Westminister Food and Nutrition Forum – Where’s the blue sky thinking?

I know, I know, if I go to an event about obesity in Whitehall, I’m going to get mad – it’s inevitable. Bu how can it be that we know so much more about how dieting doesn’t work, about how weight-based health paradigms make people feel bad about themselves and don’t help them be healthier and yet still we bang on about labelling, about dieting and the ‘fact’ that we all need to lose weight or we’ll die. Like ANY MINUTE. When are we going to start thinking a bit more HEALTH and a bit less WEIGHT?

Ya, so I couldn't take pics when I was there, in case I was a terrorist...

Ya, so I couldn’t take pics when I was there, in case I was a terrorist… so here’s some sky..

Thanks to the splendid Dr Eliot Marston who bunked off to do something more important (Get his hair done? Lance the cat’s boil?), I managed to get my foot in the door to the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum with his hand me down ticket. Normally, they don’t let unqualified reprobates like me in, but I wore a hat and tried to behave in a stately fashion.

Finally, I would get to see the terrifying Dr Susan Jebb (of MRC, Dispatches programmes and shutting fat people in a room to see how much energy they burn fame) in action, alongside various fun and games from healthcare, government and industry to talk food labelling and what to do about this wretched old obesity crisis. Because, gosh darn it, despite the fact that ‘all obese people will die early’ (thanks David Haslam from the National Obesity Forum for that enlightening direct quote), far too many fat people are not dying early enough and end up being expensive.

Naturally, the event was in Whitehall, which was very exciting for a scabber like me who doesn’t normally get to go into the posh buildings in Whitehall, unless it’s slung between four policemen as I’m carried away kicking and screaming. It looks different when you’re upright, I can tell you. It all began in grand ironic style when I turned up on my bicycle (as ever) and was not able to park anywhere, in case my bicycle was a bomb (note: going to an event in Whitehall about obesity? Better get a taxi). Very sweetly, they let me bring my bicycle in and park it in the cleaners’ cupboard – thank you lovely staff people. Once in, we were all greeted with tea, coffee and mountains of biscuits (note: going to an event in Whitehall about obesity? Have some high sugar/high fat snacks at 8.30am). Talk about setting a good example.

The event itself was mad interesting although, as you might imagine, by about halfway through I was incandescent with rage and also terrified to try to speak in front of all the suits and policy making/industry bigwigs so had to sit with my hands clamped over my mouth, trying to form a coherent yet penetrating question.

The absolute disdain was palpable in the room in the constant othering and describing ‘the fat’ or ‘the poor’ as if they were some strange and incomprehensible life form that needed saving from themselves. Most of the discussion centred around labelling – whose responsibility it was, who was doing what and how, self-satisfaction from some and responsibility shirking from others. There was a great deal of talk about calories, calorie counting, the terrible impacts of obesity and how it makes everyone die horribly, that it’s expensive, that when you diet most people can successfully lose 5% of their body weight after 3-6 months (hallelujah) and blah blah blah. It was all same old same old.

David Haslam was kind of great and kind of awful – he had a great manner and a admirably sensible approach to the NHS box ticking and point scoring but he was being clear that the problems with fat people were that they were mostly unaware or even proud of their bellies (how dare they be proud of their vile and irresponsible paunch?), that they would all develop health problems as a result of their fat and that healthcare professionals weren’t taking the opportunity to hammer home how fat people are. And then he ended with a comical picture of headless fatties and encouraged us to laugh at them. Champion. And he seemed surprised that fat patients weren’t ‘engaging’ with the system, because yes, the best way to get fat people to ‘engage’ is to to tell them they’re going to die young and then laugh at them. Dear Dr Haslam, healthcare professionals have a hard enough time as it is trying to broach this awkward obesity issue, many obese individuals struggle with mustering the self-worth to indulge in self-care – when we said maybe some humour would help, this isn’t what we meant.

I managed to ask him why he was surprised given that he seemed to be mocking and condemning fat people and why didn’t we try separating weight and health but I was so cross and petrified that I was totally incoherent and rambly. Nonetheless, he did say he agreed with me and Mr Professor Someone From Oxford did point out that they’d seen recent research that suggested you didn’t need to lose weight to get the health benefits from making lifestyle changes. So why don’t they separate weight and health I asked? And then they shushed me, said they got what I was trying to say, took the microphone away (really, literally wrested it from my sweaty palm) and moved on.

On the plus side,  I met a reeeeally interesting lady from the MRC who was a little bit radical and a little bit experimental and up for doing things with theatre and obesity…

Shame on you Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum, I laugh in the face of your weight-based health paradigm! *fist shaking* I WILL make change…. *more fist shaking – eats handful of biscuits from plate and puts rest in tupperware box for later* I’ll show you!

Published!

Only slightly… Last week the Guardian were looking for responses from readers about dieting and body size so I had to submit something. I only found out about it at the last minute from my best beloved up the duffer, Kate Ebbutt,  and was at work. Nonetheless, totally illegally, whilst at reception with people yelling ‘BENGALI’ in my face, or thrusting pots of wee and test results at me, I frantically scraped together something halfway coherent. Tis not my best, but it made it to print. Very proud…

 

A busy start to 2013…

So, I see that I’ve done Sweet Fanny Adams on here since September of last year, which is poor. Very poor.

My bad, I will get my finger out and try to be a little more regular (figs aside) – if only so that my grandchildren will be able to see all the crazy schtick their granny got up to in the good ol’ days before, y’know, hover cars or whatever.

There is so much catching up to do that I will do it slowly, one thing at a time, one thing a day. First off:

Jolien, Thalia and I got some funding to set up our wee venture Meet and Two Veg (I done a pun!). We plan to do cooking and eating sessions with the local community, more ‘flash meals’, collect stories, take pictures and maybe (organisational skills, suppliers and venues permitting) supper clubs with a less exclusive feel. But there will be no sleeping – we don’t have time for that.

It’s early days, we’re still battling the setting up a bank account bureaucracy nightmare and our desk/office space looks like this (we love Pellicci’s):

All the essentials for breakfast…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but we’re making progress and have our next ‘flash-meal’ on the cards…

Watch this space.

 

 

 

The Biscuit Chronicles Goes to Birmingham

I’ve handed my dissertation in!

Just had to share that… (very, very proud)

Now that’s out of the way, it’s full steam ahead with the next version of The Biscuit Chronicles. Having been working with some of the lovely, super-brainy folks up at Brum University who are thinking up ever more ingenious ways to look at, understand and perhaps address the issue of obesity, I am mid-rehearsals for smooshing together (technical term) cutting edge research, personal experience and the inevitable ‘science demonstrations’ that I just can’t resist doing (anybody with a spare lab coat and/or safety goggles please let me know).

It’s in a lovely space at the mac theatre and it’s part of a huge city-wide day of food-related events that anybody, really ANYONE who is anywhere near Brum should totally go to – curry cooking competitions, dancing, science, all kinds of weird and wonderful marvellousness made better by its free-ness and about food-ness.

The all important day is 28th September and it will be cracking – check the website for all the info and hope to see you there…. Just to tempt you, some comedy goods from a publicity photo-shoot for the event (big thank you to the talent that is Penny Dixie for her brilliant photos http://www.pennydixie.co.uk/)

GET YOUR LOVE HANDLES OUT! LOVE THAT POT BELLY! THE BISCUIT CHRONICLES IS A-COMING TO TOWN!

belly belly belly belly!

 

Love-handle lovin’

Poor Old Michael Finnegan Begin-again

No room for self-pity here

A couple of nights ago I watched Julie & Julia for the first time. Imagine the scenario – it’s relatively late, I’m in a borrowed house, on my own, feeling wrung out, dejected and more than a little bit lost. I’m pre-menstrual and I cried when I realised I’d left my deodorant in the library – perspective was lacking. What I needed was escapism and encouragement. Julie & Julia fit the bill – Meryl Streep in Paris boning a whole duck ticks all my boxes. In the film Julie is turning thirty, working a government call centre job and has just moved into a slightly grotty flat in Queens with her unspeakably attractive husband. She’s feeling directionless, unable to finish anything due to her ADD and, by God, she needs a focus and a deadline.

This has already gotten me into a fit of screaming despair, I’m practically tearing my hair out and lying face down on the bed crying copiously into someone else’s duvet cover. I said escapism, dammit!

As myself and two good friends sat late into the night one evening last week, swigging wine straight out of the bottle and two of the three of us crying over men it occurred to us that, hallelujah, we had come full circle. Friends for the longest of times, now aged thirty, we are all single and living at home with our mothers. Just to pip them to the post, I am also unemployed. When I read Bridget Jones’ Diary I felt so sure that it wouldn’t happen to me. Well, fuck it. It has.

At least this allows me some measure of escapism in watching Julie & Julia – both women have fabulous husbands and a place to live where they needn’t share a room with their (beloved) mother. This exists as a kind of crazy fantasy in my life at the moment. A room of my own. A kitchen with cookware not bought from ASDA/Woolworths/the pound shop. Someone to love. Sob.

Even Julia Childs had a small moment of despair when she feels that the eight years of her life spent writing her epic book of French cooking for Americans (servantless ones) are wasted when she can’t get it published. She wonders where she’s going, what she’s doing. I was like, Julia, tell me about it, honestly I know just how you feel. Six years of university and I still don’t know which way I’m going. At least she has a special hook for each of her copper-bottomed pans, even if she feels a bit lost. I can’t even get a job in a croissant shop.

But I exaggerate. As much as a year doing a masters at SOAS in the Anthropology of Food might have left me financially destitute, single and to all intents and purposes homeless, it has been a momentous year. I have learned so much from my time there – had my eyes opened to economics, international relations and the basics of anthropological theory which has been like a window into the collective brain of society. Foucault never seemed like a serious contender for a special place in my heart but the man puts words around ideas that have tickled round the edge of my consciousness for years but been meaningless and unwieldy until given shape by his work this year.

Studying food has given me a way into theories I would never have grasped without it, helped me to understand ideas in the story of meals and shared cooking pots. It’s given an emotional backdrop to some pretty dry concepts, been the gravy to make the dusty centrepiece of academic meat a bit more palatable. Whatever it is that some (most probably delusional) part of my brain thinks I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing seems to have gotten tantalisingly more tangible this year. The environmental aspect, the social aspect, the creative aspect and the food are gradually coming together.

A sore and self-imposed break-up from a much-beloved but somehow badly timed lover has left me bruised and missing the shape of him in my life. But despite all the grief and the temptation to ease the pain by casting it all away as time wasted, I look back at our time together and realise how lucky I’ve been, how much I’ve learned from him. He’s fixed a lot of what was broken, and nursed back to health my previously sorry excuse for faith in myself and set my feet on the path. He’s also been good enough to let me go with his blessing and send me on my way with his best wishes.

So here I am. Back at the beginning. Starting afresh with no job, no man, no money and no home. I don’t own a Julia Childs cookbook. I don’t think I can blog my way to a book deal and I certainly don’t have the resources to whip up Lobster Thermidor anytime soon. But I do feel armed with renewed determination and resolve, loaded with new knowledge that is allowing me to connect things together like never before and frankly, from here, unless my mother actually throws me out onto the street, the only way is up.

The Biscuit Chronicles goes interactive

Last month I was lucky enough to have the ever adorable Perry Walker (who even brings his own home made flapjacks) to help and teach me to facilitate a new format for the Biscuit Chronicles. Interspersing the monologues with discussion, the audience are invited to look at some of the topics that are raised by the performance and draw out some of the questions that we could or should be asking.

I’m not going to lie to you, I was terrified. I felt a bit out of practice and it was all a bit experimental and potentially disastrous. However, Perry was very helpful and supportive and, even though the first event only had three attendees, the next one had more than ten! Any worries about people not being interested or not having anything to say swiftly went out of the window. After an introduction about the project, I was met with a lukewarm response so I just went into the first monologue – when I was done, I replaced my (metaphorical) facilitator and gave them five minutes to discuss. When I brought them all back together the floodgates opened! I was blown away by the open and astute suggestions that people made – it brought in elements I had never considered and got people discussing everything from gender to identity to where our values come from. It was a massive and inspiring buzz!

It seems that inviting people to add their own ideas and opinions really gets people thinking – for me, it really helps to have more than one brain on the problem of body image and how we negotiate a healthier approach to weight, dieting and self-esteem because it’s a problem that needs multiple brains. Thank you ever so much to all my lovely attendees and especially to Perry – I couldn’t have done it without you!

Now to find some funding and really get the ball rolling…

New Show! Human Enhancement and the New Economics Foundation

So this week I have two new shows (of which I have finished writing… neither!) and next week I am rearranging the Biscuit Chronicles into a speak-out of sorts, giving people the opportunity to thrash out some of the issues around dieting with some help from the lovely Perry Walker from the New Economics Foundation.

This week it’ll be Human Enhancement…

Take the opportunity to be involved in the development of a new form of research!

Ethics? What ethics? The Human Enhancement Debate
Curious? Opinionated? Interested?
Come and be part of the creation of a new tool for discussion, facilitated by Perry Walker from the New Economics Foundation, to explore the topic of human enhancement. From wearing glasses to performance-enhancing surgery, how much transformation is too much? Does seeing infra-red make us better people or does it tamper with our basic humanity? What does it mean for individuals, for society, for the future?
The event starts at 6pm on Friday 8th June in Room B111 at the Brunei Gallery but places are limited so please contact Amy on 535497@soas.ac.uk for more information or to book a free place at the event.
And next week it’s biscuits all the way…