Chapter 9

Too hard to swallow?

The palatability of healthy eating advice

Anne Keane

Information about food and health is a key contemporary issue. National campaigns to reduce the incidence of obesity and dietary-related diseases have met with little success, while in recent years the role of government departments, food producers, manufacturers and retailers has come under increasing public scrutiny in relation to food safety issues.

Qualitative research into food practices often concentrates on abstract symbolic meanings rather than considering broader historical and political processes. In contrast, literature dealing with food consumption in terms of economics or policy rarely considers the complexity of people’s behaviour. The aim of this paper is to avoid such a division, by discussing both the results of a qualitative study into perceptions of food and health information and the wider political and commercial context of such information. 1


SETTING THE SCENE: THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF HEALTHY EATING

Throughout this century the government has conceptualised dietary change as a consumer issue, rather than a state or industry responsibility. Concerns about the healthiness of the British diet have, however, shifted significantly during this period. In the early 1900s attention was focused on malnutrition among the working classes, and the accompanying threat to industrial productivity and the nation’s capacity to defend itself. Resulting from the development of nutritional theories during the first half of the century, foods with a high protein and vitamin content were classified as ‘protective’ and calorific foods such as cereals, bread,

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