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posted on 5th August 2021 by Ria Menon

When we’re lingering at the open fridge door wondering what to eat, are we acting on our own free will? The majority of us believe we make independent choices at our own discretion. But in terms of eating, are our food choices consciously made, or do they operate through our unconscious or subconscious minds?

This is at the centre of the obesity debate: many blame those that are overweight for not having the ‘mental strength’ to control their appetites. However, humans are frequently unaware of the allure of certain environmental variables, such as food priming or portions, that are captivating us into consuming more. Our own obliviousness to these stimuli means that many of us refuse to accept we might have less control than we think.

The recent BBC documentary ‘What are we feeding our kids? exposed that the availability of vast quantities of industrialised food has led to a massive increase in obesity in the UK. One kid described their fridge as a ‘black hole’ sucking him in illustrated the power of ultra-processed foods. The programme underlines that the boom in obesity has not been driven so much by a change in human nature but rather in our food environment.

Whilst presenting the documentary, doctor Chris Van Tulleken shifted his 20% ultra-processed diet to 80% and found himself unable to stop eating. Tullenken’s brain changes, after his diet, ‘lit up like an addict’s’. He reported having a 30% increase in his Ghrelin hormone, stimulating appetite, and a big decrease in his leptin hormone, which makes us feel full.

None of us are in control of the hormones our brains release, and most of us remain uninformed about how they work. This reinforces ‘the determinist perspective’, supporting the idea that we are not fully making our own choices. The food industry profits from this play on our unconscious minds.

What makes this particularly pernicious is that our capitalist society spouts a hypocritical double standard. Whilst the food industry pushes obesity-driving foods, adverts for fashion and beauty continue to push us to remain stick thin.

Food priming through advertising is another factor working against us. ‘Priming’ is a psychological effect in which exposure to a stimulus increases desire. An experiment conducted by Psychologist Jennifer Harris on how food choices might be silently relegated to the unconscious found that children who watch food ads on TV ate a shocking 45% more snacks than those who watched non-food ads.

Anyone who has driven passed McDonalds’ golden arches and suddenly found themselves hungry will have experienced how our bodies physically react to visual stimuli. Frequently displayed food symbols, alongside the display of special bulk deals, produce a multitude of priming signals in our brains which can elicit subconscious desires and actions to eat more than we would otherwise.

Then comes the burden of money. Perhaps one of the most telling eye-opening facts from Tulleken’s documentary was that healthy foods, like fruit and veg, are double the price per 100 calories than less healthy foods. No surprise then that 57% of calories consumed by the whole UK population are ultra-processed.

So, why is this relevant now? One in every 4 adults and 1 in every 5 children struggle with obesity. We cannot blame ourselves anymore: the truth is we are not completely liable for our eating habits. The head of Leon, Henry Dimbleby, published his proposals for a National Food Strategy this summer that the government is due to respond to in the autumn. We cannot afford not to act.

One option being explored by the government is to introduce regular school weigh-ins in England. This will do more harm than good, risking the negative impact on children’s mental health, risking a rise in bullying, and potentially triggering eating disorders.

In the government’s latest proposal, they claim that ‘empowering everyone with the right information to make healthier choices’ could be a clear solution, backing the free will stance. They also claim that ‘giving everyone a fair deal’ and ‘shaping the marketing to our children’ need to be implemented. Despite these positive words, action is yet to be taken. Whether the government is prepared to stand up to powerful multinational food corporations to deliver meaningful change remains to be seen.

Our society needs less of this blaming culture and more support to help everyone through this epidemic. Too many people are struggling with food choices and are misled into believing it is 100% their fault, when in reality, it is clearly not. To truly deliver change we need education, the reduction of vast quantities of industrialised food, increased affordability of healthier food and restrictions on food priming for children. Think before you blame someone for something that is not fully in their control.

This post was by Ria Menon, a Global Futures intern studying history, politics and psychology at A-Level. She feels passionately about ending global social injustices and believes that a deeper psychological understanding can help aid this.

Title photo credit thanks to Thomas Kelley at Unsplash.

posted on 26th July 2021

 ‘A green economy can sustain growth, probably the only thing that can’ 

A cross generational talk  with our guests Valerie Brown, who was interviewed in our book @EnglandOurEngland and has just ran for London Mayor in the last election for the Burning Pink Party whose mission to implement citizens assemblies and take power back to the people is a rallying call for activism, for the public to take back agency in their lives instead of handing it to the politicians. And Celeste Bell who is third generation migrant and has recently release a film about her mother, Poly Styrene of X- Ray Spexs . Poly’s belief in true liberation is portrayed so beautifully  in the sublime film ‘I am  a cliché’ https://play.google.com/store/movies/details?id=-80a0RWIDiU.P

London 1976 ; protests strikes dole queues rubbish piling up  disaffected working class and then the black youth anger towards the previous generation’s passivism, racist graffiti . Rock against racism coming together against the Enoch Powel rivers of blood speech and the fear of mixed-race children.

Britain made great strides for female emancipation with the Suffragettes movement of the early 20th Century but radical feminist representation from people like Poly Styrene are not to be underestimated. Celeste talks about Polys influential aesthetic and art-work

 Val as a young girl loneliness and finding belonging in the fringes as she didn’t quite fit the black Caribbean stereotype. Black punks/ska mixed groups provide sanctuary for the misfits.

Polys plastics obsession and how forward thinking the Hari Krishna’s were.

Did the protest movements of today achieve anything? How Citizens assemblies can control corporate greenwashing

The importance of young people’s involvement now but social media has their attention span ’switch off social media and switch on to the very crisis we are in’

The importance of  the generational legacy laid by the pioneer migrants as told in the book England Our England’. Click link to purchase your copy.

Music notes:  Intro Lord Kitchener ‘London Is The Place For Me’ and Outro music Poly Styrene ‘Oh Bondage! Up Your’s!’

posted on 16th July 2021 by Rosie Harrison-Nirawan
Are experts inadvertently fuelling a healthcare rebellion?

 

A team of metropolitan doctors gather in the unpopulated landscape of Khon Kaen province, North-East Thailand, known as Isan. Their mission is to convince the Isan people to stop eating the raw fish that is giving them bile duct cancer. Data shows that the parasite carried by the fish is one of the leading causes of death in the region, with one third infected with the fluke. But despite the severe risk to life, preventing the problem proves to be a much harder task than expected.

How could such a situation arise, where people willingly refuse to look after their own health? Alien and geographically distant as this may seem, this phenomenon is highly relevant to us, as an unfortunate blame is being laid on BAME communities often showing an ambivalence towards the Coronavirus vaccine. Lessons can be learnt from the Isan people in Thailand: both health issues have arisen out of a delicate situation wherein ethnic minorities with a historically problematic relationship with authority resort to self-harming behaviour in the face of worrying facts.

Such proud resistance recalls crowds cheering anti-vaccine comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the USA, to which Fauci expressed shock at people not wanting ‘to do something to save your life’.

The advice given by experts in Khon Kaen are emphatically rejected, with many people continuing to eat the fish as a symbol of socio-political allegiance. This fish is a cornerstone of Isan culture and an ancestral dish that defines the small, marginalised community. The inherently hierarchical act of educated, wealthy, urban doctors invading their space and confiscating an element of their heritage invites a sentiment of covert rebellion amongst the Isan population that results only in ill health and, in worse case scenarios, death. As doctors progress further into the realm of empiricism in their frustration, the polarisation between expert and rebel simply broadens.

It has long been known to psychologists that emotional attachments to group identities often take precedence over ‘rationality’. Indeed, evolution dictates that collective action within communities requires a teamwork mentality in order to ensure survival; nevertheless, in areas where authorities have a dubious history of abuse towards some of its citizens, it perhaps becomes common sense to resist the power of their ‘experts’.

To truly overcome this divide, a specific cultural sensitivity is essential. If lessons are to be learned, BAME people cannot undergo the same process of blame and degradation that the Isan people were victim to. Empathy is, perhaps, the key to connecting fact with emotion. Genuine, non-hierarchical conversations must be had in which there is an attempt to understand communities’ gestures of anger, what the concept of wellbeing means to them and how they can feel both culturally secure as well as healthy.

Building on an atmosphere of distrust is by no means simply solved through conversation. A multidisciplinary approach could, for example, examine historic relationships of power that continue to inform the ways in which marginalised communities feel towards governments and establishments.

People cannot be dismissed as stupid, small-minded, provincial or uncivilised before the systems in play regarding power, trust and cultural belonging are thoroughly examined through both talking and listening. The ‘Gunner Get Jabbed’ initiative at the Emirates Stadium was one such example of empathetic success, wherein several members of the black community were encouraged to get the vaccination in an environment that could relate the meaningful culture of football to their community and offer them access to this. Other such factors that could be played on for other communities include religious settings, community leaders and ethnic minority healthcare workers within the NHS who could both relay information about and deliver the vaccine.

It is an established fact that members of the BAME community are sadly more susceptible to death from Coronavirus, as discussed in Gurnek’s lens blog ‘Anti-Vaxxers Need More Empathy Than Judgement’. Indeed, an empathetic approach is not merely ‘kinder’, but the only effective way to ensure as many lives as possible can be saved from such a virus that does not exclude on the basis of skin colour. We all must lay aside our snobbery and adopt a lens of deep and informed understanding.

 

Rosie Harrison-Nirawan is a Global Future Intern studying History of Art and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Her combined love of art and literature reflects a wider interest in different cultures and the positive outcomes that can arise out of the ways in which they interact with one another.