Island Life by David Slack

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Island Life: The Prime Minister will see you now

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  • Kyle Matthews,

    The problem is that dietary habits are difficult to change and at the moment it's a very middle class hobby it seems. But it doesn't have to be.

    Are there any instances in modern times of a country making a significant shift in its diet to address health issues?

    I mean NZ is (upcoming generalisation) a meat and three vege country. If we wanted to shift that to a more diverse diet, which was both healthy and low cost how would you go about it? Beyond what governments are doing at the moment which is advertising and healthy living campaigns and whatever else?

    Diet is often built up on hundreds/thousands of years of culture, and I suspect it's a titanic shift to push it along to change much faster than it happens naturally.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Diet is often built up on hundreds/thousands of years of culture, and I suspect it's a titanic shift to push it along to change much faster than it happens naturally.

    I don't know, I think the middle class is certainly doing it. Do you cook at home the same food that your parents used to cook? That wouldn't be the experience of most of the people I mix with. I think anybody who's been on an OE struggles to return to a lifetime of roast and potatoes.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    Diet is often built up on hundreds/thousands of years of culture

    so how would one explain the "American diet"?
    (genetic mutation?)

    return to a lifetime of roast and potatoes

    if only i could! (well, maybe brown rice and roast potatoes on alternate days)

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    if only i could! (well, maybe brown rice and roast potatoes on alternate days)

    Would you seriously give up Japanese food if you were to return to New Zealand?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I don't know, I think the middle class is certainly doing it. Do you cook at home the same food that your parents used to cook?

    Largely, but my parents departed a moderate amount from the standard 3 meat and vege when I was a child - my Dad did a Chinese Cooking course, and I cook Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food moderately often - though less so now that I'm feeding two kids, particularly the younger one who is allergic to the onion family.

    But again, that's one example. Yes the NZ diet has changed. We eat out more, and we're more likely to eat food that isn't the standard meat and 3 vege.

    But that's a normal cultural change of diet, come about through various factors. And it will continue to change.

    My question is, if the government wanted to push that process along, make it faster. How?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    quote>Would you seriously give up Japanese food if you were to return to New Zealand?</quote>

    no, "Japanese food" (something vaguely resembling non-corrupted traditional cuisine) is probably about 40% of my diet now. i would try to keep eating Japanese food, even though sourcing good ingrdients at a reasonable price in nz is quite problematic.

    but my intake of roat potatoes would definitely increase. yum.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    Ben, I don't mean to suggest the staff at AH ICU were in any way deficient. My point is the infrastructure was so dilapidated as to be alarming. The individual responsible for Frank's death was his GP, who somehow failed to diagnose an incredibly obvious case of pneumonia. He visited her 3x and she diagnosed and kept treating him for asthma - despite the fact he had a raging temperature and his lungs had that characteristic crackling sound pneumonia makes. I am a layperson with only part of a degree, and I could tell it was pneumonia, but why would he have listened to me? I'm not a doctor. Unfortunately Frank kept trusting his incompetent GP and she kept telling him it was asthma. She could not have taken any bloods or even his temperature.

    His faith in his GP meant that he was finally taken to AH emerg - 7-9 days too late - where he was diagnosed with pneumonia on the spot.

    That it was too late to save him at that time was certainly not the fault of the staff at AH or their doctors in ICU. They didn't know which form of the many dozens of pneumonia they were treating, and quite properly began eliminating the dozens of kinds that were more likely than the extremely rare LD. Had they seen him earlier, they would have arrived at that diagnosis in plenty of time, probably.

    The Canadian move to lockdown and the public's response to such heavy handed quarantine measures are quite different than you would find in most countries. While this would horrify civil libertarians in the USA, it certainly prevented a much, much more serious outbreak of SARS in Canada than happened at the time. Canadians have a much greater trust of their government than do most nations, and our docility in response to public directives is quite well known. While people were hugely inconvenienced by the quarantine, and did holler their discontent, there was very little public sympathy or support for them. The public support was almost unanimously for the public health officials.

    This is a huge part of why the disease was contained so easily (44 deaths) and the state of the art isolation ward was the other part.

    At the time that SARS did hit, which was about 3 weeks after Frank's death, the staff at AH went public about their fears of what would happen if SARS broke out here. They pointed out that Auckland had no facilities to contain an outbreak of anything like SARS or any other deadly disease that is contagious rather than merely communicable.

    They were promptly muzzled by the incredibly ignorant Wayne Brown.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    Dyan - thanks for your thoughtful response. I wasn't really trying to suggest that killer bees are not harmful, that SARS is not deadly or that Y2K did not have to be dealt with. I was lazily associating radiation from microwaves to smoking and lung cancer to apocalyptic climate change predictions, and wondering whether people fatigue of warnings or tire of having their emotions jangled by the coverage of crises notwithstanding the merits of any particular issue.

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    dyan, I wasn't accusing you of talking crap, just pointing out a different experience in a different part of the building. NICU is not ICU. NICU impressed me enormously both in the staff and also in the facilities.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    On food + recession. I'm sure people can still eat a load of crap. But here's the rub. They already do.

    I don't buy that it's a poverty thing to eat in a way that tends to obesity. It's a cultural thing, and one thing that a depression can do is change culture. Sometimes for the better.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • jon_knox,

    I don't buy that it's a poverty thing to eat in a way that tends to obesity. It's a cultural thing, and one thing that a depression can do is change culture.

    Got any evidence to back-up your theory Ben? Seems to be plenty in support of the poverty-obesity link. Or is there a culture of poverty reference that I've missed. Perhaps more of an explanation is required.

    Belgium • Since Nov 2006 • 464 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Got any evidence to back-up your theory Ben? Seems to be plenty in support of the poverty-obesity link.

    Perhaps in New Zealand or England, but it's not the same everywhere. Historically in the north of Italy for instance,so long as they weren't actually undernourished, peasants used to eat better and more healthily (whereas the rich got fat and the gouty,if I may oversimplify), and the gourmet foods of nowadays are the recipes of my grandmother's and great-grandmother's generation. New Zealand is primed I think to break that relationship thanks to the influence of outside cultures, and I'm with Ben, a depression might help do it. Either way, the relationship is hardly historically determined in perpetuity.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Um, jon, yeah. For starters the blatantly obvious fact that you have to eat a lot of food to get really fat. Without that, it can't be done. Then there's all the countries which actually do have food shortages which sort of corroborate that theory.

    But I don't actually think we're going to enter a time of real food scarcity anyway . That was really my point, from the start. Whatever the economic climate, the physical climate of NZ is conducive to a massive overabundance of the raw materials of food. We'd only need to divert a tiny fraction of what goes overseas back home and we'd be fine.

    Which does, ironically, play into your hands. We could, instead, go through a time when the nicest and best food that can be got with almost no effort will slip beyond the reach of some people, and then they'll turn to the not-so-nice not-so-good food. Not because they have to, though. They might just do it anyway because they don't want to put any effort into finding better alternatives, and will stick to McDonalds and fish-and-chips.

    But there is nothing 'necessary' about this outcome. Believe it or not, there's a lot cheaper than both of those food sources, and a lot healthier too. People who are genuinely impoverished could find them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    Um, jon, yeah. For starters the blatantly obvious fact that you have to eat a lot of food to get really fat. Without that, it can't be done. Then there's all the countries which actually do have food shortages which sort of corroborate that theory.

    Not so, Ben. You don't need to eat a lot of food to become obese. Obesity has a number of different factors, not just eating a lot of food; it's quite a complex medical condition.

    For starters it's long been observed that low status individuals will choose high fat, high sugar foods in greater quantity than their high-status counterparts. This has even been observed in chimps: when given unlimited access to very sweet, fatty food the high-status individuals stopped consuming the treats long before their lower-status counterparts.

    This is exactly what George Orwell observed in his book The Road to Wigan Pier when comparing the behaviour of working class people to that of a more priviliged class, Orwell had observed how cravings for fried, greasy food, sugar, tobacco and alcohol were greater for the working class than those of a more privileged class. He correctly observed that they "wanted a bit of comfort".

    Add to that the remarkable phenomenon of the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals) which causes fat to be deposited around the midsection during stress. The midsection is where fat does the greatest harm. The same number of calories from exactly the same foods can be consumed by 2 identical twins, and the one who is experiencing stress with gain more weight around the middle, and suffer worse blood chemistry. This is with exactly the same foods being consumed in exactly the same quantities.

    One more factor is the predisposition to obesity that is influenced by one's maternal grandmother, mother and one's own health/weight in infancy. In a nutshell - historical poverty=predisposition to obesity and the worst health effects from obesity.

    The linked article describes the deadly paradox of obesity and poverty in the developing world.

    Obesity in the Developing World

    Having said that, you are quite right in observing that in olden times, the food of the poor (little meat, little oil, no sugar, a lot of pulses, legumes and vegetables) make a healthy diet. But in modern times fat and sugar are not expensive items.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    obesity also relates to exercise levels.
    society (the corporate media!!!) seems to encourage more watching and less doing than a generation ago.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I don't get people who say the Y2K bug was a non event because nothing happened

    I have to say the successful avoidance of chaos was one of the greatest geek triumphs I've ever witnessed. Years of effort all over the world, no stuff ups and unsurprisingly widespread skepticism afterwards.

    Heard through colleagues of a big hi-tech manufacturer who had flicked their factory clocks forward a few years earlier and watched the production lines grind to a standstill, so not an idle threat. My favourite story was an asian airline company who booked all their senior execs onto fights scheduled to be mid-air at midnight to guarantee their attention.

    As you were.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Not so, Ben. You don't need to eat a lot of food to become obese. Obesity has a number of different factors, not just eating a lot of food; it's quite a complex medical condition.

    Whilst that may be true in some cases, I have to say that every obese person I know (and I know a few) stuffs their face a lot. They are very duplicitous about how much they are eating, both to others and to themselves. I have a very poignant teen memory of one guy who was forever on this diet or that, seeking endless reasons for his steadily increasing fatness. But one night when he stayed over at my place, I was woken in the middle of the night by the crunching sound of him munching his way through 2 family sized bags of chips which he had secreted in his bag.

    This guy was actually pretty athletic, extremely strong from a lot of weight training, fit from ridiculous amounts of swim training that we were both doing, and yet still fat then, and much fatter now. It really was about how much was passing through him, much more than it was about what kind of things.

    Having said that, you are quite right in observing that in olden times, the food of the poor (little meat, little oil, no sugar, a lot of pulses, legumes and vegetables) make a healthy diet. But in modern times fat and sugar are not expensive items.

    Sure, but neither are the healthy foods. Especially not if consumed in healthy quantities.

    But I get your point, and hope you realize I was joking to a certain extent about the depression being healthy, since I think food shortages are incredibly unlikely. I would rather say (and should have said) that the depression carries, along with the hardship that many will have to endure, the potential for a reboot of our attitudes to consumption, which I see as a large part of the cause of obesity. Consuming for comfort may simply become less of an option, and having rid ourselves of the habit, we may find ourselves happier, healthier, and not missing it at all.

    I've said on other threads that my only remaining eye-witness to the last depression, my Grandmother, says that her memories of the time were that there was hardship, but that it was actually mostly a happy time, and this was not just because she was young - she did not remember the times just before it as being happy - quite the contrary, everyone was stressed out. But when the Depression came it was like a sudden externalization of what had been eating everyone up before - the fear of poverty turned out to be worse than the poverty itself.

    The Pollyanna in me sees the coming hardship as a massive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reevaluate our entire attitude to the economics of consumption, particularly in light of the obvious fact that those economics led us to where we are now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reevaluate our entire attitude to the economics of consumption

    Start practising your hunting & gathering.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Start practising your hunting & gathering.

    Already have. And agriculture. It's really quite easy. Plants grow pretty much by themselves.

    But more importantly, I'm just consuming less. Less bad stuff, and less good stuff. The suffering from that is remarkably brief.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    The suffering from that is remarkably brief.

    Even briefer if you pick the wrong wild berries.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1609 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    Plants grow pretty much by themselves.

    that was Masanobu Fukuoka's philosophy, in a nutshell.
    growing a lot of good food should involve the bare minimum of buggering about with the natural process.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Well, Fukuoka and I have something in common then. For some reason, there's a prevailing belief that gardening must involve endless hours of backbreaking labor, be treated as a job, another thing to worry about, and ultimately, after trying that for a while, outsourced to children or paid gardeners, or the whole thing given away in favor of lawns or concrete.

    But having done it with far less diligence than that for years, I can say, if you let the garden sort itself out, taking care only to get rid of the most dangerous or all-enveloping weeds, then you still get a heck of a lot of product for very little labor. My garden doesn't look like much, but it puts out.

    I see an analogy here to cycling, which can certainly be done in a hardcore way, and I don't have any issue at all with that, I think it's great. But most people don't want to do it that hardcore, and yet can still get a great deal out of it. To this end, looking always to the hardcore is a major source of cop outs.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    Not so, Ben. You don't need to eat a lot of food to become obese. Obesity has a number of different factors, not just eating a lot of food; it's quite a complex medical condition.

    Whilst that may be true in some cases, I have to say that every obese person I know (and I know a few) stuffs their face a lot. They are very duplicitous about how much they are eating, both to others and to themselves.

    Yes, you're quite right Ben, you've identified what obesity clinicians call hyperphagia which simply means "hyper-eating". This is partly due to a poor nutritional profile - as evidenced by that film Supersize Me which saw Morgan Spurlock go from being unable to digest a big Mac (probably due to having been a vegetarian, during which time the body ceases to make large quantities of the enzymes that help to digest meat - this comes back fairly quickly) to being about to down half a dozen in one sitting and still be able to consume more. The body correctly perceives itself to be deficient in nutrients, and the ability to keep eating (i.e. switching off the sensation that tells us we're full) becomes dominant. This is especially true of people that consume artificially sweetened products, because the digestive process that is kick started in our mouths signals an expected consumption of calories - causing an ability to consume a much larger amount of sugar than if no artifical sweetener had been consumed.

    The modern diet - very modern diet comprised of processed, nutrient depleted foods - predisposes people to this state, which as Morgan Spurlock proved, can be reached very quickly indeed. Some of the fattest people are the most malnourished.

    As Jamie Oliver explained in his last gruesome series, an underweight child in rural Ethiopia is literally better nourished that a fat kid in Britain. This would be true of NZ children too, as evidenced in the Otago study of children. Children here, like in most developed countries, are woefully deficient in nutrients: vitamin D, calcium, iron, fibre... just to name a few. An iodine deficiency due to the popularisation of "sea salt" (non iodised) and fast foods has seen a startling re-emergence of goitre. Add to that the consumption of alcohol, which accounts for between 20 - 35% of the average Australian (don't know what it is for NZers) daily calories, and you have a very fat, very poorly nourished person. Very obese expectant mothers have babies with a poorer nutritional profile than do those who are chronically undernourished due to food scarcity. That's pretty shocking.

    But bear in mind we notice an obese person eating and sit in judgement much more than if we see a slim person eating. You can bet Hamish Carter ate at least as many calories as David Lange, and it's likely that wiry little Sarah Ulmer eats as much as the morbidly obese Dawn French. I'd wager the athletes eat much more nourishing food than their morbidly obese counterparts, but I think you'd be shocked at what a very muscular, slim person can pack away. The higher the ratio of muscle to fat, the faster the person burns calories.

    Also a slim person can be obese - as the keynote speaker (Dr Ranjan Yajnik, from Pune, India) said of himself at one of the conferences on obesity I helped organise "I am a slim obese man", meaning his slight frame, with a thick middle carried more risk than did the thicker frames of his better proportioned colleagues.

    As we learn more and more about the biochemistry of obesity, nutrition and metabolic syndrome (the collection of diseases that are associated with obesity) we find that the assumptions and judgements we make are not always that accurate.

    What we do know is that obesity is skewing modern perceptions of what is "normal" has become very distorted. For instance, most parents of obese children do not see their child as overweight, much less obese. What is sad is that despite the the huge number of calories consumed, modern nutrition is often very poor indeed.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    Aw Dyan, you've put me off my morning muffin (makes mental note to drink no more than 1 bottle of wine tonight).

    "Morbidly obese" - I've always been intrigued by that phrase.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    "Morbidly obese" - I've always been intrigued by that phrase

    In Italian "morbido" means "soft" rather than "pathological", so for a very long time I thought it meant "obese to the point of bouncy softness". I think it was Edgar Allan Poe that put me right ("soft acuteness of the senses" would have made no sense at all.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

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