short-order cooks were no longer necessary” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 20).

Recap:
• Western industrialised diets are based on ‘food like substances’.
• Processing, standardising and extending the shelf-life increase profitability.
• Humans evolved on a very different, and more varied set of diets.
• Employing the factory system of standardisation changed food consumption.
• A small number of corporations control the food supply.

There are some immediate questions that can be asked about the combination of industrial food production processes, centralised distribution networks, and factory-like distribution points that are aimed at consumers. For example:

• To what extent is this a process of domination and domestication?
• How much of this is about lowering costs and how much is about increasing profit margins?
• When the marketing of processed food is pervasive, how to we escape from the product placements?
• Why can food-like substances that have longer shelf lives, brighter packaging be allowed to display healthy mes-sage (one of five per-day, etc.) on their labels.

The Western food industry goes to inordinate lengths to ensure that we adopt processed foods: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jobarrow/you-butter-believe-it#1zg3wau

There are embedded beliefs, despite evidence to the contrary, that
• Fat is bad for you – no evidence.
• Low-fat is good for you.
• Calorie restricted diets work.
• Maintenance and careful observance – otherwise you are ‘slothful, greedy and unsocial’.
• Exercise is one way to loose weight.
• Willpower is essential to loosing weight.

Wall-E:
WALL-E is a 2008 American computer animated science fiction romantic comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Andrew Stanton. The story follows a robot named WALL-E, who is designed to clean up an abandoned, waste-covered Earth far in the future. He falls in love with another robot named EVE, who also has a programmed task, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity. Both robots exhibit an appearance of free will and emotions similar to humans, which develop further as the film progresses. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WALL-E

Recap:
• People are ‘domesticated’ into following the ‘convenient’ path.
• We are conditioned to think that low-fat is good, and fat is bad.
• Exercise does not lead to weight loss on its own.
• Just wishing you are lean and fit will not make it happen.
• Are we being led into a dystopian future?

Real Food – What are the Alternatives?

Here’s a quick set of hints and tips I’ve taken from some of the writing on the sugar and processed food crisis:

“People eating the Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets” (Pollan, 2009, p. 140).

“The solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: Stop eating a Western diet” (Pollan, 2009, p. 141).

“Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that included) high-fructose corn syrup” (Pollan, 2009, p. 150).

“Avoid food products that make health claims” (Pollan, 2009, p. 154).

“Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle” (Pollan, 2009, p. 157).

“Get out of the supermarkets whenever possible” (Pollan, 2009, p. 157).

As Bilton and Booth point out: ”The word diet is most often associated with sacrifice, hunger, guilt and unhappiness. Most diets involve restricting the amount of food consumed in an attempt to reach a given body weight, and this is al-ways accompanied by cravings and feelings of hunger. Common sense should tell us that a calorie controlled diet for weight loss cannot be continued indefinitely. What happens when the diet is over and a goal weight has been reached? We all know the answer. Usually the weight lost is regained and so the cycle begins again” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 221).

“Stop smoking… take exercise… eat healthily… eat the right fats…” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 222).

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (Pollan, 2009).

While this has been a discussion about food, it has also been a discussion about media. I’ve added a couple of words to a statement from Jones & Hafner as I think it relates really well to the problems that we need to consider if we are to find a way out of the processed food/media crisis that we are facing:

“It should be clear from the above that [food] literacy is not just a matter of things that are going on inside people’s heads – cognitive processes of encoding and decoding words and sentences – but rather a matter of all sorts of inter-personal and social processes. [Food] Literacy is not just a way of making meaning, but also a way of relating to other people and showing who we are, a way of doing things in the world, and a way of developing new ideas about and solutions to the problems that face us” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 12).

The question is, what would we do to enhance the skills of people when it comes to food?

Perhaps, as Henry Jenkins and others suggest “in an environment fostering spreadability, grassroots communities are embracing content from elsewhere, actively facilitating its circulation (often in advance of its commercial availability) and taking responsibility for educating their local public about its traditions and conventions” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013, p. 270).

Spreadability being those kinds of texts and media products that take on a life of their own, and which don’t sit so easily with the mass produced, corporate messages of the corporate media companies – or food producers. As Jenkins argues:

“The spreading of media texts helps us to articulate who we are, bolster our personal and professional relationships, strengthen our relationships with one another, and ‘build community and awareness around the subjects we care about. And the sharing of media across cultural boundaries increases the opportunity to listen to other perspectives and to develop empathy outside our own” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. 304).

Recap:
• There are alternatives, but they require a change of mind-set.
• Support traditional styles of eating.
• How do we avoid the yo-yo effect and achieve sustainably healthy living?
• Food literacy is essential.
• Change from the bottom-up, not the top-down.
• Awareness of others builds empathy and a sense of esteem.

Conclusion:
Zygmunt Bauman writes a lot about the experience of living in late modernity, or what he calls ‘liquid modernity.’ Bauman suggests that:

“Individual exposure to the vagaries of commodity-and-labour markets inspires and promotes division, not unity; it puts a premium on competitive attitudes, while degrading collaboration and team work to the rank of temporary stratagems that need to be suspended or terminated the moment their benefits have been used up. ‘Society’ is increasingly viewed and treated as a ‘network’ rather than a ‘structure’ (let alone a solid ‘totality’): it is perceived and treated as a matrix of random connections and disconnections and of an essentially infinite volume of possible permutations” (Bauman, 2007, p. 2).

The consequence is that we live increasingly fragmented lives, with little security, many competing pressures to succeed and less of a safety-net to rely on. As Bauman points out: “A life so fragmented stimulates ‘lateral’ rather than ‘vertical’ orientations. Each next step needs to be a response to a different set of opportunities and a different distribution of odds, and so it calls for a different set of skills and a different arrangement of assets” (Bauman, 2007, p. 3).

This fragmentation can be seen in the way that “eating at fast food outlets and other restaurants [has become] simply a manifestation of the commodification of time coupled with the relatively low value many Americans have placed on the food they eat.” Andrew F. Smith ‘Encyclopedia of Junk food and Fast Food’ (2006).

Perhaps the final word, though, should go to Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. “In terms of fast food and deep under-standing of the culture of fast food, I’m your man.” Bill Gates

http://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2014/aug/21/obesity-in-the-uk-the-shape-were-in-video

Critical Questions:
• What if media companies are doing the same thing?
• What does real media look and feel like?
• What can we do about the totality of the system?
What skills and capabilities do we need to thrive in this system?

References:
Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Bilton, R., & Booth, L. (2013). Know What to Eat. Formby: Supercritical.
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.
Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.
Pollan, M. (2009). In Defence of Food. London: Penguin Books.
Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast Food Nation – What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World. London: Penguin.
Yudkin, J. (2012). Pure White and Deadly: Penguin.

Sep 292014
 

How can we harness social media for the public good? That’s the question I asked today when I introduced the module I’m teaching this year, TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production. Across Western society we are facing a whole series of pressing issues that don’t get a lot of coverage in the media, but which are important to people on a day-to day-basis.

As issues of social justice, there is growing concern that we take for granted some key aspects of our daily lives, and indeed what amounts to some of our most personal and intimate moments. There is, I believe, a growing awareness that we are no longer in control of ourselves, or able to make sense of the way that we think about some of the most basic issues that we have to deal with, especially as we try to cope with the demands that are placed on us by large corporations, marketing campaigns, governments, the medical profession, the health industry, and even pressure from our families, our friends and our fellow citizens.

I’m talking about sugar, and the mass delusion that carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet. In the Western world we are part of a culture that views the mass production and processing of food as an essential way to obtain nutrition. To put it simply, mass produced and processed food is said to be good for us, but increasing evidence is telling us that it’s not.

In the Western world we are experiencing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes that is costing our health services billions of pounds to deal with. Why are people getting fat and fatter? Is it because they are greedy and lazy? Is it because they gorge themselves on cheap food and don’t do any work? Are fat people just moral shirkers who can’t exercise self control? The answer to each of these questions is no, it is not the fault of individuals that they can’t stop putting weight on or making bad choices about their diets.

Many of us, like myself, exercise intensively on a regular basis, but still don’t see any benefit on the bathroom scales, so something else must be going on. And after reading books by Michael Poolan, Gary Taubes, John Yudkin and others, I’ve come to see that food and the way that we package and process food is essentially exploitative.

The Western industrial food production model does a number of things. It exploits the animals that it turns into burgers. It exploits the land that the cattle and crops are grown on by decimating their nutritional value. It exploits the workers who are attempting to make a living and demonises their trade unions, making people work in harsh and insecure workplaces, while accepts little responsibility for the welfare of those employees. Lastly, this system exploits us, the consumer.

As consumers we are said to have almost limitless choice, but the truth is that we have few alternatives to the carbohydrate rich food model. We have to go with the flow and accept what the major food producers, drinks manufacturers and supermarkets want to foist on us. Try telling your friends that you are having a high fat diet and they will insist – mostly because they are concerned – that you are deluded and that you can’t possibly expect a diet without starchy food to be good for you. The peer pressure that we face is immense, the limited range of choices that we have are getting narrower, and the whole system of food production is designed around the carbohydrates that the food industry churn out, but which are doing so much damage.

So in my lecture today I asked learners to think about the way that their food is replete with carbohydrates and sugars, and to think about how they are sold to us as if they are automatically healthy, i.e., sunshine in a glass! How much sugar would we expect in our food, other than that which we add directly ourselves?

Over the next few months, we are going to look at this in some detail, and we are going to experiment and test out some ideas about how social media can be used to spread the message that the levels of sugar that we have in our diet are going to kill us. I’m going to keep a regular blog about this, hopefully a couple of times each week. I’ll post my lecture notes and any links to sites and stories I think are interesting. Let me know what you think about this on Twitter, it would be great to read about your experiences of giving up sugar and getting off the processed food treadmill.

What are the pressing issues of social justice in society?
What are the challenges of living in our modern society?
What do we need to think about and understand about ourselves in order to solve some of these social issues?

TECH3022_15-Lecture-001-Processed-Media-2014-09-17