Foods of Convenience

This is what women get to eat in one of Dublin’s maternity hospitals:


Given that this is the European Year of the Citizen, and the Irish government currently has Presidency of the European Union, it does not seem unreasonable that any catering laid on for EU functions ought to be provided to precisely the same standards enjoyed at the Coombe Hospital. If it is good enough for a woman who has just given birth, it is therefore good enough for Herman von Rompuy.

You are what you eat, goes the common refrain. This photo shows what women really are, in the eyes of political society.

On a related matter, and also related to the news that horse DNA (yes, but how many different horses?) has been located in Tesco beef products (Tesco being one of those multinationals that will supposedly desert the country if it gets its taxes raised, despite famously referring to Ireland as ‘Treasure Island’), below is a translation of a piece that appeared in Público today, by Esther Vivas. Food is a class issue.

And food policy is determined by revolving doors between legislatures and agri-food businesses. The fact that the brother of Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, is the Chief Executive of Greencore, a producer of convenience foods, is entirely irrelevant in this regard, and it would be better to focus on horse jokes. 

Also irrelevant is the fact that last year Simon Coveney appointed the Chief Executive of Greencore USA as a special adviser, breaking the recommended salary cap limits for special advisers.

We could say more about how the appointment of special advisers by politicians used to loyalty-based relationships within a party apparatus undermines the public service, through its public expression of disdain and distrust for public servants, but that’s a topic for another post.

Photo: Best event of The Gathering so far...

Junk Food Addicts

What happens to you if you spend a month feeding yourself on Big Macs, cheeseburgers, strawberry milkshake, McNuggets…? The result: eleven kilo weight gain, swollen liver, headaches, depression and sky-high cholesterol. Director Morgan Spurlock tells the story with his own body in his film Super Size Me (2004), which portrays the consequences of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner daily in McDonalds. But the problem about fast food outlets isn’t that it makes us sick, but that they turns us into their addicts.

“We don’t want you to come, we want you to come back”, says the latest McDonald’s advert. Never a truer word spoken. Junk food becomes essential to those who frequent its establishments. This is how research carried out by The Scripps Research Institute in the US puts it, as published in 2010 in Nature Neuroscience. Its conclusions leave no room for doubt: the intake of junk food develops the same molecular brain mechanisms that drug addiction fosters, and as a consequence its consumption is especially addictive. Perhaps we ought to suggest to the health authorities that they should advise consumers that eating in McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts…’can seriously damage your health’.

Though there is no need to go into a fast food establishment to eat poor quality food products. Most of the food we buy is produced with high doses of synthetic chemical additives such as colourings, preservatives, antioxidants, thickening agents, flavour enhancers, acidity regulators, modified starches, etc. which alter food in accordance with the interests of industry. This is how the product gets a nicer colour, or looks freshly made, or has an intense taste. The goal: to sell more.

But what are the consequences for our health? Numerous investigations highlight the negative impact how regular consumption of some of these additives can have upon the incidence of illnesses such as allergies, child hyperactivity, obesity.., which have risen in recent years. This was detailed in research carried out by the University of Southampton in 2007, on the request of the Food Standards Agency in Great Britain, and published in The Lancet, which demonstrated the link between the consumption of particular additives by children and the development of hyperactivity. The solution consists of replacing these artificial additives with natural ones, but the latter cost more and the food industry discounts them. Money talks.

The French journalist Marie Monique Robin documented this in detail in her penultimate work, the title of which leaves no room for doubt: ‘Our daily poison’, where she investigated the consequences on our body of an agriculture addicted to pesticides and a food industry hooked on chemical additives. The consequences, according to the documentary, are clear: a rise in illnesses such as cancer, sterility, brain tumours, Parkinson’s…the result, among others, of an agricultural and dietary model subordinate to the interests of capital. Were this not the case, how is it possible –as the film highlights- that the agri-food industry, for example, continues to use a zero calorie sweetener such as aspartame in products labelled as light, 0.0%, sugar free, when numerous experiments have shown that continued consumption of said substance can be carcinogenic?

Some will say that these studies, reports and investigations are alarmists and that all chemical additives used in the European Union are monitored in advance by an independent agency: the European Food Safety Authority. Months ago Corporate European Observatory published a report in which it highlighted the close links of the EFSA to the biotechnology and agri-food industry, as well as the dynamic of revolving doors between the two. The conflict of interests between those who legislate and the sector’s firms is clear. Something that undoubtedly, and regrettably, not only affects this sphere but many others.

The agri-food industry, in its drive to reduce costs and produce the maximum profit, has consigned the quality of what we eat to secondary importance. Food scandals such as mad cow disease, avian flu, chickens with dioxins, e-coli..are but the tip of the iceberg in an agricultural and dietary model that puts the desire for profit on the part of a few firms that monopolise the sector ahead of people’s dietary needs.

We are what we eat. And if we consume products made with high doses of pesticides, GM crops, sweeteners, colourings and substances that turn us into junk food addicts, this will end up sooner or later having consequences for our health. Perhaps it is time to tell Ronald McDonald and his friends: I’m NOT lovin’ it.



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