Sep 302016
 

This is a short video that gives an overview of the topic covered in the second lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production.

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]

 

Dec 022014
 

This week’s lecture gives us an opportunity to review some of the central issues that we have been looking at during the previous eight weeks, and to start to build a plan so that we can research into the life-worlds of our intended communities. During the last week there has been considerable press interest in the issue of obesity and diabetes, what some newspapers are calling the ‘fat plague,’ and others describe as an ‘epidemic’. According to the BBC a report published by the McKinsey Global Institute said worldwide obesity will “cost £1.3tn, or 2.8% of annual economic activity” and the “UK £47bn.” According to the report obesity is now reaching “crisis proportions.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30125440

Recently published government statistics note that between 1993 and 2012 the proportion of adults in the UK who are overweight (not just obese) increased from 57.6% to 66.6% for men, and 48.6% to 57.2% for women. http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB10364

BBC-Obesity-002As The Guardian explained, according to the McKinsey report “Obesity is a greater burden on the UK’s economy than armed violence, war and terrorism, costing the country nearly £47bn a year.” http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/20/obesity-bigger-cost-than-war-and-terror. The chief executive of NHS England has warned that “obesity will bankrupt the health service unless Britain gets serious about tackling the problem.” Reported in the Guardian, Simon Stevens told public health officials at a conference in Coventry that “Obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs.” http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/17/obesity-bankrupt-nhs-warning. During the same week the Mail Online reported that NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence has approved the widespread use of gastric bands as a treatment for diabetes. According to the Mail Online “up to two million obese Britons will be eligible for weight-loss surgery on the NHS under new guidelines.” And that “NICE is telling doctors to suggest the operations to all patients above a given weight with type 2 diabetes.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2851060/Two-million-eligible-gastric-bands-operation-bill-12billion.html. Is this going to be the primary medical response to the growing number of people who are overweight or obese in the UK? According to the Mail Online, “more people are dying in Britain due to being overweight or obese than anywhere else in Europe.” “Around one in every 11 deaths in the UK is now linked to carrying excess fat – 50 per cent more than the rate in France.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-171497/Britains-obesity-death-rate.html. With so much interest in this issue emerging into the mainstream media, it would be useful, therefore, to review some of the ideas that we have explored in the lectures to date.

TECH3022_15-Lecture-009-Research-Management-Plan-001a-2014-11-23Western Diets The diet that has been adopted in the West, (i.e. the industrialised countries), is designed to secure a cheap supply of calorie rich and carbohydrate-loaded food. And because there is an excessive level of production of these foods, with the subsidies that are given to the food producer, it means that corn, wheat and other commodity foods are often sold for less than the cost of production. The ever onward drive towards producing seemingly new and  diversified consumer food products is based on the premise that corn, wheat and sugar are in plentiful supply. In turn this is supported by the ‘low-fat’ public health campaigns that suggest that foods that are low in fat are better for heart health and other metabolic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. The processed food industry has been able to market technically engineered food-like substances in massive quantities to consumers with the promise that they are healthy. However, the problem is that the Western Diet is nutritionally deficient and lacks the essential nutritional qualities to be a sustainable part of people’s healthy lives. The incidence of heart disease is not dropping, despite better medical treatments and interventions that we now have to correct the chronic problems that people end up with. There is now increasing evidence that suggests that saturated fat does not cause heart disease by increasing cholesterol levels as has been claimed for the last forty years. The lipid-hypothesis is looking shaky. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/11246112/High-fat-diets-not-as-dangerous-as-high-carbohydrate-plans-claim-scientists.html

Mail-Obesity-001Big Food The food manufacturers have invested millions of pounds over the last forty years into standardising and industrialising the food economy. This has led to a breakdown in the social infrastructure that supports tacit and community food engagement. Local traditions, passed from generation to generation, within families and local communities, are being lost at an ever-greater rate as food is designed for processing as a packaged product rather than as something that is created from basic core ingredients. By undercutting decent labour practices, squeezing suppliers to adopt mass production and farming methods, the processed food industry has generated thousands of meaningless and nutritionally deficient food-like-substances that are branded to suggest that they are healthy. Take orange juice for example. It’s effect on blood-sugar levels are virtually the same as cola, but most parents insist they are supporting the nutritional health of their children by packing a carton of juice in a lunchbox, or giving their kids a glass of orange juice with their breakfast for their. The food industry is content to leave parents in a state of ignorant bliss, not knowing the effect that sugar is having on their children, from in whatever food it is packaged up in. The big food manufacturers control the advertising of consumer products, they lobby for government policies that benefit them at the expense of consumer rights, and they attempt to control the information that is given to consumers by obfuscating the food labels that are produced with their packaged goods. The use of high levels of carbohydrates in processed foods increases the shelf-life of the products, it reduces the amount of fat in the products, and it bulks out the products so that they appear to be better value for money. But what is most important, is that this process massively increase the profits of the manufacturers who are turning out these good on an industrial scale.

insulin-01Hormonal Correction So, why is thinking about carbohydrates so important, and can’t people just eat less and exercise more if they want to stay slim? The central fallacy, often repeated by experts, doctors and nutritionists, is that all calories that go into the body are equal. As Gary Taubes points out, the common belief is that a calorie eaten must be burnt in physical activity. The problem with this hypothesis is that it is wrong. If we take different elements of food, such as protein, fat, fibre and carbohydrates, we see them acting on the body in very different ways. Eating generous portions of protein and fat will not result in weight gain under normal circumstances, and may even result in weight loss. Eating fibre is generally good for us because of the impact it has on our health as green vegetables and low-sugar fruits are loaded with micronutrients. The real culprit, it seems, are the carbohydrates that we consume. The sugars and carbohydrates that are associated with processed food are killing us. Processed food is carb-loaded and has a detrimental effect on our body’s ability to deal with high blood sugar levels. To get to grips with this problem we have to shift our thinking that weight gain is the product of greed, gluttony or sedentary lifestyles. Rather the problem is founded on the cycle of hormonal imbalances that are centred on how the body uses insulin to control fat deposits. Insulin is the key hormone for signalling to the body that it should deposit excess blood sugars as fat. In the process insulin clobbers glucogon and leptin on the head and stops them from doing their jobs. Their job is to convert fat to usable energy reserves, and to tell us to stop eating because we are full. As our insulin levels are being thrashed almost continuously because our diets are excessively loaded with carbohydrates, we enter a cycle of increasing weight gain, food addiction and a loss of energy. If we get our comprehension of this process right, therefore, then much else follows that allows us to correct the dietary imbalances and health problems that Western society is plagued with. Weight gain is not a moral issue. It is a hormonal and an environmental product.

(Here’s a useful article that explains the process) http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/insulin-and-glucagon-how-to-manipulate-them-and-lose-fat

Food Literacies The call for an alternative approach, then, is based on some simple and uncomplicated thinking. Local food production and distribution that puts the emphasis onto the supplier to clearly differentiate the good food from the bad. So much of the food that is sold in our supermarkets screams health claims at us, and yet they are dubious at best, and harmful at worst. So dealing with food packaging and advertising is essential. But what is lacking most are the skills and capabilities that people need to act confidently when they are cooking their own foods. Food literacies. Keeping away from processed food sounds great, but it has to be seen in the context of the busy and demanding modern lives that people lead, and the access that they have to good quality, yet affordable food resources. The lack of local grocers store in the UK is a major problem. People are forced to keep food for longer periods in their homes, so the food requires a longer shelf-life. The food production cycle since the 1950s has been one that drives down the quality and nutritional value of foods so that they last longer in the home, and yet still have a sense of satisfaction that is associated with non-processed foods. Perhaps we should look at taxing food flavourings so that processed food that is reliant on artificial chemical stimulants start to become unattractive to producers. After all has been part of the success story of eliminating smoking. Processed foods are stuffed with salt and sugar. The fat is removed to extend the shelf-life, so as to make the food seem more healthy, and to ensure that it can be transported easily. The problem is that it isn’t worth eating, it is making us sick.

Premise: Insulin Management
Low-Carb-Awareness-Hormones-001a-2014-11-27

Key Advocates
If you want to read more about these debates and find resources, then it is worth looking at the key advocates associated with the campaign to change our food thinking:

Gary Taubes
http://garytaubes.com/

Robert Lustig
http://www.responsiblefoods.org/

Michael Pollan
http://michaelpollan.com/

John Yudkin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Yudkin

Booth & Bilton
http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/

Low-Carb-PyramidFood Pyramid What is now becoming evident is that the recommendations of the health and diet industry, that we consume a diet that is heavy in grains, cereal and pasta is no longer tenable. It is the overconsumption of these foods that has caused the problem. We therefore should be looking to adopt a different model of food distribution, such as the low-carb food pyramid. Sticking to the main groups of food that we have evolved with, such as green vegetables, fruits, fish, moderate amounts of meat, moderate amounts of dairy, plenty of unprocessed oils and fats and only occasional or few grains. Not only is this more likely to satisfy our nutritional requirements, it is also likely to leave us feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer. http://lowcarbfoodshere.com/

http://www.medbio.info/horn/time%203-4/homeostasis_2.htm

This Study Will So to look that the way we will develop this study, there are a couple of methodological points to note. This study will:

  • Be based on Netnographic/Qualitative Research principles.
  • Use mixed modes of constructivist qualitative data collection and interpretation such as participant observation.
  • Use reflexive critical methods to contextualise the situatedness of the re-searcher.
  • Use case studies to contrast contextual environments.

Food-Literacies-Research-Plan-001-2014-11-24Research Plan The documentation and discussion of the research plan will be undertaken on the module wiki page, and will be used to provide a framework for the investigation, the protocols and the ideas development that we need to be effective researchers.

https://wiki.our.dmu.ac.uk/w/index.php/TECH3022_Research_Planning

Questions that we are going to raise include:

The Role of the Researcher:

  • What is the role of the researcher in the design?
  • How will the researcher relate and describe their own personal involvement in the research study, and what is the ongoing relationship between the researcher and the informants?
  • How will the researcher account for their involvement and how will this affect the research?
  • How will the researcher manage potential conflicts between the research role and the professional/personal roles?

As Robert Kozinets asks “is the ethnographer studying some phenomenon directly related to online communities and online culture? Or is the ethnographer interested in studying a general social phenomenon that has some related Internet group aspect? How important, or not, is the physical component that is always attached to human social behaviour?”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 63).

There are a series of questions we can think about that will help us to enter the field, such as:

  • How will the researcher gain entry to the situation being studied?
  • What are the parameters for the data collection?
  • What is the setting?
  • Who are the actors?
  • What are the events?
  • What is the process being followed?
  • What and who are being excluded from the study?

As Guimaraes Jr notes… “As Cohen points out: ‘the reality of community lies in its members’ perceptions of the vitality of its culture. People construct community symbolically, making it a resource and a repository of meaning, and a referent of their identity’” (Guimaraes Jr, 2005, p. 146). So we have to ask:

  • Why was the site chosen for study?
  • In what way does the researcher have direct access to the field they are studying?
  • How full will the researchers involvement be with the activities in the field?
  • Will the researchers professional and personal interests in the outcomes of the research direct any relationship they have with respondents?

“In order to conceptualise both the place of this group and its boundaries, I employed the idea of social environment, a symbolic space created in cyberspace through programs which allow communication between two or more users” (Guimaraes Jr, 2005, p. 148).

  • What will be done at the site during the research study?
  • How will the researcher observe, interact and collect data from informants?
  • What type of data collection will the researcher deploy?
  • Will it be disruptive?
  • How will this data collection be conducted unobtrusively and without disruption?
  • How will the researcher collect data ethically?

In undertaking our study we will be collecting data from many and multiple sources:

  • What form will any observations take? [Mixed-media recordings of discussions?]
  • What form will any interviews take? [Structured or unstructured? Recorded and annotated?]
  • What documents will be referred to? [Online media, email communications, Twitter Feeds, Facebook groups, station planning material, participant journals?]
  • What audiovisual materials will be referred to?
  • How will these activities be conducted simultaneously? [Collecting a range of data at the same time is going to be essential, how will the integrity and continuity of this data be ensured?]
  • What is to be recorded?
  • How is it going to be recorded?
  • In what way will the process of qualitative evaluation be based on data ‘reduction’ and ‘interpretation’?
  • How will the results be reported?

As John Creswell points out, “In a qualitative researcher works inductively, such as when he or she develops categories from informants rather than specifying them in advance of the research” (Creswell 1998 p.77).

Book CoverFood Literacies We are starting, therefore with a loose series of questions that we will be able to narrow and make more specific as we progress with the evidence gathering and the data collection. So our questions will take the form of the following:

  • What are the concepts of food and nutritional literacy held by agents in different [online] communities?
  • What characteristics of food and nutritional literacy are relevant to participation and experience in different types of [online] communities?
  • What are the experiences of food and nutritional literacy of agents in different types of [online] community?
  • How are the concepts of food and nutritional literacy understood by agents in different types of [online] community?
  • How do concepts of food and nutritional literacy relate phenomologically to different agents forming a [online] community?
  • What relevance do agents acting in an [online] community ascribe to their own concepts of food and nutritional literacy?
  • What can be derived from the conceptual debates between theories of food and nutritional literacy and [online] community engagement?
  • Can inferences, hypothesise and models be derived from an evaluation of participation and experience in [online] communities as a phenomenon in food and nutritional literacy?
  • To what extent, then, can the discourse of food and nutritional literacy be tested and validated, both in principle and in experience in [online] communities?

It’s important to keep in mind that the ethnographic process is founded on the study of people’s lived experiences, and the practical realities that they interact through, the ideas and actions that they seek to make sense of.

ecogastronomyeducation_1322260980_76Nothing, however, is unique or novel in this sense, most things usually have precedent characteristics and associated challenges that they share, coming together in our present sense-making activities and stories. For example, the whole issues of taking control of our food supply chain has happened before, it is nothing new that we talking here about attempting to do this. During World War Two there was a general mobilisation for food in the UK. The aim was that we would be a nation that was self-sufficient in food. This meant doing without things such as sugar, large amounts of imported flour, and other none essential basic foods. Food rationing shaped the food choices and memories of a generation, so perhaps looking at this period again would be productive for today’s generation?

If I was to sum up, therefore, the research question that we are aiming to answer at this point, it would take this form:

  • What do people do with food and nutritional literacy?
  • What do they say that they get from discussing food and nutrition, and
  • How does the use of social media change the things that they discuss and practice?

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.

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 132014
 

I’ve started a YouTube playlist of videos, talks, documentaries about the sugar and carbohydrate crisis. This lecture by Robert Lustig is very clear and well explained, and ties in well with his book of the same title ‘Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth about Sugar, Obesity & Disease‘.

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

Sep 132014
 

Standardisation

I’m reading Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation about the rise of the junk food industry in America and how the multinational corporations have taken over the global market in food for themselves. Schlosser describes in vivid detail how the McDonalds fast food chain pioneered the use of production line techniques in their restaurants in order to drive down employment costs. Rather than employing chefs and ‘carhops’ the kitchen was divided into units of production, with ‘team members’ working one section only and working to a proscribed set of routines. This factory model has been used in numerous other places and industries since. According to Schlosser, Walt Disney’s innovation was to turn the art studio into a production line for his animations. Subsequently everything from tele-sales to dentists to funeral care has been standardised and homogenised.

In higher education at the moment there is a drive towards the standardisation and industrialisation of learning. The model is similar to the McDonalds principle of management, you have a set of highly trained and motivated managers who are given a set of clear instructions and routines that they must enforce – in this case in the name of academic quality – and then reduce the skill levels of all the subordinate contributors. So there is no individual academic judgement to be made about the performance of learners, rather academics work towards an algorithm that churns out a degree classification at the end of a students studies. Higher education isn’t much different now than the fast food industry. We are in show business. We find out what the dreams, hopes and desires are of our market and we turn it to our advantage, much in the same way that the processed food industry sells us health by making us by products that are making us fat and giving us diabetes.

And yet, the result of all this standardisation has actually been counterproductive – for ordinary people at least. For the corporations it has embedded their power as a corporate oligarchy and driven their profit margins ruthlessly. Even in times of crisis the corporations can’t fail because they have socialised risk to the rest of us. But working peoples income hasn’t risen over the last forty years. We feel richer because more of us work, and we have access to more credit, but the proportion of wealth that goes back to working people continues to decline.

So all of this makes me wonder, why are we so inthrall to the process of standardisation and centralisation that the corporate management model promotes? On the one hand we have the marketing people telling us it’s all about choice, but then the only places that you can get a coffee is Starbucks, or to get something to eat is McDonalds or to buy your groceries is Tesco, who only supply a limited range of foods anyway. Obviously something isn’t working or we’d all be getting fitter and healthier, spending more time dedicating our lives to higher pursuits and enjoying the families and friends that we are bonded to. Instead we are running around trying to pay the bills, to compete and keep up with our neighbours and to keep hold of our jobs by being compliant and following the charismatic corporate leaders we are told have all the answers.

The process of standardisation has to be obdurately resisted, then, and only then, might we create some space for some real innovation to happen.