Thursday, 6 February 2014

Arabella Weir talking rubbish about food and poverty

"If you're hungry, and your last 30p will buy you a whole packet of biscuits or one single apple, what would you choose? I believe it is IMPOSSIBLE to eat well if you're poor."
This is what the comedian Arabella Weir stated on the Food & Drink programme on BBC 2 earlier this week. You can see it here. I think she is completely wrong on this issue. Why does she think that biscuits or apples are the only two alternatives? You can buy 3/4 of a kilo of rice for 30p or half a kilo of pasta.

I was in ASDA on Monday and because I knew she was going to say this I looked at the price of biscuits. I couldn't find any packets of biscuits for 30p. I'm sure if someone had the time to shop around they could find biscuits for 30p but the nearest to that in ASDA - which is not one of the more expensive supermarkets - is ASDA smart price Rich Tea biscuits for 31p. The packet weighs 400g and the information on the back says that there are 455 calories in every 100g.

This means that there are 1,820 calories in a pack. Divide that by 31 and you find that the biscuits provide just under 59 calories per penny. Rice provides nearly 88 calories per penny and pasta provides just over 59 calories per penny. There are some supermarkets that sell pasta for less that 30p per half kilo. So rice and pasta are always a better bet because they are cheaper and because they are low GI sources of calories.

One of the people she was debating with said you can buy pulses, rice and lentils cheaply. Lentils are one type of pulse. The quality of this debate is extremely poor - nobody seemed to know what they are talking about. Arabella's smug reply to that is "Have you ever fed children lentils?". What does she think that millions of parents in India feed themselves and their children on? She chose not to mention rice. Pasta is a favourite food for most children, and it doesn't cost much to make pasta palatable.

Her argument doesn't make sense. If the argument is about affordability, then it doesn't make sense to contradict someone who says that lentils (and other pulses and rice) are affordable by saying that children won't eat them. Then it becomes an argument about British children refusing to eat healthy food and how parents respond to that. In most parts of the world children eat what they are given, they're not offered alternatives. If your children refuse to eat healthy food then it doesn't matter how much money you have. If you are poor and you can offer your children healthy food such as rice, pasta and pulses but your children don't like them then the problem is not affordability.

Many people on benefits - pensioners for example - don't have dependent children. People with children receive more in benefits than people who are childless; it's people on Job Seekers Allowance and without children who are the poorest. People who go to food banks are usually people who have had delays in receiving their benefits.

So I don't see why people can't eat lentils. Lentils aren't that cheap though, it's yellow split peas that are the cheap pulses. Both lentils and yellow split peas can be used for soup, for the Indian dish dal, and also for felafels although more often chickpeas are used for that.

The family size frozen lasagna she mentions provides under 10 calories per penny. Iceland sell a 1.6 kg family size frozen lasagna. There's a bit of confusion on their site about how many calories there are in the pack because they state that there are 172 calories (kcals) per 100g but 635 calories per 1/4 pack. 172 x 16 is 2752 but 635 x 4 is 2540. So somewhere Iceland have put incorrect information of their site.

Let's assume the higher figure of 2752. The pack cost £3. 2752/300 gives us the figure of just over 9 calories per penny. So to advise poor people to eat lasagna is extremely poor advice based on an ignorance of the facts. I'm aware that lasagna provides protein as well as calories but most poor people in Britain eat far more protein than they need.

She's wrong in assuming that lasagna is an unhealthy food. The Iceland lasagna isn't particularly unhealthy. It has more pasta in it than the meat and cheese combined, so it doesn't contain that much saturated fat. It does contain some sugar, and it would have been better if it didn't, but it isn't the 50/50 combination of fat and sugar that is the real problem with much processed food.

The recent BBC 2 programme Sugar v Fat was mostly boring but towards the end they showed the results of experiments with rats. Professor Paul Kenny fed rats either fat but no sugar or sugar but no fat. Both these groups restricted the number of calories they ate and didn't put on weight. When he fed rats a 50/50 combination of fat and sugar, however, they overate and became obese. There are two ways to interpret this. Either a 50/50 combination of fat and sugar is particularly alluring. Or when foods are combined we often can't taste all of the different ingredients.

So I don't agree that people become obese because our ancestors on the savanna were always short of food and needed to eat everything they could. People don't actually crave a fatty food or a sugary food that much. They quickly become repulsive, tasting too fatty or too sweet. We do have an 'off' switch for them. The fat/sugar combination is not found in nature and we don't have an 'off' switch for it. This is the biggest problem with processed foods.

Arabella finishes off her piece by saying "So come on, you pretentious foodies, stop lecturing people with less cash than you about what they should be eating!" I'm not a foodie and I live on benefits. Telling poor people - incorrectly - that their best options are biscuits and frozen lasagna is doing exactly what she accuses others of doing, lecturing people with less cash than her about what they should be eating.
a children's favourite