“Another day, another row about obesity, its causes, and what might be done to stop people from getting any fatter. The medical profession and various crusading types, Jamie Oliver among them, insist that the government must take urgent action to reduce childhood obesity: there are now 12.3 million people at risk of type 2 diabetes; the most deprived five-year-olds are more than twice as likely to be obese than their better-off counterparts. Meanwhile, the libertarian right enjoys another attack of ersatz solidarity with the working classes. No! it cries with one (fairly posh) voice. This crusade is just patronising middle-class nonsense. How disgusting, to claim that people on low incomes have no willpower.
As in so many arguments, I somehow manage to hold both positions at once: even as I grasp that the situation is parlous – you only need eyes in your head to see this – I will always despise the notion of making giant assumptions about whole groups of people. And besides, these things aren’t so straightforward.
In John Whaite’s latest book, Comfort, he introduces a (fabulous) recipe for chicken curry crispy pancakes by noting that its inclusion is incriminating: now we all know that his mother must have fed him a certain treat by Findus as a child.
Those campaigning for the government to take action would rather talk of the environment than willpower, noting the endless ads for junk, the fact that at supermarkets, unhealthy foods are more likely to be discounted than those that are good for us. They’re right to do so: capitalism makes slaves of us all. But it’s more complicated than this. Instant gratification is central to our culture now, in ways that connect not only to food; nor would anyone be worrying too much over takeaways if we all walked everywhere. Only rarely, moreover, do we interrogate the relationship between what we eat and our mood – another component, broadly speaking, of the environment. If depression and anxiety are on the rise, and few would argue that they aren’t, shouldn’t we expect them to trail all manner of disordered eating patterns, up to and including over-consumption?