Selling foods known to cause heart disease? No problem. Selling food raised in a community garden? Big problem
It's time the Vatican classed this as a miracle: politicians can promise to cut fat without cutting services and keep as much populist credibility as ever.
Despite all the promises I make to myself to stay calm and centred while others choose their personal path to planetary destruction, the ways of this miracle got to me recently. The occasion was the recent release by the Britain-based World Cancer Research Fund of an 850-page study linking red and processed meats to bowel and colon cancers.
Public response to this report gave me the clue I needed. Just follow the empty words, dead silences and non-events that greeted the information to see what got cut by governments during years of "cutting flab without cutting services."
Both the chair of the research team and the British officer of health recommended that people should consider cutting down on red and processed meats. What about people who don't know there's a risk? I wondered, perhaps because the report got virtually no media coverage or perhaps because there are no warnings on the meat labels that consumers see when shopping. And why should people only consider cutting down rather than actually cutting down?
I wondered if medical officers of health from years back would have suggested that drivers consider wearing seat belts or consider slowing down near schools and children's playgrounds. Did old-style officers of health put all the onus of considering on individuals?
I also wondered if what got cut when no services and only fat got cut was what used to be called general fiduciary responsibility, the government's duty of trust and care.
Then my mind wandered to how major food trends of recent decades have gone unregulated. Plastic bottles: no problem. TV ads pitched to infants: no problem. Setting up junk food outlets near schools: no problem. Vendor carts selling foods known to cause heart disease: no problem. Mergers of corporate giants and corporate takeovers of small competitive upstarts: no problem.
I will continue. Sales of food imports sprayed with pesticides and produced with labor practices illegal in the importing country: no problem. Genetic engineering unlabelled and unregulated: no problem. Radiated foods unlabelled: no problem. Foreign corporate purchases of farmland: no problem. Widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides: no problem. Processed foods laden with salt at levels known to cause heart disease: no problem.
Corn sugar unregulated: no problem. Sugary and fatty snacks advertised and sold everywhere, including gas stations: no problem.
Then I considered trends that have remained marginal and noted that they've all been subject to the long arm of the law. Vendor carts that sell nutritious and fresh foods: big problem. Products that truthfully advertise "no GE ingredients": big problem. Government health ads that encourage eating less fat: big problem. (Eat more lean meats is fine; less of anything is a no-no.)
Community gardens in parks: big ordeal. Farmers' market in public space: big ordeal. Splitting up large farms into affordable small farms in rural areas: big problem. Selling unpasteurized milk with a clear label: huge problem. Farm-based food processing: huge ordeal. Selling food raised in a community garden: big problem. Government purchasing of local and sustainable food: big ordeal. Local slaughterhouses supporting local farms and humane animal practices: huge ordeal.
All of this explains how government cuts are quicker than the eye. Refraining from cutting old services diverts the public's untrained eye while the trick is performed in other areas. In fact, it's not services that people need to keep their eye on, but public rights to information and protection, and the government's duty of care, especially for the weak and defenceless, the very people who are least able to "consider" their choices.
A word to the wise is not sufficient.