February 9, 2013

The domestic food desert

Filed under: Britain, Health — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:00

Theodore Dalrymple on one of the more likely culprits for obesity among poor British families:

With the decline of the family — wrought by the policies of successive governments — patterns of eating have changed. Meals in many households, especially those of the relatively poor, are no longer family or social occasions. It has been found that a fifth of children do not eat more than one meal a week with another member of their household; and in such households, which I used sometimes to visit as a doctor, the microwave oven was the entire batterie de cuisine, or at any rate the only cooking implement that was ever actually employed.

Moreover, there was no table at which a meal could have been eaten in common if anyone had thought of doing so. The result was that children became foragers or hunter-gatherers in their own homes, going to the fridge whenever they felt like it and grazing on prepared foods — high, of course, in the evil fructose. Not coincidentally, these households were also the least likely to have what would once have been considered the normal family structure.

Such households also tended to be in areas called “food deserts”, in which fresh produce is either not easily available or unavailable. But those who ascribe the dietary habits of the households I have just described to food desertification put the cart before the horse: for if heroin can reach these areas (and it can), surely the humble lettuce can do so?

It is also sometimes alleged that people buy prepared foods because they are cheap. This is nonsense. In fact, if you go to areas inhabited by poor Indian or Pakistani families you will find stores that sell an astonishing range of vegetables at equally astonishing prices. I used to shop in one such store, at a time when I did not have to concern myself too much over the price of food; I could hardly carry all that I could buy for a few pounds. I remember in particular a 10-kilo bag of onions costing £1.49.

The Indian and Pakistani women bought with discrimination and, taking a maternal interest in me, would sometimes indicate what to look for among what were for me the more exotic vegetables. But I never saw any poor whites shopping there: they went straight to the pie and pizza shops, without so much as a glance at the okra and aubergine.

In other words, food desertification and the supposed cheapness of industrially prepared foods is a consequence, not a cause of, the food habits I have described. Food desertification is a symptom of the culinary ignorance, incompetence and indifference of a substantial minority of our population: ignorance, incompetence and indifference unopposed by any attempt of our educational system to counteract it, for example by teaching girls the elements of cookery. Fat is indeed a feminist issue, but not in the sense that Susie Orbach originally meant it.

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