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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jamie Oliver on American Kids' Diets

Jamie Oliver -- the 'Naked Chef' from television and publishing -- has famously taken on the nutritional content of school dinners here in the UK. In an article today, he weighs in on youth obesity in America. Some excerpts:
"England's the most unhealthy country in Europe and America is the most unhealthy country in the world," Oliver, known for his frank opinions, told Reuters in New York while promoting his latest book and television series on Italy. ...
Oliver said U.S. politicians should "stop being so subservient" to "junk food companies" and that the country should cut down on junk and fatty foods, which would help reduce future health costs. ...
Oliver said clearer government guidelines were needed, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent proposal for a near ban on artificial trans fat in restaurant food.
"The junk food companies have got more resources than the government
and more money to spend on poxy lawyers so I completely admire and condone the
mayor for doing it," he said.

He's right about politicians' (and government's) subservience to 'junk food' -- in fact, almost all food -- companies. In reading Marion Nestle's book that I mentioned before (Food Politics), I have become aware of the degree to which corporate interests have governed and influenced pronouncements on (ostensibly) public health. It used to be that the USRDA's mission to encourage agriculture and nutrition was simple. In both cases, the message was the same: eat more. Now, when it comes to health, the message is plain: eat less. But this interferes with corporate interests, which not only need consumers to continue consuming at their present rate, but also to consume more.

More and more I am beginning to suspect that our (Americans', but Westerners more generally) problems with diet really are a problem with our soul. This is true with many eating compulsions (overeating because of loneliness or anxiety, for example). But I mean this in a much broader sense than just individual problems -- I mean on the cultural-societal level. The need to constantly produce and consume and produce more seems to dominate us so much that we barely have time or imagination for much else (unless it is perhaps another sort of producing and consuming), and we feel threatened when faced with any resistance to this. We can see this in national foreign relations, whenever a country doesn't want to fall in line with our economic expectations: Venezuela, for example. Within the nation, we see this in terms of the energy and money spent to mitigate or eliminate any advice to consume less -- in the most obvious case, when food companies go to great lengths to excise advice to eat less from instruments such as the food pyramid. Our problem with obesity is only one (rather obvious) example of this.

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