The various ingredients of our junk food culture | Food

As a retired child protection social worker, I’ve long thought the link between obesity and socioeconomic status would benefit from a little more blunt analysis (“We need to break the cycle of junk food”: how to fix Britain’s broken food system, 30 November). Sometimes it’s not about being too poor to buy nutritious food; it’s much more about subcultures – more socio and less economic.

So what have I been through? I’ve looked in customers’ kitchen cupboards to see what they feed their children, and much of it is indeed junk food. I placed working-class children in middle-class foster homes where they complained bitterly about being fed organic fruit, not crisps and pop.

I have seen call centers fail to stop visiting parents from bringing their children the least nutritious food imaginable. It’s not about income; indeed it is often about working class food cultures and middle class “benefactors” in the traditional way, trying but failing to tell them what to do, and encountering entrenched resistance.

In part, it’s historical: the workers, the post-industrial revolution, stuffing as many cheap calories as possible – white bread, sugar, jam. Part of it is the misery of being poor or marginalized, of needing a little something to cheer you up, to dull the edge of everything, be it cookies or cigarettes.

Partly, I’m not sure everyone knows how to cook from scratch, how to make cheap ingredients appealing. There’s also something about the thought, “Why should I do this when I can get things ready made?” Even food banks report that people like being given tea, coffee and sugar because they feel cared for, while malnutrition increases.

These are not easy factors to undo, and will perhaps call for generational changes and a less unequal society. But let’s start with a lucid examination of the multiple causes.
Sylvie Rose
Totnes, Devon

According to your article, Tim Lang, Emeritus Professor of Food Policy at City, University of London, suggested that the Food Standards Agency was not fit to provide the National food strategy because as a non-ministerial government department it “did not have the power to do anything significant”.

I would argue that being an independent government department is beneficial to the FSA, which was established in 2000 to protect public health and the broader food interests of consumers.

The agency’s website states that its “policies, decisions and opinions are based on the best available scientific evidence and analysis, including the opinions of independent experts”. Basically, it operates transparently, with council meetings held in public, and commits to publishing its advice to ministers.

Therefore, the government should be more forthcoming than usual and explain precisely why it was willing to ignore or reverse the FSA’s thoughtful and unbiased recommendations.

I think most of us would prefer that any discussion of the implementation of the National Food Strategy take place openly, in public, rather than behind the closed doors of an anonymous ministry.
Mike Pender
Former Head of AgricultureWales Food Standards Agency

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