At a time when the food industry is both imperilling the planet and ourselves, a new book argues that it's time for the government to step inby Jane Shilling / May 7, 2019 / Leave a comment
“For most people across the world, life is getting better, but diets are getting worse. This is the bittersweet dilemma of eating in our times.” In her fifth book on food and eating, Bee Wilson suggests that changes in global eating habits since the mid-20th century have brought us to the point at which it is “becoming abundantly clear that the way most of us currently eat is not sustainable—either for the planet or for human health.” While world hunger has declined dramatically, “malnutrition in all its forms now affects one in three people on the planet,” with a rapid increase in obesity and diseases such as hypertension and stroke, diabetes and cancer.
The causes of this global food crisis are complex. Wilson identifies post-war industrial farming, the increasing dominance of huge multinational food companies and the consequent homogenisation and nutritional impoverishment of the global diet. In addition, social factors such as time scarcity, the ubiquity of ready-made food and the distraction of electronic devices have fundamentally altered our relationship with food: “We talk far too much about food as an amusing leisure activity and far too little about food in terms of basic human needs.”
The alternatives to endless snacking and junk food are scarcely less bleak: Wilson’s account of the ruinous effects of avocado production on the Mexican environment and farming population is enough to give the most fervent clean eater pause: “When we buy the latest trendy health food,” she notes, “we do not anticipate that the people who produce it will suffer.”
If we ever look back on our eating habits with the same dismay with which we now regard smoking or drink-driving, Wilson suggests that we will have to overcome our resistance to government intervention. Alongside early education, she argues, we need economic policies that make healthy food more affordable, and a change in the workplace attitude that only wimps stop for lunch.
The Way We Eat Now: Strategies for Eating in a World of Change by Bee Wilson is published by Fourth Estate (£12.99)