We went to 5×15 Stories’ Food Fight last night in London. With Jamie Oliver, George Monbiot, A.A Gill, Dr Michael Mosley and Dr Philip James on the line-up, it was a great opportunity to hear what five well-respected speakers had to say on the topic of food and obesity.
Over the course of an hour and half we experienced a whistle-stop tour through facts, theories and assumptions about food, disease and the causes of escalating obesity in this country.
Journalist George Monbiot expounded the virtues of vegetarianism, claiming he had turned his back on chain-eating cheese for a diet that excludes any ingredients originating from farmed animals. He no longer craves fat and believes that farmed livestock is putting an intolerable strain on our planet and our waistbands.
5:2 diet aficionado Dr Michael Mosley revealed that at medical school, he learned nothing about nutrition. What’s more, his son, a current medical student, is not learning anything about it either. No wonder then, that many obese patients struggle to get support from their GPs to lose weight. Dr Mosley turned to 5:2 to reverse his own Type 2 diabetes and he succeeded. He still finds himself craving sugar, admitting that his daughter refused to speak to him after he secretly devoured her Easter egg.
It seems that even the best of us eat sometimes not because of hunger, but because of something deeper. Columnist A. A Gill delved into the topic of emotional eating, acknowledging “everything about food is about feelings”. He talked of the deep-seated connection between food and memory. “Food is about pleasure, hospitality and who we are as people,” he said.
Dr Philip James told us that 40% of food bought in Britain today is done so on promotion. Post World War Two, farmers were given huge subsidies to produce high-energy foodstuffs. Prices of meat, fat and sugar tumbled and so too did our physical activity levels, as technological improvements gathered pace.
Dr James doesn’t believe that education is the answer to rising obesity rates. Educational programmes have been running since the 1980s. Most people know what healthy food looks like, but it costs three times as much as high-fat, high-sugar, low-nutrition alternatives. “To change our obesity levels,” he said, ‘we must change the way our food system works.”
George Monbiot agreed: “Point the finger of blame not at the individual,” he said, “but at the corporations who load our food with sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. We must fight the food industry in the same way that we have fought the tobacco industry.”
Jamie Oliver has begun a well-publicised battle on sugar. He submitted an extensive 50-point plan to tackle childhood obesity to the Government, which is scheduled to publish its strategy on the topic in March or April. Oliver seemed downbeat about the potential for change. “We are really messed up,” he said. “This Government has an opportunity to completely change our food environment.” But can, and will, they take on the might of the food industry to do so?