Let’s take the lid off the food chain

Yvonne Roberts says the appropriate response to the latest food
scare is not panic but joined-up thinking.

Life’s a killer. If the carrots don’t cudgel you to death with
an excess of Vitamin D, then the reviving cup of coffee will leave
a calling card for cancer. In William Golding’s book Lord of
the Flies
, only Piggy, among the marooned boys, suffered from
asthma. Now, it would strike at 30 per cent of children – with
another 20 per cent swearing they were vulnerable. Ordinary,
everyday living, we’re constantly warned, is a monumental risk. So
be afraid, be very afraid.

Wheat, peanuts, dairy foods, meat, salmon or skin cream;
climbing mountains or becoming sedentary, not enough exercise or
jogging too much, hiding your anger or letting it all out, too much
red wine or too little; sex or celibacy. Every move we make, every
breath we take apparently engages us in a game of Russian

Open the Daily Mail regularly and you soon understand
that one of the most dangerous zones of all isn’t, say, politically
volatile Myanmar or the Middle East. No, it’s that terrifying state
– Being a Woman. Osteoporosis, saggy bottoms, postnatal depression,
deserted wife syndrome, mucked-up cosmetic surgery survivor, an
addiction to married men/alcohol/drugs/ shopping, unhappy
high-flyer career sickness – it goes on and on. Day after day,
those snapping crocodiles, otherwise known as “women’s problems”,
take a bite out of what’s left of female self-esteem.

Last week, the latest quicksand in the jungle that is modern
living was revealed: soya sauce. Or, more precisely, certain brands
of soya sauce popular in takeaway recipes which now, it transpires,
may also contain carcinogens. Immediately, London’s China Town
reported a slump in sales.

You probably have to drink a couple of litres of soya sauce
every day for a month before its killer tentacles mobilise. Still,
we’re nothing if not good at a panic reaction. So, for the next few
weeks, dust bins across the land will overflow with discarded
bottles, dragged from the back of the cupboard and already past
their sell-by date.

It’s bizarre that while we respond strongly to these instant
alerts, long-running concerns about the food chain that require a
radical, holistic response have much less of an appeal.

For decades, for instance, we have feasted on rubbish.
“Wholesome”, “farm fresh” “home made” products have long equated
with too much sugar, additives, whale blubber, bone marrow and
other ingredients so gross that they are disguised in
pseudo-scientific shorthand on labels.

We’ll swallow this reconstituted fodder happily and wholesale,
distracted only temporarily by the occasional plague of BSE or a
dose of foot and mouth. Organic produce still represents only a
tiny proportion of the market. “Scares”, however, switch on the
neon lights – not least, perhaps, because they spotlight our
personal sense of guilt.

Instead of joining up the dots to draw a picture in which the
politics of food production should raise enormous concerns,
manufacturers are happy for us to believe that responsibility lies
with the individual to act “sensibly”, weed out the occasional
problem item from the shopping basket and worry away at achieving
that impossible ideal – the risk-averse life of moderation.

If you swallow that, you’ll swallow anything.

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