(From The Age)
Nobody wants to be fat. Nobody wants anybody else to be fat. Politicians and medical professionals would like to see everybody un-fat. And still we get fatter. On my Marxist days, I like to think of this as a groundswell of subversive collective action - a playfully ironic protest in which we destroy consumerism by consuming so much that we cost more to keep alive than we'll ever make. The coolest thing is that even children are involved. Who said you could be too young for politics? But on other days, I have to concede that it's probably just because we eat too much by accident.
Deirdre Hutton, chairwoman of Britain's Food Standards Agency, has delineated how these accidents happen. We eat too much processed food - most at risk are teenage girls, male city workers, "people in poorer communities" (when did it become inappropriate to say "poor people"?) and the over-50s. Her first hurdle is to harry packaged-food manufacturers into making food healthier, or at least flagging up in big red letters how unhealthy it is.
Burger King told her where to stick it. (They want their customers to "take responsibility for their own health" - how sweet. It makes me feel like they really respect me. Now I fancy a Whopper Junior.) Others will be more co-operative, I feel sure, but this is a pointless battle. Processed food is sugar, salt and fat-loaded because it doesn't taste nice otherwise; it's been sitting around too long. Anyone who's tried to have some fun with a two-day-old roast potato can vouch for this. Healthy processed food will always taste like self-denial; to get people eating well without feeling hard done by, they need fresh food.
How do you achieve this? Well, "male city workers" are time-poor - to get them eating nutritious hotpots nightly, you need to supply them with some help: a wife, for instance, or - not wishing to gender-bias this - a good friend to stay at home and stew while they work. In other words, you'd need to reverse a trend of the past 50 years and bring back the doubly occupied single-income unit. That would be tricky, no?
"People in poor communities" are more straightforward - they would eat better if they had more money, thereby a) having more time for home-cooking, since they don't have to work so hard; and b) not having to shop exclusively in Iceland. How do you make the poor less poor? With redistributive taxation. How amazingly unfashionable; I feel I've just offered you a spam sandwich.
To return to teenagers, they tend to be either undereating or overeating, largely for psychological reasons. You could reverse this by outlawing cultural images in which an unattainable body shape is presented as the norm, and strengthening their sense of self so that it extended beyond sexual objectification. That sounds hard as well.
It is so far unclear why the over-50s should be eating badly, but let's imagine that the erosion of the family unit has left people isolated, and home-cooking is an activity people rarely undertake alone (one famous British TV chef once wrote a book called One is Fun!; you'd be amazed how offended people are to receive it as a gift). The answer would be to repeal all divorce laws so that people had to stay together, and somehow to reverse the trend wherein youth is idolised and older people, feeling disfranchised, eat more biscuits. It's an idea, but I don't fancy your chances.
Obesity, in the end, is a function of social progress. To blame fat-loaded food is like blaming Bill Gates for the people who email you when you'd rather they stopped in for a coffee. To try to reverse it with well-meant advice is like telling a Viking warrior to chill out about his masculinity. I say we bring back rationing. It might sound extreme, but given the alternatives, it also sounds surprisingly manageable.
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