on 21 June 2006
If you're thinking "Oh no, not another book telling me what to eat!" then breathe easy. Joanna Blythman's targets are not parents struggling against a flood of junk food adverts on kids TV. She doesn't try to make you feel guilty for not being part of the "foodie revolution"
This book shatters the myths built by our processed food industry, the supermarkets and the chattering classes. It takes apart the claims that we are now a nation of foodies enjoying exquisite meals and dining at world-class British restaurants. It's full of frightening facts - did you know that four times the amount is spent on feeding an army dog than is spent on the ingredients for a primary child's school meal? It shows how debased our food culture in Britain has become, who's to blame for it and how we can start to sort it out.
Read it. Get angry and do something about it.
on 22 June 2006
I love Joanna Blythman. Her book The Food We Eat changed my life (I guess it arrived at precisely the right time for me), and I loved Shopped too. But Bad Food Britain is her angriest yet, and the indignation makes it fly. The picture she paints, from food-ignorance and incompetence being handed down from generation to generation, the ever-tightening grip of the food multinationals, the opiate lure of supermarkets, the parlous state of school and hospital food, our masochistic attitude to snacking, to the big punchline ie. the failure of government to take anything like a useful stance on this most fundamental of all public health and sociel cohesion issues, is as depressing as hell. And an essential read for anyone who believes that a nation and a culture is what it eats.
on 15 March 2009
Bad Food Britain - good title but unfortunately Joanna takes a full book to say what a decent newspaper article could do, herein is my problem.
The main premise of the book is that pre-packaged frozen food is the main staple of the British diet juxtapositioned against the european household, which seemingly is a bastion of fresh, fabulous creations for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, whereby hundreds of family members laugh, converse, debate and generally live life to the fullest around the dining table never eating the same meal twice in any one decade....and the lonely individuals which make up the British 2.4 family eat in front of the flickering idiot box with chemically prepared mush in front of them like zombies never taking their eyes off the magical screen (ironically watching some *superstar* chef prepare eggs bendict by first inseminating the hen live) etc... etc..
Whilst the reality may not be too far from this scenario, what Joanna has failed to do is to flesh the book out with some solid factual information about what exactly these "artificial" ingredients actually are and why they are actually harmful to us.
This information would have given some credence to her writing and some interesting insight into the food industry. She does touch on the sneaky yet very clever way that the advertisers get people to buy into the whole "fresh and wholesome" idea of their chemically produced fare but she doesn't really give anything more.
I would recommend "Fast Food Nation" or "Fat Land" over this 2D analysis of the British diet. And just for the record, I do buy fresh produce - I do cook even after a long day at work - I am an average Briton...C'est la vie.
on 18 August 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.
on 17 October 2006
You don't have to be a fanatic about food to enjoy this book. It is well written and extremely well researched. Joanna Blythman is able to draw examples from so many sources to back up her thesis.I found myself laughing out loud at some points-not what you would expect from a book on the sad state of the nation's attitude to food.
It is a real insight into how our attitudes to food have developed and is a powerful argument against the complacency which might suggest that things have improved here in Britain.
This is a book for those interested in food politics, for social historians and for those who wonder why we are the fattest nation in Europe.
on 18 June 2008
This passionate polemic is readable and entertaining throughout. Blythman has an argument to make and deploys anecdote and statistics to do so, but the real strength of her approach is its breadth.
We are used to reading about our bad food: it's the supermarkets' fault; it's schools' faults; we have too much fast food; it's farmers' fault for not caring for animal welfare or the environment; or it's the government's fault. But Blythman while acknowledging all of these co-conspirators locates the blame squarely in the culture we all share.
Each of the above offenders only succeed, she argues, because they deliver to the British public what they want. No one culprit is to blame, but a vicious circle means ever worsening food backs them all up.
One satisfying aspect of this approach is that the TV backlash against mass produced food, the much-reviewed London restaurants or the Dr Gillian McKeiths of our world are not presented as heroes but as part of the whole dysfucntional problem. In other words, this is not just the work of a foodie snob sneering at what poor people eat, she nails the food snobs too.
My main criticism of the book is that Blythman's counterpoint to our sad food culture, the culture in Europe, is too perfect to be true. She gives good examples of how things are better in Europe (and few would argue they are not) but her vision is somewhat idealised and generalised.
In addition, she could, like many journalists, really bolster her analysis if she had an appreciation of the world beyond Europe and the US. In Japan and South East Asia there are important lessons to be learned about the erosion and preservation of food culture, but we never hear about them.
on 18 January 2008
Another book that had a huge impact on my shopping and consumer behaviour. Well written and d well argued, this should be essential reading for anyone who buys or eats food. Joanna writes well and fluidly, neatly skewering the irony of the nation that doesn't cook and lives on ready meals but is drowning in a slew of cookery books, magaines and food programs. She shines a powerful light on to the appalling state of child nutrition in schools, restaurants and homes. It's not a rant or a polemic however and there's also a great deal of humour and irony in her writing. Read this together with Hugh Fearnley Whittinstall's 'Meat' and Felicity Lawrence's 'Whats Not on the Label' and Eric Schlosser's 'Fast Food Nation' and if you're still heading for the supermarket 'ready meal' aisles then shame on you. Blytheman was ahead of the game and in the light of the current spate of food programmes laying bare our bizarre and tortured relationship with food and food production,this book remains as relevant as ever. (I'm ordering a second copy as my original is so battered and worn from re-reading). The role supine and craven governments in thrall to big business interests, an industrialised food industry driven by profit and shareholder interest and consumer lack of interest in what is eaten and how it is produced is expertly laid bare. Above all the way in which we as consumers collude with the industry, determinedly practicing self deception to protect and deliberately nurture our ignorance is cruelly well depicted. Joanna neatly lays bare the folly and denial that lies behind the 'so busy I haven't time to cook' excuse and the determined pursuit of ever cheaper food that underpins our shopping habits. We're not powerless victims but willing collaboraters enthusiastically assisting to create the current state and understanding of British food and nutrition. We don't cook because we can't be bothered to cook and don't value the role food, cooking and shopping for food plays in our lives and society. Its uncomfortable reading precisely because we as consumers have the power to act but don't and there's a lot of people who won't face up to the realities behind our idolisation of cheap, industrially produced food at any costs. This book is shocking, ironic, funny, angry and only too accurate a picture of our food culture. It's a cry to arms to all of us as consumers to stop playing the victim card and to think about what they eat and how they shop. I certainly haven't bought a 'buy one get one free' meat product since reading this and I haven't bought a 'ready meal' in over 2 years. (And I do work full time and have a very busy schedule).
on 19 October 2012
I bought this book because I am very much interested in nutrition and what we should be eating in order to grow old gracefully and healthy! The first half of the book is rather disappointing, the author just rants about how bad food is in Britain and the negative attitude the British have towards food. Fair enough, I started traveling to Britain the same year this book was published so maybe things have changed but I have to say that I eat a lot better in Britain than in France where most restaurants are not good at all! There is this myth about French cuisine but it isn't anything else than a myth, believe me! Half way the book the author does start to address the subject more thoroughly and it actually gets to be quite interesting, therefore I give it 3 stars. There are also many misconceptions about food abroad: France, Holland, Portugal, etc. I think that the author has this idea that all food is bad in the UK and all food is great abroad which is not true! The Dutch, for example, don't have a good attitude towards food at all (I know what is going on quite well because I lived there for 16 years and all my three daughters still live there!). My daughters for example, think that cooking food is a waste of time and are happy enough to just buy something in a packet and heat it up or else to go out most days. They have never, ever cooked me a meal! The Dutch have always eaten sandwiches for lunch and a very simple evening meal which doesn't vary much from day to day. They used to cook it from scratch when I lived there though, but it was almost always the same. The Portuguese used to have an excellent cuisine but that too is gone. Nowadays the most important thing for a restaurant is to pay extremely low wages, therefore cooks are often foreigners who don't understand our cuisine at all! At home people don't have the time or the energy to cook and many of them will eat in front of the TV. Saying that Dutch children don't eat sweet is surely a joke! The Dutch are forever buying sweet for their children and even if you don't agree with it it is not easy to escape that culture!
The author's theories about eating low fat and avoiding saturated fats were maybe accurate in 2006 but we now know that this isn't correct! Telling people that the fault of their obesity and health problems lies solely with the industry is a bit exaggerated! Ok, they are to blame for a lot that is going on but we as adults also need to learn to make our choices! I make my own bread, my ice creams, cook most meals from scratch, etc, and I couldn't care less about how the industry wants to make money! It is true that it is sometimes difficult to know what they hide into the food so I will surely go wrong now and then but I still make my choices! As far as school meals go.... When my children were growing up there weren't any schools in Holland with cantinas. Parents were supposed to pick their children up and take them home to eat lunch, which was actually quite healthy not only because we knew what we fed them but also because they had a break away from school! Now we think that work goes above anything else... well... our choice I suppose? I could have had a lot more money but my children came first!
I could say a lot more about this book as I filled it with question marks but it would get rather boring for anyone reading the review, so I will stop here! Buy this book cheap if you are interested in its contents or else don't buy it at all, there are better books out there, I'm sure!
on 31 May 2006
Finding this book was like being young and gay and finding Jeanette Winterson. I no longer feel like a freak. Joanna Blythman is brave and radical and if more people read this book we might have some hope of rebuilding a food culture in Britain. Her chapters on cheap food and class are outstanding. I now have words for what I suspected to be true but never felt brave enough to say. We all deserve good food. Buy this book, read it and lend it to as many people as possible. Please.
on 18 January 2009
Following on from the glittering tour de force that was 'Shopped', this is a wider attack on the food industry, not only on supermarkets but on the food companies, the government, schools and families that have turned British food into the homogenized, fatty, effort-free laughing stock that it is today.
Blythman skilfully compares our current food culture not only with contemporary European trends and American junk food, but also with our own history - we may have been less fat, and have cooked more and passed on vital culinary knowledge but, she argues, even fifty years ago we were favouring fatty traditional food and packet mixes over healthier meals cooked from scratch. The comparison of our eating habits and values with those of our European neighbours is devastating, particularly relating to family values around mealtimes and healthy eating, and the way school meals are approached here compared to France, for example.
Though the book doesn't try to beat the reader over the head and inspire them to turn their entire lifestyle around the way 'Shopped' does, it is still very relevant, thought-provoking, and extremely accessible. Perhaps despite our lack of a real British food culture, Blythman can offer some inspiration to us to try to eat fresher food, cook simple, wholesome dishes, and enjoy our meals instead of accepting our Bad Food and letting the decline continue!