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
As 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.
Western 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
Big 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.
Hormonal 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.
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:
Food 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/
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.
Research 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.
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).
Food 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.
Nothing, 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?
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.