Byline: by Tom Doorley
JUNK food is bad, right? We don't really like to see our children eating the stuff. We are not happy when it's advertised on television during their programmes. And fastfood chains giving away toys with 'meals' raises moral issues.
Well, yes, I think most responsible adults would go along with that. And it is possible that we're going to give the thumbs up to a draft proposal drawn up by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland addressing the whole thorny issue of advertising less-than-wholesome food products to the infants of Ireland.
Being against such a proposal is a bit like being against motherhood, apple pie and full employment, isn't it?
Well, no, it's not, actually. The BAI is only doing its job in that it is charged with regulating broadcasting in Ireland and to take on board both our own national concerns and what happens in other countries.
But there should be more to it than that.
I believe that aiming commercial advertising at children, promoting any product a child is likely to want, is dubious in the extreme. Children have enough to contend with; they should really be off-limits to all advertisers.
But let's just deal with the proposed ban on junk food advertising. For a start, there are two key problems and they concern definition. What exactly is junk food? And how do you define children's television?
It's more complex than you might think.
Children's television is most certainly not confined to programmes that are made specifically for them. They watch lots of shows for adults; in fact, they often have a much broader experience of television than the average adult.
And then there's junk food. Is a Big Mac junk food? A packet of crisps? A chocolate bar?
Well, if any of them form a major part of the diet, sure. It's not good. But they are fine in moderation and when combined with proper, balanced eating.
Good food is not all about wholegrain muesli, low-fat yoghurt and taking a daily dose of bran. It's about balance, moderation, having a little of some foods and a lot of others.
The trap that the well-intentioned BAI has fallen into is a common one and it is this: There are lots of 'experts' out there who make a living out of reducing food to numbers and wagging their collective finger at anyone who dares to question their tyrannical edicts or, as they would prefer to call them, 'guidelines'.
What many of these pundits seem to have in common is a complete lack of interest in the pleasure of eating, the centrality of - in its broadest sense - good food to civilised living, and the sheer complexity of what an enjoyable and nourishing diet can actually be.
You see, as wise people have been saying for years at this stage, there is virtually no such thing as bad food, but there are some truly terrible diets.
There you have, in a nutshell, both the problem and the solution. The problem lies in the boffins' need to define what a good diet is and the fact that this simply can't be done in simplistic terms, in nutritonal scores, food pyramids and myriad other patronising, facile attempts to bully us all into submission.
The solution, of course, is to teach people to cook, to understand about fats and proteins and carbohydrates, and to be careful about what they shovel into themselves.
Above all, to teach us to be interested in food, excited about food, concerned about the food we eat.
For all the money and energy devoted to browbeating us about sugar, salt and fat, how much is expended on teaching such things? Damn all, as far as I can see.
Okay, let's just consider what will happen if the BAI's proposals are adopted. …