Fat and frantic
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Date: 11 August, 2004

Book cover: The Apologist

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'The sooner we dispatch the snobbery that "West is best," the better.'

You must have had your head buried in a mountain of Big Macs this year not to know that obesity is killing us.

Accusations are piling up alongside our collective fat mountain. Politicians, schools, hospitals and food manufacturers are to blame. And those of us not of broom handle stature are lazy, uneducated or just plain greedy. Such irresponsibility is threatening the very heart of our nation.

The war on fat is upon us, as are weapons of mass hysteria. Diet this, fit club that. But is anybody actually tackling the real issues? Why do we have such a problem with food? What is a healthy body image? How come we are overeating when millions die from food shortages?

Well the good news is, there are actually a fair number of books to help us savour all issues regarding food. Here are five to give you some fibre to chew on.

Fat is a Feminist Issue
Susie Orbach, Arrow £7.99Book cover

Rightly, Orbach's classic has been selling for over 25 years. It blows from the table the myth that if only we remembered the millions starving in Africa we wouldn't over indulge. Rather, she suggests that parents chastising children for leftovers on their plate and reminding them of starving children, are the problem.

Accordingly our society has become obsessed with engulfing all in our way and incapable of telling when our bodies are full. Not convinced? Try her exercise of leaving a mouthful of food on your plate and throwing it away - not for the faint stomached!

Add to that, psychological pressures leading to "comfort eating" and it's no wonder we are in a mess. The expectations on women especially, to smile passively, lead us to swallowing our anger and depression. Again there are numerous exercises to help us take control of our bodies and minds.

A far more useful book than those proscribing foods, which often lead to cravings followed by guilty bingeing.

What Would Jesus Eat?
Dr Don Colbert, STL £16.99Book cover

WWJD bracelets are out. What you really need is a WWJE fridge magnet. Well you do if you go along with Dr Don Colbert anyway.

If you want a decent book on the whys and wherefores of healthy food then this is as good as any. There is nothing too groundbreaking however with the mantra of wholegrains - good, French Fries - bad, forming the general advice.
The Christian physician also takes a welcome look at the need for free range cattle and kosher meats rather than intensive farming.

But, and with such a title there has to be a but, to justify good eating Colbert relies on the often spurious use of bible verses. For example, Jesus referring to God being like a mother hen, points to the fact that he ate chicken - apparently.

What is in essence a useful book, becomes a sad reflection of the fact that some Christians will only follow common sense if preceded by "Jesus said . . ."

PS. If you are really keen there is an accompanying cookbook.

Fat Land
Greg Critser, Penguin £6.99Book cover

Critser like so many of us, was overweight. It was only when he nearly caused an accident and was called "fatso" he decided to do something about it. This decision led to a journey into the world of fat reduction and a discovery of some of the real causes behind America's obesity problem.

Critser was quick to realise that obesity is intricately linked to class and wealth. The book is full of frightening figures showing how poor communities are more likely to suffer obesity related health problems than the rich.

The availability of decent education that is not sponsored by Pizza Hut, MacDonalds or other such health aficionados is limited. As is good proactive, preventative healthcare.

These are not exactly revolutionary claims but Crister's exploration of how "bad foods" such as sugar and fats are subsidised more than healthy foods is illuminating.

Don't be put off by the American slant as much of the book has relevance in the UK too; not least because we are fast following in their footsteps, both culturally and in body shape.

We are provided with a well researched, readable book that exposes some of the real causes of Western obesity. It is not just individual greed and lack lustre will power that is to blame.

So We Shall Reap
Colin Tudge, Penguin £8.99Book cover

Highly critical of the short termism and lack of diversity in our food production, Tudge argues that instead of starvation being a reality for the majority world, all people should be able to eat for time immemorial. That is, if we change our attitudes.

Tudge, a zoologist and a Research Fellow at the Centre of Philosophy at LSE does not eschew science. He is not an organic fetishist with simplistic answers, but he does rigorously examine the need for more regional farming and learning from traditional methods. The sooner we dispatch the snobbery that "West is best," the better.

Alongside his historical account of humanity's ability to farm, he writes that we are spiritual beings and therefore have a need to look after the land and wildlife around us. Our status as intelligent beings also brings with it the compunction to design sustainable farming methods that will provide food for tens of thousands of years.

Sadly he does not examine fully these claims. I passionately believe he is right, but on a daily basis, humanity refuses to live its responsibility. Let's just hope that some people may start to act on this important book.

The Apologist
Jay Rayner, Atlantic Books £10Book cover

After discovering one of his columns has led to the suicide of a restaurateur, food critic Marc, decides to apologise. This leads to an all-consuming desire to apologise to everybody he has sinned against - ever.

The UN are quick to pick up on his passion and make him Chief Apologist and task him with leading countries to apologise to each other for historical hurts. A new life starts for this man who has struggled with the meaning of a healthy body image since childhood. As weight is lost, Marc discovers that gluttony and greed affect far more than a person's feeding cycle.

Is love of good food a crime? Do we assume that only rich people have sophisticated taste buds? How do we learn to love one another and ourselves? All these questions and more are tackled with dark humour interspersed with descriptions of food, which are almost erotic in detail.

Forget diets, forget health gurus, Jay Rayner has the answer to our obesity; we are broken human beings. We might sort out one problem but are just too good at simply causing another. A superb morality tale for all those who think greed is simple issue.

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