In the risk table at the end of the previous blogpost in this series about the National Food Strategy, we made the point that people with diet-related morbidities are exhorted to change [their] behaviour, rather than given support and action taken against the companies that make and promote health-damaging products.
The inherent weakness in relying on individual behaviours is that making good decisions depends as much on circumstances as it does on individual psyche. Everyone needs capacity and opportunity to make good decisions as well as motivation.
If, for example, you don’t have the money to buy sufficient safe, nutritious food, you will not have a healthy diet. Or if you are addicted to the foods that harm health, you will later if not sooner have one or more diet-related morbidity. It is thus inappropriate to sneer at their situation, or blame them for what they’re eating, as is seeking to do something to them to remedy them somehow, rather than the circumstances in which they find themselves..
- The National Food Strategy refers to the diet of a significant proportion of the population as ‘junk’ (without any definition of what ‘junk’ means) and where many live as a ‘food swamp’.
- This stance is not only deeply insulting, it misses what needs to be done to create the capacity and opportunity for everyone to make good decisions about their diet.
- The seventh (of 14) recommendations made by the National Food Strategy is to trial a ‘Community Eatwell programme’ which, at its core, has GPs prescribing food stuffs to, presumably, patients; i.e. making a social situation into an individual pathology for which their behaviour needs to be pre-scribed. It will also reach a limited number of people, and exclude the homeless, those in hostels. etc.
Surprisingly, the National Food Strategy does not refer to Professor Dame Sally Davis’ 2018 Annual Report as Chief Medical Officer (CMO). Of her 15 recommendations, five were directly concerned with the food we eat, and two others (about multi-morbidity) had implications for the food sector. Nor have they referred to her last report as CMO published in October 2019: Time to solve childhood obesity: An independent report by the Chief Medical Officer.
- As we reported in our review of the 2018 Annual Report, the CMO was all too aware that reliance on individual behaviour change wouldn’t work, and that structural changes were need, including holding to account those who shape the environment for health, She also stated that the burden of ill health and premature deaths . . . will remain an intractable public health challenge without effective intervention delivered at a population level.
The National Food Strategy has not grappled with population-level interventions, nor has recommended any measure that will reduce the vulnerability of those who, don’t eat sufficient nutrient-dense foods and/or consume too many calories.
An alternative approach is to build collective resilience.
We’ve witnessed the power of communities to respond to food shortages and scarcities during the pandemic.
This is what people do when faced by a crisis, as Reicher and Bauld point out in their illuminating paper about what human psychology has taught us about the Covid-19 pandemic and what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us about human psychology.
But, as Reicher and Bauld also say, relying on communities to respond isn’t [good] enough:
Although the word ‘community’ appears over 50 times in the National Food Strategy, all are used in passing, or quoting a reference title. None reflects the humanity of or power of social relationships, or to any element of collective resilience, or a model in which the Government, to use Reicher and Bauld’s term, ‘scaffolds self-organisation‘.
Why building collective resilience really matters
We would go further than Reicher and Bauld with regard to future food shortages and scarcities. Building collective resilience is an essential part of crisis preparedness planning, a vital topic which, as we pointed out in the previous post, was not considered by the National Food Strategy.
For an example of how communities could come into their own in times of food shortages and scarcities, given appropriate ‘scaffold’ support to self-organise, see the page 5 of UK preparedness for future food shocks, One Scenario: Buffer contingency food stocks, an imaginative but entirely feasible example of what collective resilience could loom like.