Fetishist? No, just enjoying food and having fun

You Aren’t What You Eat takes pot shots at fetishistic ‘foodists’ while eulogising genetic engineeringists. I can only despair at its author’s warped logic.

Stephen Poole writes for The Guardian and has authored a fascinating book on video games in which he explores and describes video games as ‘semiotic systems that provoke aesthetic wonder.’

Time to confess.  Not many people know this, but I am in the very highest rank globally of players of the Raw Thrills arcade game ‘The Fast and the Furious.’ I am also (blush, blush) the world’s number one in Namco’s classic Propcycle game.  So I am well into the aesthetic wonder of arcade games, in the true Clive Bell sense of emotional immersive aesthetic experience. I get the buzz. Poole articulates what gamers like me feel when they play and gives intellectual backbone to what shallower souls would condemn as adolescent time-wasting.

So I Kindled this book with high anticipation.

His new book You Aren’t What You Eat sets out to debunk wide swathes of food culture.  Its basic premise is that we have ponced up food ridiculously, taking something as boring and fundamental as keeping alive and turned it into a recreational obsession.

With a title like that you’d think that he might have a proper go at Gillian McKeith. Indeed, he does, but she is a small player: he’s after much bigger game in his shooting gallery of culinary and gastronomic targets. In fact the people who get put down in this book are so admirable that I feel somewhat humbled to have been elevated to their company. Gwyneth Paltrow, the Prince of Wales, Heston Blumenthal, the Soil Association, Nigella, even the saintly Delia, all wither before his fire.  Even Elizabeth David gets a barb or two. But, when he finally gets to the subject matter of his title, it is Craig Sams that gets the kicking.

In this book the starving poor are dying because rich middle class liberal ‘foodists’ won’t let them enjoy the abundance and benefits of GM crops that will resist drought, insects and grow like billy-o.    There is a several page paean to Monsanto and the wonders of genetic engineering that could have been written in 1996, so naïve and credulous does it read.  The Soil Association care more about a ‘hunk of rock’ in space than they do about the people on it.  If vegetarians care so much about living things, why do they chop up innocent carrots?  Don’t look for logic or rationality here, this is a fogeyish rant.

I wondered at first what this book reminded me of and then I remembered: Kraft-Ebbing, author of Psychopathia Sexualis.  This was a 19th Century tract that pruriently described case histories of sexual antics of all kinds and then condemned them one by one as deviant and perverse.  In the days before freely available internet porn, i.e. back in the 50s when I was a lad, this sort of stuff was where adolescents got their sex education. We’d just skip that last tedious moralising bit at the end of each of the 238 case histories. You Aren’t What You Eat is the gastronomic equivalent.  There are lurid case histories of every aspect of ‘gastroporn,’ covering everything from the gluttony of ancient Rome and Mesopotamia right through to the latest blow-torched culinary excesses of Heston Blumenthal.   Each drooling description of foodie antics concludes with a sharp moralistic condemnation.  As with Kraft Ebbing, you get the voyeuristic thrill, then the shutters close and you get the moralistic lecture about the evils of letting things get out of hand.

This book is scatological and jizzological. The book is peppered with unattractive images of bulging fat gourmands dribbling over their food while people starve in the developing world.  We read of dung adulterating food in Victorian England, film scenes where poo featured (“Brazil”).  We see Nigella Lawson compared to a bukkake star with globs of glutinous caramel dripping from her lips onto her breasts.   Then, just when he gets you going, the cold water of moralisation puts out the fire. Again.  And again.  Sheesh!

I’m not sure that Poole gets the point of foodiesm.  He tries to take it too seriously. Food is fun. We love it.  It’s a chance for us to let our hair down and get a bit frisky and to get out of our ruts.  We eat to live and we live to reproduce.  We love food and we love sex.   We love them because they are F-U-N.  Serious fun. As long as nobody gets hurt, what’s the problem?

Perhaps the answer lies in his attack on me.  Like every faithful reader of NPN, he has read my article on Epigenetics, which sets out the diametrically opposite argument to the title of his book.   You remember, the one where I wrote about the recent discoveries by molecular biologists that your DNA changes in response to dietary and environmental factors and that these changes become ingrained in your children and grandchildren.   So I wrote

“There is a responsibility here, too – we owe it to future generations to do right by them.  We may have bankrupted their financial future, but we shouldn’t plunder their piggybank of health as well.”

Sorry, I know this review is about Poole’s book, not about me, but you’ll see where I’m going with this.

He goes on to acknowledge (he must have read the same Guardian article last year that I did) that this food-changes-your-DNA thing does make sense.  So…you are what you eat.  Ah, but the trials were with rats, Poole writes, so let’s not jump to any premature conclusions abjout whether food will change human DNA. Well, I’m as sensitive as the next anti-vivisectionist, but if you believe the science then what happens to lab rats is a pretty good indicator of what happens to people.  He knows he’s on weak ground here, so he changes tack and goes after me for guilt-tripping parents to make them enjoy delicious wholesome food instead of whatever Poole would have them eat.   Nobody likes a blackmailer and Poole’s response to my  ‘moral blackmail’ is presumably to eat a Mega Mac and chips just to show his grandkids that they can’t intimidate him about their heredity.

But this is the heart of the matter. Either you are or you are not what you eat. You can’t be both. Poole admits that you indeed are what you eat but then says that we shouldn’t feel morally blackmailed by future generations to pass healthy DNA to them. OK, screw future generations, but I still want my DNA to be pretty healthy. If there are genetic causes of disease and food changes your genes for good or for bad then food can be a cause of disease. This is the ‘You are what you eat’ argument proved by the science of epigenetics, begrudgingly agreed by the author of a book that has a title that states the opposite.

Confused? Just keep eating the GMOs and for goodness sakes, don’t have any fun while you’re at it!

Do as I say, not as I do. World leaders eat organic, push GM

Our democratically elected leaders have a nasty track record of forcing GM food on their citizens while quietly eating organic at home

We are all used to voting for politicians on the basis of promises that are broken as soon as the election is over. Why can’t they just do as they say?  Our elected leaders have power, but it is constrained. The highest and mightiest Presidents and Prime Ministers must still kneel before higher authorities: the barons of the press, industry, agribusiness, oil, war, drugs and finance.
This is the distortion that makes democracy so disappointing.  We elect our leaders so they can create the society we want, but they have to support interests that conflict with what is best for society.  The result is climate change, pollution, war, banksterism and disease
The organic movement was founded on selfish but noble ideals.  If we look after the soil on this planet, then we can enjoy the fruits of that soil in a balanced healthy diet without fear.  The Soil Association, the founding organisation of the global organic movement, built this philosophy into its name.  Sounds obvious, but if you are an agrichemical company or if you just want to rape the land and move on then such high-minded idealism can be an obstacle to enriching the bottom line.  Short-termism is where the money lies.  The more costs you can externalise, the more profit reaches the bottom line.
We have suffered inexplicable and inexcusable stupidity from successive governments when it comes to the food supply.  Whether it’s permitting toxic pesticides, GM, or subsidising biofuels, rational behaviour is absent. Organic farming has been treated by our governments as a marginal activity that is for middle class eccentrics and freaky hippies who refuse to grow up.
So what are these freaks like when they’re at home?
David Cameron – Tory Farming Minister Jim Paice tells the 2012 Oxford Farming Conference we can’t go on ignoring the benefits of GM foods.   But at home in the Cotswolds, Samantha Cameron sensibly shops at Daylesford Farm Shop, a resolutely organic store that proudly never stocks GM foods and sells organic vegetables, meat, baked goods and dairy products produced on the farm.
Barack Obama – promised GM foods would be labelled if he got elected. Now he opposes labelling.  He brutally overrode the USA Supreme Court to allow GM alfalfa and sugar beets.  But at home his wife Michelle turns the White House garden organic so that the Obama family have a safe local food supply
Mitt Romney – steered Monsanto onto the GM track in the 70s; his Agricultural Advisory Committee is headed by Monsanto lobbyist Randy Russel and packed with other Monsanto supporters.  But at home Mitt himself only eats organic, (especially his favourite peanut butter and honey sandwiches). In 1998 Romney’s wife Ann got off intravenous steroids for her multiple sclerosis and successfully restored her health with organic food and acupuncture, which she now sticks to religiously
Bill and Hillary Clinton – Bill strongarmed the EU to accept GM when he was President.  Hillary still pushes GM worldwide.  But at home, according to their executive chef at the White House, the food they ate was organic and Hillary had a pesticide-free roof garden.
George W Bush – Promoted GM and tried to weaken organic standards.  But at home Laura Bush insisted that all food in the White House was organic
Tony Blair – expressed ‘frustration’ with people who opposed GM and called opposition a ‘flash in the pan.’  But at home his wife Cherie told me: “I can’t wait to tell my husband that I met the man who makes his favourite chocolate!”
Notice a pattern here?
In China – the Special Food Supply Center supplies China’s political elite with organic, strictly non-GM food including hormone- and antibiotic-free meat. However, recent government incentives have led to 40% annual organic market growth in the past 5 years, so there is a trickle down effect
What on earth is the point of democracy if all it achieves is a healthy natural lifestyle for a handful of our rulers while they hypocritically impose dangerous, untested GM foods and carcinogenic pesticides on the rest of us?