The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'junk food'


Out with the old, in with the new: Britain's Con-Dem government invites fast food companies like McDonalds and PepsiCo to help write health policy. Presumably New Labour's approach was too anti-business or something (damn those radical Blairite crypto-socialists). Meanwhile, despite being one of Europe's thinnest nations, Denmark is imposing a tax on junk food, out of the fear its citizens may become as obese as the British:

I met one Danish couple who are raising three young children on a modest income in what is already the most highly-taxed nation in Europe. But they do not resent the government adding further to their grocery bills; far from it.
At his heaviest Lars jokes that he had the belly of "an English hooligan".
Britons, it seems, are, in stereotype, the Americans of Europe.

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Evolutionary psychologist Daniel Nettle claims that a lot of the social problems associated with socioeconomic deprivation are actually evolutionarily adaptive strategies for maximising opportunities when faced with uncertain prospects. To wit: risk-taking behaviour such as gambling and crime make sense when, ordinarily, individuals' prospects look bleak, unhealthy diets make sense when there isn't much of a future to plan for (junk food, after all, is a far more economical source of energy in the short term than eating healthily), and, as for teenage pregnancy, that's what's known as a fast reproductive strategy (i.e., have as many offspring as quickly as possible and hope that some do OK rather than putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket):

At a meeting last year, Sarah Johns at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, reported that in her study of young women from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds in Gloucestershire, UK, those who perceived their environment as risky or dangerous, and those that thought they might die at a relatively young age, were more likely to become mothers while they were in their teens. "If your dad died of a heart attack at 45, your 40-year-old mum has got chronic diabetes and you've had one boyfriend who has been stabbed, you know you've got to get on with it," she says.
Fathers in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to be absent, which could be because they are following "fast" strategies of their own. These include risky activities designed to increase their wealth, prestige and dominance, allowing them to compete more successfully with other men for sexual opportunities. These needn't necessarily be antisocial, but often they are. "I'm thinking about crime here, I'm thinking about gambling," says Nettle, and other risky or violent behaviours that we know are typical of men in rough environments. A fast strategy also means a father is less likely to stick with one woman for the long term, reducing his involvement with his children.
Once you are in a situation where the expected healthy lifetime is short whatever you do, then there is less incentive to look after yourself. Investing a lot in your health in a bad environment is like spending a fortune on maintaining a car in a place where most cars get stolen anyway, says Nettle. It makes more sense to live in the moment and put your energies into reproduction now.
These fast strategies, unfortunately, form a feedback loop: children brought up with minimal investment by fast-strategy parents are more likely to perceive their prospects as bleak and engage in similar strategies (studies have shown daughters of absentee fathers being more likely to become pregnant in their teens, for example). Meanwhile, junk-food diets stunt cognitive development, further sabotaging attempts to break the cycle.

The upshot of all this is that, if Nettle's theory holds, campaigns against unhealthy or antisocial behaviours are merely treating the symptoms, and real improvements can only come from addressing the underlying causes of such insecurity, i.e., poverty and uncertainty. Of course, actually doing so is a lot more expensive and could prove electorally unpopular, especially when opportunistic politicians are willing to promise cheaper solutions and voters are eager to believe that they will work.

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Q: What do (US) Chicken McNuggets™ and Silly Putty have in common? A: dimethylpolysiloxane, an "anti-foaming agent".

American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, “an anti-foaming agent” also used in Silly Putty.
Christopher Kimball, the founder and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and host of the syndicated cooking show America’s Test Kitchen, says he suspects these chemicals are required for the nuggets to hold their shape and texture after being extruded into nugget-shaped molds.
These chemicals don't show up in McNuggets in Britain, apparently due to the EU's stricter food laws.

(via Boing Boing) better living through chemistry food junk food mcdonalds 1


Dragged kicking and screaming into the world of time-squeezed Anglocapitalist efficiency, the French have been taking to McDonalds in droves. Well, someone in France has, with the chain making more money in France than in Britain and reporting record profits. The funny thing is, it's never any French person anyone has actually met; all interviewed profess an existential disgust of le macdoh.

“No,” says Magali. “It is not. A croque is something ... beautiful. But thees is ... my god.” Correction. Magali is not appalled. This is something deeper than appalled. This is existential.
Magali doesn't eat in McDonald's. In fact, she says, she doesn't know anybody who eats in McDonald's. Stop any Frenchman on the street - and we stop plenty - and he will shrug and snarl and say that he doesn't eat in McDonald's, either.
Going into an actual McDonalds didn't help the reporters find an actual French person who will admit to liking what McDonalds has to offer:
At the next table a family are eating together. “We're only in here because we're in a rush,” says the father, much like a husband explaining a mistress to his incredulous wife. “It's not normal. We would never eat in McDonald's usually.” He says that he is from Montreal, anyway, and that we may refer to him only as Mr X. The rest of the family stay silent, and munch, and blush.
The French embrace of fast food has led to a steep rise in obesity rates in France, with some speculating that French culture's unpreparedness for such gastronomic habits may hit France especially hard:
French obesity rates have rocketed in recent years. According to estimates, 11 per cent of the French are obese and 40 per cent are overweight. This is better than the UK or the US, but it grows by about 5 per cent every year. One thinks of those previously untouched indigenous tribes that manage to wipe themselves out in a generation after being introduced to booze. The French are failing to eat in moderation. For a culture that prides itself on its waistline, this is a difficult failing to accept.
The boom in fast food in France isn't all McDonalds, though; indigenous fast food concepts are appearing as well:
In recent years, at least in Paris, there has been a boom in fast-food eateries of the sort described above. The pioneer in this respect is a newish chain called Cojean. It was set up in 2001 by Alain Cojean, who had spent the previous 15 years working in research and development for - yes - McDonald's. Cojean is a very different beast.
We visit the branch across the road from the Louvre. Cool and airy, it is tastefully converted from an elaborately corniced patisserie. It sells fresh salads, proper coffee and sandwiches that are resolutely not triangular. We pick a ham and melon salad with noodles and rocket. The melon tastes as if it has just fallen from a tree, and the ham just scraped from a happy pig. There is a surprise bit of jagged plastic lurking in the middle, true enough, but we are not in McDonald's so we have no urge to sue. It just adds to the sense of handmade authenticity.
During my recent visits to Paris, I've also noticed a lot of takeaway sushi places. (The Rue de la Verrerie in the Marais is particularly full of them.) These places have plastic boxes of nigiri and sashimi sitting on shelves in chillers, much as in many other global cities; from my experience, the sushi, whilst nothing fancy, is typically of a high standard. So for me, fast food in Paris has typically meant sushi.

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The most recent Lonely Planet travel guide to Britain has a rather scathing assessment of British culture today:

The Lonely Planet guide noted that more people vote in television talent shows than in elections, saying this was "a symptom of Britain's ever-growing obsession with fame and celebrity".
Britons are fascinated with famous people "even though their 'celebrity' status is based on little more than the ability to sing a jolly tune, look good in tight trousers or kick a ball in the right direction," it noted.
On the food front, the guide asserted that Britons eat more junk food and ready meals than all other European countries put together
Also singled out were alcohol and antisocial behaviour.

Of course, a lot of Brits would agree wholeheartedly; they've been going on about how rubbish things are in Britain (or at least England) for hundreds of years now, and turned it into a national pastime; the horribleness of life in Britain and of its inhabitants (the viewers and their friends excluded, of course) has become a staple of TV shows from Little Britain to Monkey Dust, not to mention the subject of numerous songs. Still, it's one thing to knowingly say "yes, our country's a bit rubbish" and another to see a bunch of foreigners slagging it off in a travel guide.

On the upside, the Lonely Planet praised Britain's multicultural society, with particular reference to curries. Being Australian, of course, they couldn't be expected to praise their warm, foamy beer.

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A BBC TV programme is using computer-based photo-aging technology to model the effects of decades eating junk food:

I wonder what algorithm chose the grey sweatshirt/polo shirt in the aged images.

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Documentary film maker Morgan Spurlock set out to eat three meals a day at McDonalds for 30 days and document the effects of this diet on film. Within a few days, he was vomiting out of the window of his car, and doctors were horrified at how rapidly his body deteriorated:

"None of us imagined he could deteriorate this badly - he looked terrible. The liver test was the most shocking thing - it became very, very abnormal."
Spurlock, who says he ate at McDonald's only sporadically before his total immersion in the Mickey D's menu, says he even began craving fat and sugar fixes between meals. "I got desperately ill," he says. "My face was splotchy and I had this huge gut, which I've never had in my life. My knees started to hurt from the extra weight coming on so quickly. It was amazing - and really frightening."

Spurlock's documentary, Super Size Me, has been screened at the Sundance film festival; its website is here. (via jwz)

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Never let it be said that Michael Jackson, for all his eccentricities, is out of touch with important issues in his community. The reclusive pop star recently left his ranch to visit his congressman, demanding more fast-food restaurants in the area. Jackson was wearing a Spider-Man mask at the time; he was quoted as saying "I love Taco Bell".

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After decades of solid profits, junk-food empire McDonalds is about to post its first ever loss. A sign of the coming collapse of the golden age of global consumerist democracy?

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