There are health dichotomies in my world

I remember encountering Spenser's Faerie Queene for the first time twenty years ago. It was beautiful, and although I don't remember a lot now, I do recall Una and Duessa and discussions of constructions of good and evil.

Spenser was okay about good and evil. So, it turns out, am I. I've been chasing my tail around my head looking for meaning and enlightenment in the comments section of the Hand Mirror debate on crap food for school lunches for poor kids. It turns out that the entire problem for the objectors to Anne Else's piece is that she uses the terms 'healthy foods' and 'empty calories' and that these are objectionable terms in which to frame discussions around food.

I read this from the other side of the planet:
I believe that people (including children) generally make the best choices about food (and most other things) that they can based on their situation as a whole.

Just to note the first responses in my head: No! There is an entire industry out there devoted to identifying the substances (fat-salt-sugar mix in optimum arrangements) which can create addictive effects within our bodies and this information is expressly for the processed food industry, particularly fast food outlets. There is also an overwhelming amount of sugar available for New Zealanders and unless you live in a (literal and metaphorical) cave, your kids will get hold of it and enough of it will alter their perception of the kinds of food which they 'need'.

So, if you have $2.50, are very hungry and have just ten minutes to get to school and the dairy is the only food outlet, then the offending packet of processed foods which prompted the initial Hand Mirror debate will be a good choice. I think everyone understands that. The lack of choice within that 'choice' is the problem and I thought Else was highlighting this.

The idea that condemning a situation where there is no 'choice' but such rubbishy food is middle class privilege just doesn't cut it in my opinion. If your kid is dependent on the dairy 'school lunch special' on a regular basis, then I think it is reasonable to assume that you lack the resources on multiple levels to complain about that lack of choice. So the rest of us should stay silent?

I am okay about calling some processed foods 'empty calories'. I am okay about using language around food which assigns more worth to some foods than others. I realise that I am not scarred by horrendous dieting experiences where moral assignations for food caused me much distress and self-loathing. I am shaped by experiences of foods contributing to or detracting from good health in myself and my immediate family.

I was curious to note that Paul Campos (author of The Obesity Myth) was being trotted out by persons who disagreed with moral judgements on food. I loved his book and quote it often. But as I said at the time when I discussed his book on this blog, he ignores the possible nutritional aspects behind weight gain (I don't mean simple calorie counting but food allergies, candida and hypothyroidism for starters) and also the deprivation of nutrition aspects that are surely behind the falling health outcomes for dieters. I think this is a gap in his otherwise compelling and cogently argued book.

I read the latest Time Magazine's cover article on organic food yesterday. It seemed to say almost nothing to me. Naively, I thought there might be something new to ponder given Time magazine has international distribution and presumably a decent budget to pay journalists to investigate in depth. They trot out the line that with a steeply rising world population, we will need genetic engineering and other interventions to feed everyone. I think it is nonsense. The fossil fuel involved in conventional farming is huge and unsustainable. How can we trust any project which deliberately disempowers people from saving their own seed?

In the school newsletter on Monday: the local McDonalds franchise are offering school lunches with 50 cents of the price going to the PTA. The school (presumably board, principal, PTA) have endorsed this. No doubt it will be described as a healthy lunch, just as Subway also is (they offer school lunch delivery to my son's school as well) which is indeed, to me, a flagrant abuse of the term 'healthy'.

Puts the soap box away, off to bed to read another foodie thing, this time a WAPF document on animal fats. The word 'obsessed' does seem apt...

Comments

Corrine said…
Hi Sandra, I popped over to The hand mirror to read what all the fuss was about and found lots of comments going around in circles. I just about fell over in surprise when I read the comment that people (including children) generally make the right choices about food! That to me is the whole point. People don't make the right choices about food particularly children! We don't make the right choices about a lot of things. We tell our kids not to eat the lollies being sold at the shop that makes the toungue turn bright blue. yet if someone gives them some....they don't even stop to think.
Isa Ritchie said…
Hi Sandra - I just read through all the comments at the hand mirror - wow! Re-reading your post here, I take a very similar line. There are people out there who don't have the agency to eat well - and that's a terrible thing!

My friend who is finishing her PhD on foodlessness said that some of the people she interviewed were great cooks, but when you and your kids are really hungry it's better to go down and get $10 chips - and have food now - than even think about cooking. I can totally relate to that (being a student on a limited income for many years)...

It's interesting the way the debate seemed to branch of into obesity and blaming the poor when I don't think that was the original intention of the post. I'm wondering if I'm just getting distracted or if this relates to my thesis :)
Maia said…
Sandra - You have completely misrepresented what I said here. My objections were much more complex than that. I am quite pissed off that you have misrepresented my arguments in this way - after a continual misrepresentation from you and others on the thread itself.

If you don't know how to talk about food without using destructive, inaccurate, moralistic language, then yes I think you should stay silent. But there are lots of people out there who know how to talk about nutrition, class, and food availability in a way that actually focuses on the problems. Stop pretending that asking for non-destructive language is asking people not to talk about hte subject.
Maia said…
Oh and Corrine - I said the best choices - not the right choices. Apparentloy, unlike you I don't believe there is one right choice food.

Isa - please don't miseuse and abuse the word 'agency' in that way. Everyone has agency - that's what the word means. I think what you mean is people don't have the resources to fulfil all their food needs.
I had a stomach lurch feeling as I read through these comments just now. I know that if a man had said that I should remain silent on a(ny) topic, I would be fuming and blaming a particular kind of sexism.

Obviously I cannot lash out at sexism in this case. I find it disappointing given that this topic originated on The Hand Mirror, a place where diversity is well respected on the whole and certainly their posters seem well versed in post modern understandings of multiple legitimate ways of interpreting the world around us. I hadn't intended to offend or misrepresent anyone, including not to offend or misrepresent you Maia, and I still don't.

If I thought food was a loaded and important subject before, then the debates of the last week or so have reinforced that in ways I could not have predicted.

Of course I will still be talking about food here on this blog!!!!

Hi Isa - we had takeaway fish and chips for tea! What do you think of writing about 'discourses around food (preparation): slow cooking as status for the middle class time poor'?

Hi Corrine - thanks again for the jerusalem artichokes - I mashed them last night as a topping for a fish equivalent of shepherds pie. Funny texture mashed but still a nice taste. I wonder if anyone has been adventurour enough to make gnocchi out of them?

Blue food colourings have a particularly enraging effect on me for some reason - not eating them, just seeing my children with them. It does annoy me that doctors will hand over ritalin to children, supposedly for ADD, without even talking to them about eliminating E-numbers first.

Today I found out that one of my hungry teenage associates who was nearly hospitalised not long ago with pneumonia (and given antibiotics) has now been diagnosed with bronchitis, a kidney infection and an enormous throat ulcer, and has been given more antibiotics. So no matter that she lives in a home with almost no food, big pharmaceutical companies can make money from her because we have no depth of culture of seeing food as central to health. Not just enough food in calorie terms, but nourishing food.

Isa, have you come across any influence of WAPF style eating on food banks or community meals? That would be very interesting indeed.
Anonymous said…
Whoa! That's a pretty heated comment Maia, understandably coming from deep-seated beliefs. However, it would be more beneficial to the discussion to dispense with sweeping generalisations and reason through point by point. Having followed the discussion at both blog addresses, I would say that Sandra has been most fair in her summaries of what you have said; she certainly has not misrepresented your arguments in the slightest. It is true she has proposed a counter-position, and has argued strongly for it, but this does not warrant a personal attack. It would be more helpful to debate the actual argument.
I, for one, hope Sandra continues to speak out in her insightful and thought-provoking manner.
~Rachael
Maia said…
Sandra - you asked "If your kid is dependent on the dairy 'school lunch special' on a regular basis, then I think it is reasonable to assume that you lack the resources on multiple levels to complain about that lack of choice. So the rest of us should stay silent?"

I answered "If you don't know how to talk about food without using destructive, inaccurate, moralistic language, then yes I think you should stay silent. But there are lots of people out there who know how to talk about nutrition, class, and food availability in a way that actually focuses on the problems. Stop pretending that asking for non-destructive language is asking people not to talk about hte subject."

From the way you reacted you appear to place yourself as someone who cannot talk about food without using destructive, inaccurate, moralistic language. I think such language is damaging so I'm not going to stop criticising it.

However, my point was, and is, that criticising such language is not shutting down conversations about food.

*******

Rachael - If you think she has represented my position accurately, then you didn't understand my position. This is an absurd misrepresentation: "It turns out that the entire problem for the objectors to Anne Else's piece is that she uses the terms 'healthy foods' and 'empty calories' and that these are objectionable terms in which to frame discussions around food." First because 'healthy foods' and 'empty calories' are just examples, not the extent of the langauge we were objecting to. And second because I had another objection that I restated about five times. And third because QoT had more objections still.

Sandra - I don't care whether you intended to misrepresent me or not. I'd really appreciate it if you didn't try and paraphrase my views when you so clearly don't understand them. If you want to respond to them, how about quoting them.

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