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Diana Cairns (Edinburgh)

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Bad Food Britain: How A Nation Ruined Its Appetite
Bad Food Britain: How A Nation Ruined Its Appetite
by Joanna Blythman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.99

90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to stomach, 18 Aug 2006
Joanna Blythman is too polite; she should have called this, her latest book, "C**p Food Britain", as a lot of what we eat - from Turkey Twizzlers to deep-fried Mars bars - is not too far off this description. In an excoriating attack on our food culture, the author holds the mirror up to Britain's abusive relationship with food and it's not a pretty sight. The book contains a litany of crimes against food: the tarted-up slurry we feed our children at home and at school, the prefabricated meals masquerading as "home-cooked" in pubs and restaurants and the fear induced by food scandals born out of the overwhelming desire for cheap food.

She explodes the myth of Britain as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, cappuccino drinking, Michelin-starred restaurant frequenting, organic goat's milk yogurt slurping and rare-breed pork sausage-gobbling foodie nation by giving us the facts on the sad, brutal reality. Here are some frightening statistics: in 2003 Britain ate more ready meals than the rest of Europe put together; Britain eats more than half of all the crisps and savoury snack in Europe; 40% of all food bought in Britain ends up in the bin; one out of three Britons do not eat vegetables because they are too much effort to prepare; by 2020 at least a third of all British adults, one fifth of British boys and on third of British girls will be obese. Of course we are out of kilter with Europe in how we deal with food. We prefer, lemming-like, to follow our cousins across the pond who are several years further down the road of mass obesity and a junk food culture so pervasive that it is actually incredibly difficult to buy and eat healthy food even if you want to.

The book amply demonstrates our problems with food: we don't really enjoy it very much: we have become disconnected from the pleasure that good food can bring; we don't see the point of it; we don't have time for it; we're afraid of it; we have become divorced from its origins and in fact don't like to be reminded where it comes from. Every week we hear conflicting advice about what is or isn't good for you. Governments shy away, under the huge pressure exerted by the food industry, from giving hard messages about the impact of nutritionally valueless food. Thus we are told you can eat any old junk as long as you exercise (remember James Fixx, the American runner who lived to that dictum and collapsed and died of a heart attack?), and that there is no such thing as bad foods, only bad diets.

This book is gripping if extremely uncomfortable reading and because of that should be prescribed reading. Why is everyone not talking about it? Maybe because we are in denial: we don't want to hear the truth about how distorted and perverted our relationship with food has become because then we would have to do something about it. What can we do about it? First read the book, then heed the author's advice: "eat as little processed food as possible and base your diet on home-cooked meals made from scratch from raw ingredients". Simple really and you could save yourself more than just a few pounds.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2010 6:49 PM GMT

Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets
Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets
by Joanna Blythman
Edition: Paperback

100 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IGNORE THIS BOOK AT YOUR PERIL, 12 Jun 2004
Everyone who shops in supermarkets should read this book. You will end up wondering how we sleepwalked into a situation where the control of 80% of the food retail market is in the hands of a tiny group of greedy retailers who now want to move in on the non-food retail market and have total domination of all retail everywhere.
Joanna Blythman carefully dissects the entrails of the world of supermarkets with the sang-froid of a pathologist in a mortuary, from the way staff are induced into the mindless mantras of Asda Wal-Mart to the way suppliers are mercilessly screwed to the wall and dropped from favour on a whim as in some royal court of the past.
The picture portrayed of the abuse of power employed by the supermarkets conjures up a feeling of complete horror, yet it is done in a completely non-hysterical way, allowing the facts speak for themselves. For example, far from creating jobs, every time a large superstore opens, there is a net loss of 276 jobs; two thirds of butchers have gone out of business in the last twenty-five years; during 2001 one small newsagent closed very day and researchers predict that by 2050 there will be no independent food stores left in the UK - what's that supermarkets are always saying about "choice"?
Whilst researching her book, the author toured around the UK looking at what she calls "the neutron-bomb effect" superstores have on small businesses and how they have contributed to the decline of communities, where all you see are boarded up shops, charity shops, video rental shops and fast food outlets. This all conjures up a depressing vision of the UK where there seems to be very little political will to try and stop the supermarket juggernaut. However, there are some useful tips at the end of the book on how we as individuals can take action against this unhealthy state of affairs, for example, by using your local shops; by questioning the whole supermarket paradigm; by cutting up your loyalty card; by writing to your MP, to name but a few.
This is an intelligently written, riveting and very readable book which systematically explodes all the myths we have been fed by the supermarket marketing machine. It is not a ranting, political polemic but a strongly-reasoned argument by someone who knows the world of food inside out and who cares passionately that we have allowed this disaster to happen.
If you ever wondered why all ready meals taste the same, why supermarket fruit and veg looks great and tastes of nothing, if you ever wondered about the real cost of "cheap" food then read this book. Get angry. Then DO something about it.

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