The Irish Times Healthplus

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Ten years ago, the Swedish government stated in very simple terms its environmental objective: “To hand over to the next generation a society in which the major environmental problems have been solved”.
In the ten years since, as Frank McDonald reported in this paper back in May in an article entitled “Sweden’s Green Approach”, the Swedes have been working hard to reduce Co2, to use biofuels, and to get to a place where they will be carbon neutral.
Mr McDonald’s piece was inspiring, so much so that I slipped it out of the Weekend Review to make sure that my teenage kids read it. Their response? “Why aren’t we doing the same?”
Why indeed. Yes, our environmental problems are huge, but the Swedish approach – make a big statement, but then find the answers in a series of multiple little steps that congregate to form a solution – doesn’t require anything truly radical.
So, let’s say we were to do the same thing with our health and our food in this country. Let’s say that tomorrow Ministers Sargent and Gormley come up with that big statement, but this time about food and health. What’s our Irish objective? “To hand over to the next generation a society in which the major food and health problems have been solved”.
Okay, that’s the big statement. Where are the solutions? Well, before we find the solutions, let’s agree on the problems. Quite simply, much of our modern lifestyle is making us sick, and fat. We eat the wrong foods, we don’t exercise enough, and we have no vision of how food and health are inextricably intertwined.
We use our health services to cure problems that are caused by our lifestyles, but our health services can scarcely cope, and we are paying a fortune for those services, money that the Exchequer no longer has.
To find our solutions, let’s take a wise word from that crafty old sage, Albert Einstein, who once said: “No problem can be solved by the same thinking that created it”.
So let’s change the thinking, and also use the idea of “The Ketchup Effect”, because it sounds like so much messy fun, and because I think selling The Ketchup Effect to children will be a cinch.
What is the Ketchup Effect? Eva Sunnerstedt of Stockholm City Council used the expression to describe how you get everyone to follow the examples of the early adapters when it comes to changing how we behave: “When you shake the bottle first, nothing happens – and than it’s all over the plate”. So, where do we find the new thinking, and then how do we get it all over the plate?
Modern medical thinking says, in effect: it’s ok to get sick because we can cure you. But might we not be in a better place if the orthodox thinking said: we don’t want to waste time, money and resources curing you when we can prevent the problem in the first place. Prevention is better than cure: just what Mother always said.
Here are some ideas about how we might prevent future problems, and thereby hand on to our children a society which has no difficulties with food and health. Goodness knows we are handing onto them a society that, in so many other ways, is little other than broken and bent.

Licensed Supermarkets
You need a licence to sell booze, and so should you need a licence to sell food. The terms that the licence requires retailers to comply with are simply that their food sourcing is Good, Clean & Fair. That means that at least 50% of their produce is Irish grown and made, and that the producer has been paid a fair price to supply clean food. If you don’t comply with Good, Clean & Fair, you lose your licence to trade.

Edible Education
Give me the child and I will give you the food lover, should be how we see food education in schools. Home Economics should be seen as the glory it is: a subject that teaches you how to control your life by controlling your diet. So, I’m afraid it’s going to be compulsory Home Ec from now on.

Oil-Free Food
Sunshine and soil are what you need to produce food, and whilst we don’t have an abundance of the former, we have gazillions of acres of the latter, so we can easily produce more than enough food to feed ourselves and to have a stable, secure food policy. So, we switch away from monocultures – grass and beef; intensively reared crops – that are dependent on fossil fuels, and revert to mixed, organic farming on each and every single farm. I’m as fond of them as you are, but we actually don’t need all those cows, and they are a very, very inefficient way to produce food energy for people.

Physical Education
Energy in, and energy out. We need to burn up our food calories by lots of physical activity, so in schools PE will be up there with Maths, Irish and English as a must-do subject. And just as the dentist sends you a note every six months to come in for a check-up, your doctor will do the same for your six-month fitness check.

Real Food Facts
The fact that food advertising for highly-processed foods continues on television is shameful. But we need to go even one step further, so that if you buy an item in a supermarket, its bar-code will disclose how far the ingredients have traveled, their fuel cost, and their total calorie count. Try selling some Cypriot spuds to your teenagers when they can see exactly how many air miles have been involved and how many tons of fuel were needed to grow them and then get them out of the ground, into the air and onto the shelf.

Hospital Food will be Local, Healthy and Fresh.
If you do wind up in hospital, then we assure you that what you eat will be part and parcel of making you well again. Lots of grains and vegetables, just a little meat, and lots of it grown in the hospital’s very own vegetable and fruit gardens. This means the most important guy in the hospital isn’t the consultant, it’s the gardener. And that’s the way it should be.