The syndrome of the embarrassing advocate is well known. It is manifest when a public advocate for a cause or principle is so embarrassing the issue ends up tainted by the follies and stupidities of the advocate.
Dr Darren Powell is a lecturer in health education at the faculty of education and social work at the University of Auckland. He is a member of the "food police". The very use of that term--which is now common coinage--indicates the way embarrassing advocates have damaged the cause.
When it comes to food and diet there are plenty of sane advocates. They will talk about balance in diet, rather than removing foods. They will reason with their audience to be self-disciplined and prudent when it comes to diet. "Moderation in all things" is their mantra. Such advocates do not get plastered with the "food police" label.
Dr Powell has written a piece in the NZ Herald which truly casts him as an embarrassing advocate. Confusion, misdirection, and suppressed ideologies infuse his written opinions. He risks defaming the cause of responsible dietitians. He is all in a lather over advertising junk food which appeals to children. Sadly, his language is confused, to say the least.
In neoliberal societies such as our own, the wants of the private sector frequently take priority over the needs of citizens, including children. This is especially true for the "Big Food" industry. which includes the multinational food and drink producers with massive marketing power.Read that paragraph again. You will need to read it several times if you are to have any hope of making sense of it. The "private sector" which allegedly takes priority over the need of citizens, including children, is made up of citizens, including children. So are we to understand that citizens are taking priority over citizens? Bizarre. And clearly a huge threat to civilisation. Doubly bizarre.
It's obvious that Dr Powell does not like big food corporations. That's what he (apparently) refers to when he alleges that the "private sector" takes priority over "citizens". He really does not like large corporations with prodigious financial resources running ad campaigns designed to build brand awareness and brand loyalty for their respective food products amongst consumers, including the young.
He cites McDonald's and Nestle as the bad guys. But he could have cited Fonterra. After all, over-consumption of milk has lots of damaging potential. How about the great flour and bread conglomerates? They are advertising all the time, and their products, if "over consumed" lead to all sorts of bad health outcomes.
The real problem, apparently, lies with large corporates who have prodigious advertising resources.
A raft of public health experts, journalists, researchers and the public blame Big Food products, lobbying and marketing practices for the childhood obesity "crisis".Big Food. We get it. But, it's worse folks. Not only does Big Food have lots of money to spend promoting their evil products, but they are insidiously targeting children with messages about healthy food.
Although on the surface it looks as if corporations are promoting healthy lifestyles and health products, at the same time they are stealthily creating and profiting from a new market - advertising "health" to children. This is where the narrow focus on "junk" food advertising restrictions is naive, even dangerous: all advertising to children is potentially "unhealthy".Advertising to children is "conditioning". It is mind-control. Look, if children come to believe that all that is needed, when it comes to what they eat, is to listen to advertising and consume the right (healthy) foods, they are sadly mistaken. Bad diets, according to our author, are also a function of "genetics, poverty, colonisation, and inequality".
Children are being conditioned to believe attaining good health is as simple as listening to advertising and consuming the right products. This deflects attention from complex and powerful determinants of health, such as genetics, poverty, colonisation and inequality.
Sorry, mate. If the issues are that broad, deep, and prolix there is no hope. Which leaves us with a quandary. It's apparently useless giving good food advice and instruction to children. "Three squares a day" is simplistic. It's useless to educate children on healthy eating and balanced diets, because they don't understand (and can't be taught) about genetics, poverty, colonisation, and inequality.
So education about healthy food is useless. Children must be taught about colonisation! Does that make sense to you, mum and dad? Do you feel empowered and capable and competent now?
What is one to do? It's all hopeless, so we must go for the Big Solution. Use the power of the State to control Big Food. The State understands colonisation and inequality. That's going straight for the jugular. That's the way to protect people from the private sector (even though they are part of it). Yes, all right, we admit it. Rules and regulations are the way to protect people from themselves. Here is the real objective, the real point of the Mad Doctor's argument. More Gummint controls. The Food Nazi begins to unmask himself.
This must stop - our policymakers must introduce controls that prevent children being advertising targets. And it can be done. Brazil, for example, has made it illegal to market any products to children on the basis that it is equivalent to child abuse.We can see it all unfolding--this socialist dream. Year-Five kids in the classroom, listening with rapt attention to scintillating lessons on "marketing strategies" and "stealthy tactics", and "product placement". Ah, it's a wonderful thing to be a health-sector-food-police-officer.
We must challenge the assumption that marketing healthy lifestyles and healthy choices is inherently "healthy" and examine how marketing tactics may actually shape children's thoughts and actions in unhealthy ways. Further, we must find better ways to make advertising - of both "healthy" and "unhealthy" products - abnormal and help children to become critical consumers, aware of marketing strategies and stealthy tactics such as sponsorship, product placement and "educational", "health-promoting" programmes.
Finally, our beneficent overlord ends his compelling piece with one more fallacy--the old hoary chestnut of the False Dichotomy.
In the end, it doesn't matter whether it is Big Macs or sliced apples, Milo or milk, we must contest the idea that marketing to children is normal, natural, necessary or harmless. After all, should children's eating and exercise be shaped by their needs, or by the needs of corporations to improve public relations, brand trust and their bottom line?How about both? After all, that's how a Free Society works. Sadly, Dr Powell's advocacy has embarrassed his cause.