Cadbury et al: Friends or foes?

Cadbury_factory,_Bournville, in Birmingham we’ve had a very special relationship with Cadbury’s for donkey’s years.

Bournville was living proof that factory work, even low-skilled and boringly repetitive, could be a vital part of a life well-led in a thriving neighbourly welcoming place.

Yet even before highly questionable behaviours during and after the takeover, by RBS and HMG as well as Kraft Foods, the Bournville factory was churning out high calorie sugary products, both solids (‘food’) and liquids (‘drinks’).

Being a business, they inevitably sought to get us consumers to buy and eat more and more of what they produced. Mondelez, the brand used by Kraft for Bournville is seeking to make a virtue out of snacking, something severely frowned upon until recently— don’t eat between meals, it’ll spoil your appetite; it’s a vice Yale Rudd Centre evidence shows is a major contributor to obesity.

Serious money is made from taking a cheap plant such as sugar cane or beet, and processing it with a few other additions into consumer products. Poundland, a highly successful Willenhall business, gets 28% of its profits from the 14% of its floorspace that’s devoted to selling ‘food’, mostly confectionary, crisps and drinks.

Value-added processing is good business, whatever the sector, so good for the local economy. Yet this particular value-added processing has consequences both on individuals and on society.

Because of these impacts, the WHO recommendation is that not more than 10% of anyone’s diet should be sugar. They’re seeking to reduce this to 5% but are being lobbied by confectionary and drinks businesses not to do so.

So where do we here in Birmingham stand on all this? Do we encourage our local businesses to manufacture and sell sugary products?

Do we allow manufacturers of these products — e.g. Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Mondelez to name but three in Birmingham — to promote ‘healthy living’ activities in our parks and in services to our children?





DEFRA’s Food Statistics Pocketbook 2014

DEFRA’s Food Statistics Pocketbook 2014 was published earlier this month — and an interesting read its 60-odd pages are too.

FoodStatisticsPacketbook2014_frontispieceIn a two-page summary (pp8-9), it gives some numbers about the scale of what it takes to feed 64M people safely and what that impact is, in particular on the poorest of households.

Below are listed of the key factoids from their summary:

  • The total consumer spend on food, drink and catering is £196 billion, of which £112 billion is, according to these stats, household expenditure, and £84 billion on ‘catering services’ — what’s everything from hospital meals and motorway service stations to your local chippie or curry house through to Michelin-starred restaurants.
  • In supplying all this — and food exports — is a sector contributing £96.9 billion or 7.1% to the national GVA in 2012, and 3.6M or 13% of national employment.

Food Supply & Prices

  • Food prices have risen 18% in real terms since 2007.
  • Median income after housing costs fell 13% between 2002-03
    and 2012-13 for low income decile households. In 2011-12,
    all other incomes groups saw decreases in median income of
    between 0.8% and 3.3%.
  • In 2012, 24 countries together accounted for 90% of UK
    food supply. Just over half of this (53%) was supplied
    domestically from within the UK.
  • The total value of food and drink exports rose slightly in 2013
    to £18.9 billion, £6.0 billion more than in 2005 measured in
    2013 prices.

Environment and Waste

  • In 2012, total domestic CO2 emissions from food and drink manufacturing fell 2.2% on 2011.
  • Estimated total UK food and drink waste is around 15 million tonnes per year, with households generating 7mt/year of which 4.2 is avoidable (i.e. fit to eat).
  • The average UK household spend on food that could have been eaten but is thrown away is £470 a year.
  • In 2012 local authorities were collecting over 5 times as much food waste for recycling as they were in 2007.

Health & Food Safety

  • Fruit and vegetable consumption is falling. The lowest 10% of households by income purchase the least fruit and vegetables at an average of 2.9 portions per person per day in 2012, 11% less than in 2007.
  • In England in 2012 the obesity rate across all adults was 25%, with a further 37% overweight.
  • High level incidents dealt with by the FSA in 2013 included an investigation into horse and pig DNA in beef products; two E.coli O157 outbreaks linked to watercress and Caribbean soft fruit drink contaminated with cocaine, which caused one fatality.
  • In May 2014 the main food issue of concern to respondents was food prices at 51%, a decrease from 59% in May 2013.



Eat food (not edible food-like substances), not too much, mostly plants

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 08.10.37This is an outstanding interview with Michael Pollan who, as ever, is thought-provoking, intelligent and knowledgeable.

Here’s a taster of what he said:

Most food ‘products’ aren’t food, he says; they’re “edible food-like substances”.

Now read again his seven word mantra with that thought in mind:

eat food, not too much, mostly plants

That’s it in a nutshell. The discussion around these seven words was illuminating, and in ways I hadn’t thought before.

For example, yoghurt. Or bread. Both ‘good’ ‘natural’ foods, especially if the former is ‘granary’ or ‘wholemeal’. These are, though, manufactured food, complex products which do have good elements . . . and then, according to Pollan, we switch our minds off.

Many a yogurt, for example, contains more sugar than a can of coke. Most breads, too, contains sugar.

Big corporations now prepare our foods, meeting our desire for convenience; we have a supply-driven system not a demand-led one

The basic ingredients, such as corn, soy, wheat (or milk in the case of yoghurt) are cheap, very cheap. The more processing goes into the final product, the more ‘value-added’ it is, so the more the price goes up.

Cooking, Pollan said, is a major factor in what enabled the evolution of human intelligence. Cooking allows a greater release of energy from a foodstuff than would otherwise happen. (If that’s hard to grasp, think of the energy you have to expend in eating a raw carrot compared to that in eating a cooked one.)

Plus, we’re omnivores; i.e. can get the energy we need to live from a wide variety of sources. It’s a mixed blessing, though. First, omnivores have to have a culture that informs us of what’s healthy to eat. Secondly, that culture allows (what Pollan calls) ‘borderline foods’.

Supermarkets is the new ‘wilderness’ for us, giving us easy access to high calorie foodstuffs that throughout most of our evolutionary history was hard to find; i.e. the basis of the huge public health problem we face.

Agricultural practices and food markets are heavily subsidised, he says. And until we align agriculture and corporations with health policies, we will have an even greater public health problem than we currently do.

He has more than a tad criticism of nutritional science — and their ‘unholy alliance’ with manufacturers. As he says, you don’t need to be a biochemist to eat a healthy diet.

Broccoli doesn’t brag. But it’s a truly healthy food.

As many others have said before, where once it was the rich who were overweight, it is now the poor who struggle with obesity. The cheapest calories are the most unhealthy; for a ingle US dollar, you can buy 250 calories of carrots or 1000 calories of cola.

No doubt, the industrialisation of food has had great benefits. He pointed out that he doesn’t mill his own flour, and he uses frozen vegetables. But these achievements come with a cost . . .


Nutrition and public health

Food poverty, food insecurity

Food safety and integrity

Urban food growing

Food and the city economy

Global food security

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