Socialist Worker

Spud you don't like

by Roger Protz
Issue No. 1820

NEWSPAPERS REPORT that we are eating fewer potatoes. The British Potato Council says sales of fresh potatoes fell dramatically in the past ten years. At the start of the 1990s 80 percent of potatoes were bought as nature intended. Today only around half of all the spuds consumed in Britain come as real potatoes.

We are buying ever greater amounts of processed frozen chips that are heated in ovens or blasted in microwaves. At the same time, there is enormous concern about the rising number of people - young people in particular - who are obese.

The American sickness of eating fast food saturated with sugar and fat is now infecting Britain as we tuck into fatty burgers and snacks, washed down with fizzy drinks rich in addictive sugar or sugar substitutes. We watch hours of television devoted to celebrity chefs teaching us how to cook an egg or peel a banana, but we are cooking less.

That means we are abandoning fresh, wholesome food for processed foods stuffed with chemicals and additives to give them 'shelf life'. The problem is that shelf life is bad for human life. Eric Schlosser's magnificent book Fast Food Nation destroys any lingering doubts we may have about fast food. The reason a US-style burger is cheap is because it comes from the cheapest cuts of meat.

That meat is often ground up and mixed with parts of animals not usually considered safe or pleasant for human consumption. Atrociously treated Animals are raised in dreadful factory farm conditions, while farm workers and workers in meat processing plants are poorly paid, atrociously treated and denied union rights. Cheap food comes with an expensive price tag. It not only makes us fat, it also encourages heart disease and cancer.

But the Blair government is more interested in helping US giants such as Monsanto to develop genetically modified plants in Britain than in tackling the problem of bad health linked to diet. It is a myth that we enjoy cheap food in Britain. It's cheap only because farmers receive enormous subsidies to grow certain types of food. We pay for those subsidies out of our taxes. It's been estimated that if all the subsidies were stopped then conventional food would actually be more expensive than organically produced food.

On top of farm subsidies - most of which go into the pockets of rich farmers - there is the hidden cost of the danger to the environment of flooding the land with nitrates, fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals. Chemicals not only kill wildlife and poison rivers - they also make us ill. Lincolnshire for example, one of the country's major agricultural counties, has a level of breast cancer 40 percent higher than the national average as a result of the chemicals sprayed on the land.

Because of 'chemical drift' those poisons are carried by the wind into towns and cities. The government should - but won't - switch subsidies from chemical farming to organic farming so that organic food can be bought by working people, not just those with higher incomes.

The government should - but won't - launch a national campaign to encourage us to eat well, because that would upset its chums who grow chemical food and sell it with the aid of huge advertising budgets. Meanwhile, we all go to hell on a hamburger.

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Sat 5 Oct 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1820
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