I’ve been wondering what it is that so irritating about a certain type of food and health writer, the sort that moralises and pontificates about the food that the population should be eating. Media-hyped examples would be Gillian McKeith and her Abundant Foods list that includes vinegars and Tamari (who considers them to be food rather than ingredients?), or Patrick Holford and his low GL recommendations that can involve about £9 worth of berries per person, per day. Holford claims that people who are optimally nourished don’t become ill and don’t need medicine.
McKeith and Holford both stress that people should eat organic fruit, vegetables, meat or eggs. Given that they target a comparatively affluent market demographic and recommend a diet that is studded with supplements, it is possibly irrelevant to them that this is neither affordable nor sustainable for much of the population.
Jay Rayner had a tart but on-point observation about the proselytising efforts of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Beyond that even, is the stark reality depicted in Eating Our Way to Better Health.
[A vignette in Food Inc. shows] a Latino family of four struggling to make good and affordable food choices. They discuss how their school and work schedules leave little time to prepare meals at home. They compare the cost of buying dinner at the drive-thru (cheap) to buying produce at the grocery store (expensive). And most memorably, they share that the costs of prescriptions to treat the father’s diabetes severely limit their food budget.
There are no easy solutions to this family’s problems. Nor are their problems unique…
[A] patient struggling to manage his diabetes…works long hours and returned at night to an unsafe neighborhood where the only food sources were convenience and liquor stores. The patient’s doctor concludes that this environment not only contributed to his poor health, but was likely to thwart his efforts to manage it.
At its heart, it feels like this is what is amiss with so much of the writing about nutrition – it can’t be a useful public health message because it is divorced from the daily realities of the many people whom these nutritionists or food evangelists lecture. Dr Ben Goldacre sums it up well:
And that’s the most sinister feature of the whole nutritionist project…it’s a manifesto of rightwing individualism – you are what you eat, and people die young because they deserve it. They choose death, through ignorance and laziness, but you choose life, fresh fish, olive oil, and that’s why you’re healthy. You’re going to see 78. You deserve it. Not like them.
It probably is possible to eat a healthy, balanced diet on a tight budget if you already own a freezer, stock pot and other useful items and you don’t have to incur large upfront costs for more unusual ingredients. For all the “Simple suppers for 4 in 30 minutes”, cooking on a budget is time consuming and it may be impractical or infeasible for some groups. Over the next few weeks HolfordWatch is going to examine the practicalities of eating well on a budget.
Any suggestions as to what the budget should be?