Why gin is dangerous

The Good Life Letter 

8th June 2018

  • Gin causes women to spontaneously combust – or does it? 
  • Why this moral panic over obesity is troubling
  • The media is in league with politicians to blame you for your choices
Gin is dangerous.

It causes women to spontaneously combust.

This was a theory discussed (seriously) by the Royal Society in 1745.

At the time, a craze for drinking gin was sweeping through the lower classes in London and other cities.

But just as intense was the panic about this craze among the ruling classes.

Gin drinking was a great threat to society – we faced the prospect of penniless hordes, hooked on spirits, rampaging through the streets.

Stories spread about women selling babies for gin, men selling the clothes off their backs and – yes – people exploding from gin, going insane or drowning in the stuff.

So what happened next?

Well, the government tried to ban the sale of gin, causing riots in the streets.

When that failed they decided to heavily tax gin. But this only caused a form of tax-avoidance, with unlicensed sellers plying their wares.

History now views this period as one of ‘moral panic’.

Moral panic is when public fears exceed the actual threat posed by the behaviour of a group of people. The media hysteria that comes with this panic creates a sense of fear, anger and suspicion… stereotyping social groups, often based on class.

It’s usually beneficial to the government – who want to control that social group – and the media, who get lots of salacious, outraged stories to fill their papers and boost sales.

Does this remind you of anything?

Why this moral panic over obesity is troubling

I don’t know about you, but this eruption of panic about obesity smacks a little of ‘moral panic’ to me.

The proposals for sugar tax, banning advertising of sugary and fatty food, and ending 3-for-1 deals seem like attacks on the end user – the poorer people of society who must shoulder a financial burden for their ‘wrong behaviour’.

The dominant story is that ignorant people are poisoning themselves and their children because of their inability to control their urges.

And the proposed solution is that if we bully them, tax them and take away their cheap meal deals, all will be fixed.
Sorry, just don’t buy it. And even if that narrative is true, history suggests that the solution won’t work.

Now before I go on, let me assure you – there is definitely an obesity problem, I’m not doubting that. The latest estimate from University College London claims that 48% of Britons will be obese by 2045.

What troubles me is that the hysteria and outrage in the media is blaming the problem on poor, working class people – suggesting that they have a lack of self-control.

It’s very easy to think that, sitting high up on our moral high horses.

But I believe that our diets are shaped by a whole host of interlinking factors… the hours we work, where we live, our education, our job roles, our length of commute, our access to green spaces, the price of healthy food, our income, our long working hours, our reliance on cars… not to mention the stress and anxiety of modern living.

Will slapping a tax on Coke or a Mars bar change this?

We’re being led to believe that obesity is down to personal failings but really it’s a social issue.

So let’s get real for a moment…

I’ve written in the past about avoiding processed foods and the dangers of a synthetic, unseasonal diet with too many carbs and sugars.

That’s because I’m a nutritional writer and this advice is common sense.

But I’m far from the holier-than-thou, finger-wagging type.

I’ve been at pains to say that you don’t have to beat yourself up about reaching for a sugary snack or resorting to comfort food when you need it. And I don’t believe it’s possible in 21st Century Britain, with all its problems, for many people to give up convenience entirely.

In a recent Guardian article entitled, ‘The processed food debate is delicious, MSG-sprinkled class war’, the food critic Grace Dent says:

“Processed food is easy, tasty and restorative. It hits the spot. It celebrates, it pacifies, it is a light of hope at the end of another tricky day. It is what you reach for when you need to get the job of eating done.”

Her article reminded me of a cracking book I read a few years ago called Stuffed and Starved, by Raj Patel. He writes:

“Just as tea nourished the Victorian English working classes, a $1 double cheeseburger and fries comes to be a welcome and warm meal in a day, and night, filled with work.”

That’s the reality.

This is why I’m sceptical of politicians and food campaigners, in cahoots with the media, furthering their careers and ambitions through this issue.

It appears as if they’re tackling the food industry with taxes and restrictions, but I’m not sure this is having much of an effect.

In his book, Raj Patel writes: “The food industry is a complex system that, if left to its own devices, is far from self-correcting.”

And he’s right about that.

Last month a report from Public Health England showed that two out of three major food brands have ignored demands to slash their sugar content. Of the top 20 sugary brands 56% had not change to the levels while 12% added MORE.

In fact, some chocolate items ended up with more calories because of the recipe change that reduced sugar content.

In the same month, a think-tank ditched proposals for a tax on junk food and more marketing restrictions when Asda, one of its corporate donors, objected to the report.

This is why, just as the gin tax failed in the 1800s, I’m not convinced the sugar tax will necessarily work.

In the meantime, is any of this making a difference to the ordinary people struggling to get on with life? Do they appreciate being told by rich celebrities and politicians that obesity is down to their ignorance, weak willpower and poor choices?

It seems not.

What’s more, ‘obesity’ has become the sole focus of the panic, rather than lack of nutrients, imbalanced diet, poor lifestyle, and many diseases and conditions associated with this.

Just focusing on obesity lets a lot of people off the hook and lures them into a false sense of security.

“My BMI is fine, so I’m ok.”

My view is this…

The media and politicians are making public health in 2018 all about sugar and impulse control, when the issues are far more complex than that. Bad public health is a social problem with many factors and many consequences.
But hey, obesity hysteria sells LOTS of papers.

I can’t solve the world’s problems. All I can do, as your humble nutritional correspondent, is give you delicious food ideas that you actually want to eat and show you the many delights nature’s medicine chest has to offer.

Keep reading and I’ll keep showing you positive things you can do to reduce pain and stress, build your immune system and stay as healthy as possible, without you needing to give up all treats, conveniences and comforts.

Rather than panicking about your BMI, good health is about understanding what’s going into your gut, and how it affects you, positively and negatively.

And on that subject, I’d urge you to look out for my email on Sunday, as I’ve got something that will do this in spades!

Until then, DON’T PANIC!

Yours, as always




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