Obesity in Ireland

ObesityA while back the Irish government launched a campaign to try to tackle the obesity problem in the country. At the current rate the World Health Organisation has statistically forecasted that Ireland obesity problems will reach pandemic levels by 2030, in 15 years only! A study published in the Lancet in 2014 shows that around 27% of Irish girls and 17% of boys under the age of 20 are overweight or obese. In the over 20’s the rate of obesity is around 66% of men and 51% of women. These figures have increased by a rate of 28% in adults and 47% in children during the “celtic tiger’s” years. So far the Irish government has launched a campaign in which food outlets and restaurants must add the calorie count of each dishes on their menus. Since 2005 a healthy eating awareness campaign is run in schools all over the country. All this is good, even if as an ex-chef I do not believe that having a calorie count on a restaurant menu is going to do much to tackle the obesity issues in children or adults. The main issue is  in my opinion and experience more profound. The obesity problems must be tackled on three fronts: Education, Alcool and Control of the food industry.

First of all, not only children need to be taught to eat healthily. A cultural change about how and what people eat has to be encouraged. The time spent to prepare and eat meals has to be extended. People must allow themselves more time to eat, to enjoy what they eat. Ireland has a lot of great products to discover. The way food is perceived has to change too. I come from a country where food is seen has a “leisure”, a way to socialise. Here, food is a necessity. A mean to an end. People eat because they have to.

This brings me to the second point where changes have to happen: alcool. Drinking is the main way to socialise in Ireland. The pub is at the core of all Irish celebrations: christening, communions, wedding and funerals or sport and cultural events. As an example, in France where I come from, the sending of the food for a wedding meal, from the kitchen side, can take up to 4 hours. In Ireland the average sending time for a wedding, that I experienced, is 1 hour. At a french wedding the alcool is drank with the food all along the meal. In Ireland, after the meal it is open bar. Alcool and food are separated. In my eyes it looks like people eat because they have to and then socialise around a pint (or more). I am not mentioning the food at the “after” deep fried baby sausages and white processed bread sandwiches. In France the tradition is onion soup.

The last lever that should be used to tackle obesity is a better control of the food industry. There the government has to bring legislation imposing a proper, simple and coherent labelling on all food products. Then, the levels of salt and sugar has to be reduced by the industry. There is only one way to achieve this: the law and proper enforcement of the law. The minister for health needs to have the balls to bring in legislation. They managed to ban tobacco in public places as well as in the pubs. Ireland was the first European country to do it. This shows that difficult decisions can be implemented against powerful lobbies. Finally, advertising of unhealthy food has to be banned from all public services (buses, airports, etc). Proper and coherent legislation must be put in place to avoid the implantation of fast food outlets near schools or sport grounds. Where I live, there is the example of McDonald which has been granted the authorization to build a restaurant beside 3 schools (maybe 8-900 children)! No one find that unacceptable in the town council or in the county council, they allowed the project to go forward! My understanding is that the planning permission was agreed upon the fact a gym has been added to the fast food outlet building! I am sorry but as a parent I do not think that a gym is going to protect children from junk food. There is absolutely no coherence between national campaigns and local decisions!

So, the problem of obesity is only going to be addressed properly if the politicians at national and local level are coherent in the implementation of the government strategy. Strength has to be shown by ministers in tackling the bad habits of the powerful food lobbies. Finally, cultural changes must be ignited and encouraged over a long period of time. It is that simple! But, it is not going to keep you in a government nor get you elected. It is going to be unpopular and bring upon politicians a lot of pressure from lobbies. A lot of friends won’t like it either. Saying that, Mr and Mrs politicians you must have the balls to do it, otherwise it is going to be a very serious issue that has the same negative potential for your carrier.


Recycling !


The other day one of my Facebook friend shared a post of an old lady giving a lesson on recycling to a young one who complained about her bad habits on the matter. In this speech, our old woman made a point that in her youth bottles, yogurts, milk or cream containers were made of glass, shopping was dispensed in paper bags, food products were displayed in bulk, etc. There was no or very little plastic containers, the system was simple and sustainable in todays standard.

In these past habits everything was recyclable, reuseable and sustainable. It was also cheap to make.  The pressure on populations around the world to be more environmentally friendly was minimal. Furthermore, with todays huge pressure on our oil reserves none of these types of contenants require oil in making them! It is not that we have to be inventing technically complicated systems to recycle these byproducts of our crazy consumption’s habits. It is all there, we have done it before and it worked! I don’t get it. Why can’t we go back to these habits that make more sens in our current environmental crisis?

Our food can be delivered to us plastic free. Why can’t we change this? Why our governments or environmental agencies don’t think about it and make the food industry come back to this simple, environmentally sound and economically sustainable system? I think it is simple: advertising, money making people who are not living in the real world ; lobbies that do not care about anything than profits, that are blinded by other lobbies even more powerful than their own. When I talk about lobbies I mean the large distribution companies such as Walmart, Carrefour, Leclerc, Tesco, etc. Then comes the  slightly more  powerful lobbies such as Danone, Nestlé, Procter and Gambles, Craft, etc who need there brands to be advertised and recognized to increase their profits more and more for their share holders. Then, the next level in the lobbies ladder is the oil lobby who push his dirty products onto us as the solution for all our needs: cheap and so called “clean”energy, cheap but dirty and unsustainable raw material for our food packaging. And I am not talking about the petrol that fuel our cars. And on the top of all that interlocked system there is that powerful, inhuman, virtual system that we have created: The Market, which rules the world.

All the actors of this system feed into each other. They only care about the short term and would go for anything to get their way! They pressurise governments, finance wars, they fund powerful lobbies and pressure groups at all the levels of our societies. They also finance our politicians to make sure that the status quo remains.

I think that it is only us, all the citizens of the world who can make this changes happen. I strongly believe that together we can shift the power of decision in favor of the people of earth from the Market. Democracy is supposed to be “for the people, by the people” so if we make the effort of coming out of our lethargy and remind our politicians that they would not be where they are without us and that they are supposed to represent us in the democratic decision process, that they must thrive to make our society better and safer for us. They also must remember that they must be independent from all corporations and lobbies and do everything to respect the basic human rights as written in the “Déclaration universelle des droits de l’hommes“.

So Messieurs the politicians and decision makers from all over the world tell me what stops you to enforce this simple solution to solve the problem of rubbish management instead of going for costly, complicated and unsustainable solutions that enable the Market and its actors to do as they whish and keep getting richer and even more controlling. I have to say that this time I firmly believe that: “it was better before”.

A Word To The Wise Is Sufficient!