The "Food Crisis"

For those in the U.K. , the Guardian is today focusing on a new issue it has created: ‘nutrition recession’. The problem they are trying to outline is that food prices are rising in a way that makes eating junk food much cheaper than eating fresh, healthy food. As a result, they argue, the poor are ending up malnourished. … -austerity

I have no doubt about their conclusion. Many hard up families in Britain have terrible diets, and I’m sure people in other western countries have noticed the same thing. But their reasoning is all faulty. Although their is an abundance of cheap, unhealthy food, this isn’t the real cause of the problem. The real cause of the problem is a mixture of lack of education, an unhelpful food culture and, dare I say it, laziness.

Lets starts with the second point there: an unhelpful food culture. TV chefs are everywhere in the UK, they are now among our top celebrities. TV shows have, for the last 8 years or so, taken over a large proportion of prime time TV. But the message they often send out is that ‘good’ food is all organic, complicated recipes which are vastly expensive to cook. People seem fixated on the need to cook something completely different every night, a habit which rises the cost of cooking considerably. The use of vast arrays of herbs and spices, cupboard ingredients, meat and vegetables are encouraged. All of this makes cooking look like its something for only rich people. As an example, look at this list of ingredients for a stew from a recipe on - wait for it - the Guardian food website itself:

The assembly of all these ingredients would cost more than I commonly spend on cooking every week.

Lack of education? It’s simple - people don’t know how to cook simple, easy and cheap dishes. In many countries, people commonly learn to cook from their family - passing on a tradition of family based cooking which is economically prudent. In most Western countries, however, people are increasingly looking to mass media as a source of cooking education. This may be great if you want to be the next masterchef, but at its heart it lacks the prudence of traditional family cooking.

And then there’s laziness, which I honestly think is a factor. By laziness I don’t entirely mean the lack of will to spend time cooking (although that’s part of it), I also mean the lack of self discipline necessary to keep to eating food which is healthy, but not quite as tasty. A little pork stir fried with whatever veg is cheapest at the market with a large serving of rice takes little time to prepare and is perfectly good to eat. It’s also dirt cheap, as long as you go easy on the meat. The thing is, a lot of people simply don’t want to eat this kind of thing every night. They only want to eat high fat foods with lots of salt, because its easier and tastier.

When ‘healthy eating’ is billed as meaning eating on fresh leaf salads with feta cheese and black olives drizzled in extra virgin, no wonder everyone thinks they can’t afford to eat healthily. As an ESL teacher, I have visited the houses of many immigrants into both the UK and Australia who eat large, healthy meals on food budgets which are probably far less than the average hard-up British family’s diet of frozen fast food. The guardian has this one completely wrong: its got nothing to do with prices and everything to do with attitude and approach.

Same shit here in the U.S. with perhaps even more “convenience” being available. Given hunger in the world, we have a high class problem, don’t we? The sad part is that fats and sugars appear to be a human preocupation. Countries like India and China, that have traditionally had sound diets (except for the very poor) are adding more meats and sugars as their economies will allow. Much of the grain production in the U.S. isn’t aimed at human consumption, but is exported as animal feed stocks in China. There doesn’t appear to be any human group that doesn’t succumb to a less-healthy diet if given access to greater amounts of fats and sugars.

The prices are in large part a result of the attitude and approach - I agree that the Guardian has the cause and effect all messed up (as per usual). Nonetheless it hasn’t ‘got nothing to do with prices’, I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. Working and Middle class people in the West have a choice between cheaper, more convenient processed food that contains very little nutrition and is full of GM and other eugenicist junk that many people believe is knowingly inserted into the food chain to degrade the quality of certain classes of people. Just like you can feed your farm animals certain things to make them docile, you can do it to your ‘subjects’ too.

On the plus side of that choice, the working class person gets food that appeals to the basic sensory desire for food in a reliable way, they get near-instant access to the food which, when you work a shitty depressing job for more hours than anyone should just to be able to afford the crappy processed food, is kinda important to people, and you get a topic of conversation - when you see an advert for a new processed food product you can talk about your expectation of it, and then after you’ve bought and consumed it you can talk about whether it lived up to your expectations and whether you will buy it again.

The other choice, as you rightly point out, is ‘aspirational food’ which consists of at least 12 ingredients, each one from a different country, prepared in some obscure and expensive electronic wok device or similar contraption, that has to be served with a particular wine that’s from yet another country (at least according to the bourgeois broadsheet media, like the Guardian) and which has to be discussed ad nauseum at family meal times and dinner parties. Quite often such events go past where the background of the ingredients is dissected in detail but no one actually thanked the person who made the fucking meal. It was all about where they got the recipe from, how far they had to traipse and how much money they spent putting it together. No wonder they end up depressed and alienated. But they do at least get some nutrition from the food, and of course get to feel somewhat superior to the working class shitmunchers eating the awful GM-laden, eugenics-inspired Nestle Soylent Green horror food.

It’s about social stratification as much as anything. You’re right, you can make cheap, nutritious food if you know how to do it. I have issues with rice, I’ve literally never cooked rice perfectly no matter what I do. Nonetheless, if you don’t watch TV then you find you have plenty of time for actually preparing the stuff that goes into the meal. Not watching TV, or at least only watching the things you genuinely enjoy watching, is a great way to free up time for more important things. Naturally, the Guardian is no longer a working class and dare I say it ‘socialist’ newspaper, and the point of such articles is to make the middle class people go ‘oh dear’ and then flip the page over and read a recipe for bourgeois food. Go figure.

In the kuran it says that in the end times the evil power shall hand out food that is not nurishing that shall burn the throats of men, or something like that.

actually that might be in one of the hadiths

I don’t think it was deliberately inserted into the food chain simply because it wouldn’t have needed to be. I think people created these products because they knew they would sell. I don’t think the people responsible gave a shit about the effects on society either way.

If you don’t cook it often enough to buy a rice cooker (which always does rice with the least hassle), with basmati rice, the way I’d reccomend is to use 1 cup rice, wash in the bottom of a pan which has been slightly greased with butter, add 1.5 cups of water, heat rapidly until water is vigorously boiling, put the lid on the pan, turn down to minimum heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, not removing the lid. After 15 minutes turn off the heat and leave with the lid on for a further 5 minutes. This assumes you’re cooking on gas, I don’t think good rice is possible on electric.

The quoted recipe sounds really good! As for the ingredients, there seems nothing there that couldn’t be grown on your own on a window sill. Meat is always substitutable. But the recipe isn’t really the point of the thread, is it?

Fat enhances flavor, as does salt and sugar. Processed foods use salt and sugars for that reason. Fresh herbs do the same thing, but most of us aren’t used to foods flavored with fresh herbs, so most of us don’t know how to use them. I think the recipe is trying to teach people how to replace sugars and salts with fresh herbs, as would substituting fatty meat cuts with leaner cuts, which are usually less expensive. But fats are also a dietary essential.

So you learn the difference between ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. Add avocado as a side dish or in a salad. Dress it with virgin olive oil and vinegar. Throw in some chopped fresh basil from your window sill farm.

Are processed foods on the market because of convenience?–Or because they’ve been marketed as convenient? Have they been marketed as convenient because of a need for convenience food, or is that ‘need’ created by the food ‘manufacturers?’

You could, but the likelihood of you having a crop of Iranian limes on your windowsill is low. Most probably you’ll have to go to the supermarket and buy some. The problem with this type of recipe isn’t just the recipe itself, it’s the fact that many of the ingredients are ‘one offs’, you probably won’t need to use bulgar again for a while, nor butterbeans, nor Iranian limes. You’d be buying ingredients just for one dish, and that makes costs stack up.

Some herbs can be grown fresh easily but most require attention that makes keeping them inconvenient. Obviously if you are ‘into cooking’ then this is worth it, for most people it probably isn’t going to be an option. Rosemary and bay trees probably need more space than a windowsill if you want to grow enough to eat from them regularly. Most people would be buying some or all these herbs fresh from the supermarket, which again bumps the price up considerably.

Isn’t it funny how these ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’ coincide with cheap ingredients and expensive ones. Salmon is ‘good fat’. Vegetable oil is bad, extra virgin olive oil good. Avocado in the UK is pricey in season and extortionate out of season, but of course it’s ‘good fat’. Blueberries are so expensive they had to call them a ‘superfood’ just to get people to eat them. Bananas aren’t called a ‘superfood’ yet they are seriously good for you.

Most of these ‘good fat bad fat’ distinctions are unevidenced middle-class-pleasing inventions created to make middle class people feel better than poor people who can’t afford all these ‘good fats’. Saturated animal fat is a natural part of any omnivore’s diet and its perfectly possible to stay healthy whilst eating it. Some native Canadians exist on diets of whale blubber which means a large percentage of their diet is pure saturated fat. But they have very low heart disease rates. Personally, I put butter in almost everything I cook, which I think is why I’m so thin (fat makes you feel full, ergo you eat less). East Asians do the same thing with oil, Indians with ghee, which is probably why they are all so thin too. I rate my personal health, both mentally and physically, far higher than most yuppies who drizzle all their food in olive oil and snack on sultanas and mixed nuts.

Out of all the shit to be worrying about in food, fat should probably be of the least concern. Actually, of much more concern than what’s in food is what isn’t in food. The body can tolerate and deal with all manner of poisons and foreign things, but it can’t make vital nutrients out of thin air.

Breve, I’ll take you on for a while–but not for too long and only to show the differences, sometimes, in British and American English. For example, a ‘butterbean’ in the US is another name for a lima bean. Bulgar is cracked whole wheat without a lot of the bran. It can be used in soups, stews, salads, in place of rice, as a hot cereal, etc. Ghee is clarified butter, which you can make yourself. A Persian Lime is the lime normally found in your local market. Rosemary is an aromatic as well as a medicinal herb. So is bay. They have to be removed before serving–and, no, they can’t be grown on a window sill. But most annual herbs can–along with slow-growing perennials. And what you don’t use fresh, you can always dry for use during the winter.

Now, then, let’s talk about the ‘food industry.’ What are ‘convenience’ foods? I think, in the US, they’re foods processed to have a longer shelf life, first of all. Next, they’re foods with little or no preparation time. And they’re foods where a lot of the nutrients are missing because of the processing. They’re foods with chemical additives, often sugars, that take the place of natural flavors. In short, they’re really ‘fast food’ served at home.

Are they really needed, or are they the product of the industries’ marketing? To answer that, don’t we have to go back to the time when one partner went to work and one partner stayed home? Idk, but I do think the rampant obesity seen today isn’t so much the result of fat consumption as it is the result of sugars, and the ingestion of empty calories found in sugars, chemicals, and some fats–the ‘bad,’ but very flavorful, fats.

I kind of see the ‘food industry’ as yet another branch of corporatism.

PS–The recipe writer should be pilloried!

I still think that growing herbs on a window sill is a middle class pipe dream. It’s difficult to cultivate enough herbs in such a small area to supply enough for regular use (just ask Smears :wink: ). You also have to have a large window which gets plenty of light, many people don’t have this.

Yes I agree. But I don’t blame the food industry. I blame the people buying this stuff. They choose to buy it, its their fault.

I think primarily it comes from eating too much processed foods. In a natural, healthy diet there is a lot of roughage which goes straight through you, so you fill up but not for too long. With processed foods, a much larger percentage of what you put into your body gets absorbed. So for the same feeling of ‘fullness’ you have to effectively consume several times more calories.

So we agree. That’s very nice. Thank you.

But I still wonder why there’s a need for a food ‘industry.’

Yes, it seems we largely agree, give or take a few minor points here and there.

It’s been necessary ever since the earliest civilizations. It allows some of the workforce to be involved in things other than acquiring food. I’d say the beginning of the food industry was probably the beginning of civilization, it freed people up to build things, make things, discover things and think about things. These days, where over half of the worlds population lives in cities where the growing of enough food to live is impossible, the world is fully reliant on the food industry.

Eating healthy does not need to be expensive, as mentioned gardening is great , form a gardening co-op with neighbors and friends. Butchers sell good meats in " packages that while its hard to come up with that money all at once in the long run it is less expensive. I pay a dollar less per pound of meat generally. The meat seems to be a higher quality. If you have storage bulk is also a real saver. Neighbors and friends can all be involved. More cooperation means healthier foods and a fatter wallet.

Yes I think that’s a good point too. Although very few people in England would offer to share cooking with neighbors, and very few would welcome such offers. Many people are too obsessed with increasing their own ‘freedom’ in their own limited worlds (they want to eat the exact foodstuff that they desire at the exact time they want it) to think about cooperating.

You don’t share cooking just the grocery bill. There are plenty of common items that are less expensive if bought in bulk. Heck, even toiletries and cleaning items. What is more freeing then a fatter wallet? :slight_smile:

People have the amount of energy they have. If they have less money, they will likely buy cheaper food. If junk food is cheaper, then more of it will be used as meals.

This doesn’t discount what education and putting some more energy in the cooking might do for some people, but that these thigns may help does not counter the truth in what less money does.

Also making even a simple meal often costs as much as a junk food meal where there is no effort, less or no cleaning up. Stressed out, tired and poor humans, especially those working more than one job are going to have a harder time getting themselves to make their own meals.

What they should do and what we would do in their shoes or what we think we would do doesn’t take away from this.

Do you mean the Mexicans or Indians, because I think that is a bit racialist. :wink:

On the main subject food is ludicrously expensive in the UK atm >£2.00 for a tin of corned beef!?

I agree that too many people don’t know how to cook and cook cheaply and also don’t know much about nutrition, but just the same many people don’t know how to shop and shop wisely. I make all the meals at home for my household, they aren’t all nutritious and spankingly healthy but they do represent a balanced diet. Educate yourself, even if you are stupid, there is the interweb to tell you how to do everything healthy for thripence hapeny

I’d also like to say most fast food is shit both quality wise and in terms of nutrition.

Hmm sounds like a worldwide nonprofit orginization waiting to happen. ILP feeds through education,I like it.

these things can be so widely interpreted no wounder people are always thinking its the end of the world…


There’s always one more reason to think the world is going to end just one more time.