Bad (nutritional) science

by Sofia

This is a great follow up to the last post. I’m reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, which is wonderful. In it, he compares the difference in life expectancies in two areas of London, England: 70 years for a male in working-class Kentish Town, and 80 in wealthy, middle-class Hampstead.

“The reason for this phenomenal disparity in life expectancy — the difference between a lengthy and rich retirement, and a very truncated one indeed — is not that people in Hampstead are careful to eat goji berries and a handful of Brazil nuts every day, thus ensuring they’re not deficient in selenium, as per nutritionists’ advice. That’s a fantasy, and in some respects one of the most destructive features of the whole nutritionist project, graphically exemplified by McKeith: it’s a distraction from the real causes of ill health, but also — do stop me if I’m pushing this too far — in some respects, a manifesto of right-wing individualism. You are what you eat, and people die young because they deserve it. They choose death, through ignorance and laziness, but you choose life, fresh fish, olive oil, and that’s why you’re healthy. You’re going to see eighty. You deserve it. Not like them.”

This reminds me also of The Rebel Sell, which articulates a similar thing: that the alternative becomes an elitist cultural marker for the few that can afford it. Ironically, the bleeding heart left-wing people that do this end up supporting a very right-wing ethos that is just branded differently.