Monday, 25 February 2013


Bad food! No, not horse-meat, but just malnutrition, which has become voiced by a scandalised Academy of the Royal Colleges of Medicine and Surgery. A large tranche of our citizens is being fed bad food by the food corporations through the supermarkets. Supermarkets now are so powerful that they can determine when many of us will die, usually 7 to 10 years before the richer part of our society, those who can be independent.

In the early 90s, visiting California, I was amazed to notice grossly obese people in the streets, and no-one else paid them any attention. Ten years later, I suddenly realised it was happening here. That is why doctors are talking with some justification about an 'epidemic' of obesity.

Bad food is not new. Throughout our history, the poorer part of our society has been cursed by it. The Boer War revealed that most soldiers fighting were underweight, under height and malnourished. Rickets used to flourish in Victorian times and may be coming back. Early socialist propaganda portrayed the bosses as fat and the workers as skinny. Now its all the other way round.

If you have not had a good education, quite likely in our class-ridden county of Kent, where most school pupils are defined as failures of the 11+; if you are poor, not difficult when real wages have been falling sharply since the recession; if you are working, then it is likely you are working all the hours that can be squeezed out of you, and your partner is working too; and if you have children; then, you are going to find it very difficult to eat anything but bad food and you are trapped by the supermarkets.

The supermarkets are the front end of the food corporations, whose prime, number one priority is – profits, nothing else. They are massive, stretched across the world in a network of companies, owned by giant corporations. All they have to do is to produce high calorie food and salt, because they know that most modern humans are addicted to them. At the same time, it has to look like food, so all sorts of fillers are added: water, phosphates, inert substances, fat and gristle. This is all very convenient, because vast amounts of the most addictive sugar, fructose syrup, are cheaply produced by the corn growers of the USA. The beef produced by other farmers of the USA, can then be adulterated by large amounts of fat, gristle and ground bone, and sold as pure beef. Again there is nothing new in this, you can read about it, if you can stomach it, in the novel 'Jungle' which describes the Chicago stockyards of the 1900s. This is what is sold to those that have very little of that magic 'choice' we are all supposed to use. Then, relentless advertising is pumped into us, and especially the children, just to make sure their immature taste systems are poisoned as early as possible. Fructose syrup diluted, flavoured and carbonised, and you have Coca Cola, the biggest con the USA has ever perpetrated upon a gullible world.

Now, from the other end of the class system, the Guardian reading professional can say, and I do say, that there is another way, that people can have a high protein, low calorie, low salt diet high in fruit and vegetables, very cheaply. And you can: lentils, beans, the amazing quinoa, fish, fresh fruit and veg, with small amounts of red meat, all as cheap. But you have to have time, knowledge and enthusiasm, all the things they somehow missed giving you.

Result: obesity, now the mark of the poor, not the rich. Obesity leading to: crippling arthritis, diabetes, thus blindness and high blood pressure, thus heart disease and strokes. Even cancer is implicated. See the man, possibly in his late 30s,  of enormous weight and size, in shorts and trainers, and two sticks to balance on emaciated and arthritic legs. He cannot work, so he is even more trapped into a bad food cycle, and not surprisingly he will die young.

What can be done about this? The Tories place great faith is rounds of talks with supermarket executives, but really they believe that its down to the individual, to 'take responsibility' for their health. They  safely mock, condemn and scourge in the media those who develop obesity. After all, its a free country. We have to remember too, that large amounts of financial support to the Tories have come from the likes of Sainsbury and the vulpine Shirley Porter of Tesco. Not much mileage there then, they even fought against a simple 'traffic light' food labelling system.

What could we do? Here's a very simple start. Perhaps the avowedly ethical supermarkets – Waitrose and the Coop – might consider it first. The supermarket can go out to tender for the production of: low fat, low salt, low fructose burgers, either veggie or with guaranteed meat, pizzas and fish fingers, at the lowest price possible, because they have the power to do it. The unhealthy versions would gradually be withdrawn. Then, they could advertise these strongly, directed at children, with meals featuring green vegetables and salad. They could make them prominent in the stores. They could make them loss-leaders or even give free rocket or lettuce salads to accompany them.

Would they do it? Well, the above two might consider it, but the rest would snort derisively. 'People want cheap food and should have a choice', they would say. Would they say the same about heroin to the heroin addict or alcohol to the alcoholic they push cheap booze onto? Choice is a great comfort to those that have the luxury of a choice.

What would I do? Move the main supermarkets into a franchised sphere of the economy, in a similar arrangement to that of the privatised railway companies. Local council planning committees issue 5 year renewable franchises, against clearly contracted healthy food standards. Any signs of these being breached, penalties are issued and for persistent abuse, the franchise is withdrawn, the freehold reverts to the council and the ground rent goes astronomical.

Fidel Castro got it right. One kilo of mixed white rice and black beans ('Moros y Cristianos'), peas and potatoes, were issued monthly to all families, free, - the 'libreta' -  with subsidised prices for chicken, eggs, milk and coffee. Cubans were lean and fit. It is gradually disappearing with the benefit of capitalism.

This blog was written by R.L.Symonds, a Labour candidate for Broadstairs and Sir Moses.

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