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Who is responsible for what we eat?

Interesting note: Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, was on BBC Breakfast this morning, talking about healthy eating and whose responsibility it is to help make Britain slim.

(Note that yesterday’s news featured recent findings that Britain is now the fattest country in Europe.)

King accepted some responsibility on behalf of supermarkets for helping us all eat well (which shows the UK socialist perspective that says that the government — and big companies — should be looking out for the common good. I’m sure Sainsbury’s is looking to earn some “good guy points” by trying to help out with the public health issue of obesity). But when asked if Sainsbury should be steering people away from bad food, he replied, “There is no such thing as bad food, only bad diets.”

This statement caught my attention. Does it hold water? Does it work here because the UK doesn’t have Twinkies or Cool-Whip? While the US may boast (to my view) a larger market for food that is pretty devoid of nutritional value, what about UK favourites like Jaffa cakes or pork scratchings that seem to offer little to a functioning human body? (Not to mention are disgusting)

Putting aside the fact that I’m sure Sainsbury’s make significant profits from their junk food and probably wouldn’t want to jeopardise that by steering away the munchie-prone, I’m not sure the recommendation actually has the public’s best interest at heart.
Mr King has implied that we can enjoy our mayonnaise with chips, our pasties and our clotted cream. As long as they’re diluted by enough fruits and veggies, Sainsbury’s will rest secure in the knowledge that they’ve done their bit to look out for our wastelines. It’s nice to know that they’re looking after us, but somehow I don’t feel great at the prospect of a full diet of fat and junk, plus then the good stuff. Funny equation he’s recommending.

It’s probably the American capitalist in me speaking, but maybe we should leave nutritional recommendations to the Food Standards Agency and let the grocery companies get on with their own agendas: generating profits. Just a thought.


3 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    This is one of those statements that is technically correct, but pragmatically useless if interpreted in so technical a way. The statement “There are no bad foods” is correct insofar as a person suffering from mild starvation will gain very useful calories from a package of Jaffa Cakes. However, you could extend this logic to further state that “There are no good foods,” insofar as a diet consisting only of bananas will kill you just as dead as a diet consisting only of Twinkies. Foods are only good or bad relative to your current nutritional needs, your genetic predispositions, and the remainder of your normal diet. It’s all personal.

  2. 2

    Personally, I disagree. I still think Jaffa cakes are bad food. But logically, I will concede your point. It just seemed to me to be a bit contradictory to be promoting healthy eating (when the original topic was obesity) by offering the public such carte blanche in their food choices.

    To their credit, Sainsbury’s are making an effort to better educate shoppers on nutritional content and RDAs with their Wheel of Health labelling, which should help. (As are Tesco, though one labelling system has little in common with the other.)

    And while we’re checking logic, I’ll admit to making an assumption that the underlying issue here that should be addressed is food choice. But I think the media made the same assumption, hence inviting the head of a major supermarket to discuss the obesity findings in the first place.

  3. 3

    That’s what I meant by “pragmatically useless” – for 99.9% of their intended consumers, Jaffa Cakes should be classified as “food that’s bad for me in my current state.” This makes them as close to bad food as you can get.

    The tendency to reward ourselves with bad food is a whole different thing. Not unlike rewarding yourself by paying someone to choose something from your wardrobe and set it on fire, just because you really get a kick out of fire.

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