This episode is all about what we see and hear on TV, newspapers, and on the Internet. We are told to eat healthy food, to exercise, to practise mindfulness and yoga. Is it that simple? Can the food industry and the states do something about it or are we, consumers, entirely accountable for our diseases and health problems? You may change your mind after reading what Javier Guzmán, director of VSF Justicia Alimentaria Global, has told us in this regard. Once again, the reason to categorise this article as Green is due to the positive work that this organisation is making to wipe out these poisoning practices.
Answer. We believe that these are false arguments, and so the WHO (World Health Organization) does. It is false, it is a global lie used also by companies that is fundamentally based on the following:
1) In saying that “there is no good food or bad food”. It’s a lie. We know there are bad types of food and good types of food, and there is scientific evidence.
2) “You can eat everything”. It’s also a lie: there are things that is better not to eat.
3) “Food is a decision of your own, individual, and has to do with your lifestyle”. Another big lie. It is not the same in the “good” neighborhoods of Barcelona as in the “bad” ones. Working-class districts do not have access to healthy products because of price and distribution issues, but upper class areas are increasingly eating more fresh, local and ecological products, which was the real pursuit of the food sovereignty principle: to achieve that as much people as possible had access to this kind of food. However, in the end is becoming an issue of elite consumption.
Thus, we know that there has to be a policy that approaches this matter from a structural perspective, because this is a structural and social problem. Tell me in what neighborhood you live and I will tell you what food you are eating, and what your health consequences will be. And this is also clear in schools and public canteens. We have denounced time and time again, and obviously they are aware.
But what happens? One of the issues that WHO is claiming, and that we have indicated in our campaign and in Europe, is the need for regulation of children’s advertising. Firstly -and we all agree on this-, because children are not free consumers. They are not free or informed consumers, as required by law, and we should protect them because they are easily manipulated either with cartoons or other marketing techniques.
For example, in Spain we know that 4 out of every 5 ads related to poor diet are specifically targeted at children. It is the largest consumer market for these junk food products. This sort of advertising impacts on children and consequently it conditions their parents when it comes to shopping. Therefore, a lack of regulation in children’s advertising makes this an open bar where children are daily bombarded: we estimate that there are 39,000 adverts aimed at children per year (220 a day), mostly related to an unhealthy diet.
We should protect children from such advertising, so that they do not eat that kind of food and go to school with a piece of fruit instead of a chocolate cake for their recess. But of course, this is where the big industry is risking a lot of money, because children are their consumers. We are talking about pizzas, juices, frozen foods, pastries…
And then, when children have some type of obesity, instead of backing out and analyse how we got here, we end up treating the child with medication, with a diet or a pill. But we do not touch the structural part of this poor diet, what we know is a social problem and has an economic cause. And we also know the policies that must be implemented to correct it: one is the control of children’s advertising and the other is the promotion of healthy food through proper access. Not as Michelle Obama says: “do exercise“, or as the Spanish Ministry of Health says -copying the food industry-: “do a marathon“, “eat well“.
Our data reveal that 50% of the population cannot eat well. Access [to healthy food] needs to be improved. In Spain we are demanding a food fiscal policy that is aligned with the health policy. Therefore, food we consider unhealthy would be engraved by a tax, and food we can consider healthy, ecological, or fresh, at a 0% VAT, so that people have the chance to eat well and, on the other hand, give an opportunity to young farmers, family businesses, and those working on the ecological field to go on the market. Or for example, that schools and public canteens may have their menus designed by Public Health and taking into account a series of parameters also related to the territory, establishing local public purchasing policies considering those products that are seasonal and local.
Right now there is nothing like that. When you see the price difference between healthy and unhealthy food in a country like Spain, the fact of saying “you can take care of yourself” while the state does nothing is deceiving the population. But there is more, because the state is not neutral. It is not that the state does nothing: in fact, the current state policy encourages the promotion of this unhealthy food with vending machines, grants for large retail companies, advertising, lack of education, etc. It is a tailor-made policy for the expansion of the consumption of this unhealthy food, as it has been happening for the last 20 years.