Another day, another food report, and the food industry and boss-eyed libertarians are foaming at the mouth again. Henry Dimbleby publishes Part One of The National Food Strategy in which he puts the boot into some of the food industry’s more egregious excesses, and the government suggests a few, mild controls over what we eat and how we eat it, and the words ‘Nanny State’ leap from column and caption, tweet and and blog as the food industry and its apologists would have us believe some inalienable right is being snatched from us by Nanny.
Bollocks. For once I’m all in favour of Nanny.
If there’s one single act that would improve the health of the nation, lighten the burden on the NHS and replenish to coffers of the state, it is that we eat half of what we consume in a daily basis.
A government has a fundamental responsibility to guard the health and security of the people if they cannot guard themselves. Demonstrably when it comes to food we’ve shown we cannot guard ourselves. As a nation we’ve been overeating in general and overeating rubbish in particular pretty much since the last war.
If nothing else, Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus the perfect storm into which we’ve been blithely heading. We have an epidemic of obesity that starts with children and continues through all ages and all levels of society. And as a consequence of obesity we have Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related diseases coursing though the country, decimating the working, and so tax-paying, part of the population at a time when the demand on health services by the above mentioned diet-sickoes, and an ever-increasing army of old people, is growing exponentially. Diminishing tax base + increasing demand on Nanny’s piggy bank = ? Work it out for yourself. If this doesn’t call for action by the state, I don’t know what does
Far more people will die by burger, stuffed-crust pizza and pot noodle or be left debilitated by them than will be killed or left debilitated by Covid-19. We tolerate state intervention to help us deal with the latter, so why not the former?
As members of society we already happily (or even reluctantly) accept restrictions on our actions for the greater good of the greater number. We tolerate interventions by the Nanny State when it finances the NHS, forks out untold millions to keep the economy from vanishing in a puff of Covid-19, creates support systems for people who have no work or suffer from disabilities, bails out the banks, underwrites the arts and so on and so on. Why should food be any different?. The consequences of eating too much crap diminishes the health of the nation as well as the health of the exchequer. In the long run it will make us all poorer.
When it comes to a little social engineering to stop us from getting ill and dying because we eat too much, the Nanny State is immediately invoked as the enemy of liberty, the enemy of choice, the enemy of The People, when what is really at issue is the sharp reduction in the profits of supermarkets and food companies that would be the result.
The small steps that the government are making to redress the abuse – self and corporate – of decades are long overdue. Of course, as consuming individuals we have personal responsibility for what we eat. We choose what we pop into our mouths, but those choices are framed by experience, income, knowledge and information, and those vary across all levels of society. Some of us need help to make the sensible choices. It’s that that Mr Dimbleby and the government are attempting to address. It’s a sure sign that they’re doing something right when vested interests start howling like banshees.
We’d do well to call to mind those lines for Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tale, ‘Jim’
‘And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.’