|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
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NUTRITION AND THE CRITIQUE OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY
The vegetarian nutritional position remained in essence the same, though certain themes, most notably those of rawness and wholeness achieved a new importance, perhaps to the slight decline in the more virulent language concerning the poisoning nature of meat.
Changes in the national diet and in nutritional knowledge, however, created a minor break-through in the acceptability of vegetarian ideas. Despite the nutritional benefits of the war-time diet, its educational effect on the population was negligible, and in so far as people in the fifties and sixties were better fed, it was as a result of rising income and the more varied and nutritionally valuable diet that resulted. (1) But with these changes went others that were less satisfactory: increasingly people were taking their calories not in the form of the rougher bulkier staples, but in refined forms, in processed foods and. in fats and sugar. Orthodox nutrition had tended to see the relationship of diet and health in terms that derived from the great era of nutritional studies and that concentrated on ideas of deficiency, and there was as yet little sense that too much of certain beneficial foods could also be bad. From the 1960s onwards, however, the comparison of diet and disease in poor parts of the world and in the west showed alarming trends that increasingly implicated the rich western diet in a series of major illnesses. High levels of animal fat seemed to be linked with heart disease (2) and possibly with forms
of cancer. These findings, though they to some degree supported the vegetarian distrust of meat, were really more relevant to the vegan position, since animal fats includes the fat in dairy produce, which many lacto-vegetarians consume in considerable amounts.
The acceptance of the possibility of these dietary connections has made vegetarianism almost for the first time a subject of scientific investigation; until the late fifties there were no good nutritional studies of vegetarianism, and the built-in assumption for testing was one of inadequacy. (4) Only in the 1970s have funds become available for research in the area, and a major longitudinal study of the health of vegetarians has been launched by Dr Mann at the Department of Social & Community Medicine, University of Oxford. Despite the strong strain of hostility to science that runs through vegetarianism, particularly in its counter-cultural aspects, co-operation with scientific nutrition has been the dominant approach of the Vegetarian Society since the war. (5)
Growing popular interest in the roughage thesis was focused - as before - around the issue of bread. Since the sixties, bread production has been concentrated in the hands of a few large companies who also control the supply of flour to the declining number of local bakeries; these, companies have increasingly used factory methods - bread is a price sensitive product with low profit margins - and particularly the Chorleywood processes (6) which produces the classic sliced white loaf that today dominates the market. Against these developments there has been a popular movement, especially among the middle class, back to brown and especially wholemeal bread. In 1976 the Vegetarian Society launched the Campaign for Real Bread, CAMREB, and in 1980 the campaign was successfully taken up by the Sunday Times. (7) Taking as its model the successful CAMRA, it has, as well as the health aspect, some of the same concern over loss of quality and taste in modern food, and the same attack upon dictation to the market by the big combines.
The second major area of concern was chemical pollution which from the 1950s took over some of the older vegetarian concern over adulteration and bad meat. The vegetarians, and especially the vegans, have been associated with opposition to the fluoridation of water, partly through a belief in, its harmfulness, though also through not altogether realistic ideas about natural water and its pollution; hostility to compulsory and covert medication is also an aspect. The real focus however has been the rising use of food additives which are seen to produce the essential fakeness of modern food and are designed, it is argued, to increase profitability at the expense of quality and even safety. (8) Jon Wynne Tyson attacked the food habits that have produced:
These nutritional concerns increasingly took on a political aspect, and the politics of food re-emerged on the left. Vegetarianism continues in this period to display leftish connections. Partly this is through the link with the liberal, moral left, often 'left' in a non-political sense, expressing concern over issues like world hunger, nuclear war and holding a generally 'enlightened' attitude on social issues. But it is also linked through the upsurge in the sixties, as part of the counter culture, of the New Left. The relationship between the counterculture and the New Left is a complex one. By no means all involved in the counter culture were politicised certain wings, particularly the 'spiritual', were quiescent, concentrating on ‘being' and 'inner space', and largely unconcerned with changing social Structures, many believing that real change was a psychic not a social task. The left has tended to regard such attitudes and the growth movement and religions of the self that have developed from them as fantasies born of alienation, as false compensations for the absence in capitalist society of real autonomy and choice. The counter culture generally tended also to see the evils of society less as resulting from capitalism than from industrial production and scientific technocracy; even a socialist society, they argued, built on such foundations would do little to touch the real evils. The old left has tended especially during the thirties, though also afterwards - to regard science as: an undisputed area of knowledge and of public benefit, offering material security and advance, and it has a1so retained some of the old sense of science as undermining the lies and shibboleths of traditional society, and thus essentially part of the advance of radicalism. The New Left, however, under the influence of counter-cultural ideas has been far more critical of science, though its attack has been concentrated on it more as a social institution, in particular as controlled by military-industrial elites. The anti-industrialism found in the counter culture has, of course, long roots in the socialist tradition, and the New Left has in part revived that aspect, extending its interests to include communitarian experiments, rural self-sufficiency and small co-operatives as well as ecological concerns.
If we look instead, however, for what was the central shared concern of both the counter culture and the New Left, it was the stress placed upon consciousness. The affluence of the 1960s that underlay the counter culture produced at that time a feeling - though the reality was not so rosy - that the older goals of traditional socialist politics, of full employment, and. rising incomes, of decent housing and health care, were being largely achieved, and yet life was not as it should be. Among those on the left, this experience produced a drive towards a much more searching exploration of consciousness, and, influenced by the rediscovery of the humanistic Marx, and taking alienation as a central concept, they reopen to socialist debate the widest questions concerning the nature of work and how it is experienced, the role of consciousness and how it emerges from social structures. There was a drive to expand politics out of the small arena of accepted debate and to get included on the agenda of discussion the wider questions of how life is to be lived. (10) In this they looked back - and the impulse is reflected in academic and biographical interest - to the socialism of the 1880s, whose wider, more radical concerns were now recognised. It represented also a return of the visionary romantic strain in socialism. (11)
This impulse in the seventies worked its way through in radical underground politics; in the politics of private life through feminism and sexual politics; and in the rise of Green politics and the environmentalist lobby, which while not always socialist, owes much to the influence of the New Left: all of these were to some degree touched by the food issue. Lastly it impinged. Upon conventional politics through the movement among those of a counter-cultural generation to enter and win control of the Labour Party with a view to making it a vehicle of radical social change.
Seed magazine traces the ways in which the wholefood movement of the seventies emerged out of the political protest of the sixties, (12) and the political connections are driven home in headlines like 'The Food Moguls: those same wonderful people who brought us Vietnam'. (13)
Once again the class dimension in food had a galvanising effect, as those on the left, as well as some vegetarians generally, pointed to the malnutrition hidden behind aggregated figures and to the relationship between bad nutritional patterns - high consumption of animal fats like lard, deep fat frying, low fibre intake - and social class.(14) As the diet-reform message made converts among the increasingly health conscious middle class in the seventies, this working-Class weighting became more pronounced, and a suggested major factor in the differential class rates for disease like cancer and heart disease.
The essence of the left's critique is that since capitalist production is for profit not need, and since 'real' foods like vegetables and fruit have low profit margins, the manufacturers: 'lure us into eating convenience foods which bring in high profits for manufacturers but contain little nutritional value'. (15) 'Thus the types of food that have come to dominate our diet are those that the industry has found suitable for mass production and distribution, with a high profit element'. (16) It is this, they claim, that underlies the expansion of processed foods, especially during the 1960s.(17) The manufacturers answer these criticisms by saying that they produce the foods that people want, and that consumer choice holds sway. Here the left draws upon a concept of the manipulation of wants in capitalist society. Big business dominates food supply so that to blame people for their bad food habits is 'blaming the victim' of a complicated conspiracy. Advertising, it is argued, distorts our sense of food products and of what we need. Processed foods have effectively separated:
Nutritional education in schools is sometimes sponsored by food companies, - and 'a popular teaching kit for schools is produced by the British Sugar Bureau'. (19) Government itself is involved, though schizophrenically, in promoting bad nutritional patterns through the demands of the EEC to increase butter and sugar consumption. Lastly in the question of additives, the left points to the close relationship between food processing firms and government regulatory agencies that allows the food industry to exert considerable influence, through confidential consultations, on the formulation of the regulations that are designed to control it. (20)
These criticisms of the fakeness of modern food have meaning beyond the merely nutritional, for in junk food is seen to be the truth about modern society (whether that society is, as with the left, perceived primarily as capitalist, or, as more commonly within vegetarianism, just as modern industrial society for junk foods are false, denatured, reconstituted, coloured, flavoured and emulsified. They deprave our natural tastes with their lurid colours and sugared contents, and lead us away from reality to the falseness and slickness of corrupted society. They exemplify the malignant power of big capitalism peddling false foods to cater for falsified needs; real needs that are distorted and disguised by the surface satisfactions of consumer society. People in modern society are increasingly out of touch with their real selves:
Life is increasingly dominated by the machine, and Seed sees the most important issue as 'how to free the individual from the growing encroachment of corporate manipulative machinery (22). Organic wholefoods are the first step in the process: 'we believe that natural eating and natural living are the best ways to survive and thrive in this technological, world' (23)
Junk foods are alienated foods: processed TV dinners for processed mass culture. They are given to you, they are not of you; they are part of a passive response to one's life. By contrast, wholefoods demand time and effort in preparation, they restore your active involvement. They represent no longer the world coming in on you and taking you over; real foods mean pushing but the frontiers of self-direction and taking control of your life, and making your own bread becomes a step to both autonomy and authenticity. This feeling also underwrites the concern with craft work, which represents both an escape from the dominance of consumer-style production, and, most important, an extension of the self in creative labour - the recovery of work as meaningful occupation. Texture also underwrites the political message: you are required to chew your rice. Wholefoods are granular, coarse and fibrous. Junk foods by contrast are pre-digested pappy, super whippy – food for a slave culture.