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FOOD POLITICS - September 2018

Counting Down

Written by Dieuwertje Hehewerth

**Please note, this text may be triggering for those affected by eating disorders**

It’s been seven years since the day I got so sick of feeling inadequate that I decided to stop eating. Six years and 364 days since I began ten-kilometer hikes across Wellington’s waterfront and over its sheltering mountain on an empty stomach.

Six years and 363, 62, 61 days since I began sculling diet drinks to trick my stomach into being full – full of fizz, caffeine and fake sugar to erase hunger aches.

Six years and 360, 59, 58 days since I began counting every calorie I ate, every calorie I burnt, always making sure the ratio would be more energy burnt than gained.

Six years 357, 56, 55 days since (x) divided by 4.2 became my most practiced calculation as I scanned every food package and translated kilojoules to calories to measure every bite I ate.

Six years 354, 53, 52 days turning 51, 50, 49 kilograms into genuine surprise that my jeans were loose; before suddenly becoming nervous of how I appeared; before my parents began making small remarks that sent my heart racing; my head into an exhilarated panic. Did you know you could lose weight so fast?

48, 47, 46 kilograms before I started realizing this process was no longer wholly in my control.

45, 44 kilograms before I got my first scare of being sick: a simple cold sending me bedridden, unable to stand up.

43 kilograms as a full day of university became impossible; as arriving home, dragging my body over the doorstep, became an accomplishment, a relief and simultaneously a moment of panic – had I walked enough?

43 kilograms as a stranger on the street yells, “I HAVE TWO QUESTIONS FOR YOU: ONE, DO YOU EVEN EAT? AND TWO, IF I WOULD FUCK YOU, YOU WOULD FUCKING SNAP!”

(Of course with no confidence or energy to yell back, “THAT LAST POINT WASN’T EVEN A QUESTION!”)

43 kilograms as the word “anorexic” follows me around in whispers on the street. 43 kilograms as one morning, eyes glued shut from a flu my body had no energy to fight, I call my mother, asking her to help.  

And 43 kilograms does not even reach the greater extremes. Some getting down to 34, 33, 32, 1, 0. Flatline.

Waistline constantly measured, compared, re-measured. Eat; measure. Shit; measure. Graphs kept. Food lists stored. Comparisons made. Maintaining an eating disorder under the now careful watch of worried parents becoming a full-time job. Banned from working till “you get better.” Walking, running, rain or shine, till “you get better.” Family dinners becoming daily tortures until “you get better.” Arguments turning into screaming turning into, “IF YOU WOULD JUST STOP CARING THEN I COULD JUST GO DIE.”

(Yes. (Melo) dramatic.)

6 years since, “I only weigh myself in the morning -on the upstairs scales- with no pajamas on, and only if I have gone to the bathroom and taken my plate out. I never trust what the scale says if I weigh myself after a shower because I’m scared that the moisture on my skin will weigh me down.”

5 years since, “Perhaps I weigh less because I have less hair than I used to, so I could be  ‘healthier’ now than when I weighed this much but had long hair.“

4 years since, “people say I look better and they are proud of me but I feel like shit because I take the compliment as meaning I have put on weight. I often wish I was at my lowest again so that at least I know that I have anorexia, and not just some half attempt of it.”

And back to the top. Less eating, more walking, sculling, lying, panicking, attempting to vomit – vowing not to vomit – counting, calculating, weighing, measuring, weighing again, measuring again, and all the while the constant message being, “You’ll never have a normal relationship with food again,” as if a relationship with food is something to strive for. As if this obsession is comparable to a diagnosis of cancer. And believing it. And wanting to believe it. And enjoying believing it. Because this hyperactive obsession keeps this weight down, and under no circumstances does it feel okay for that number to creep up again.

43, 44, 45.

Tired of counting yet?

Tired of standing in the supermarket, scrutinizing the 2 calorie difference between this 100 ml of yogurt versus that 100ml yogurt at the other store, and do you really want to force your way out of this supermarket empty-handed once more?

Are you tired of pretending to yourself that you are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, meat-industry intolerant, cutting out entire food groups to shrink the supermarket so the plethora of food that is on display becomes unreachable? Unthinkable? Untemptable?

Are you tired of being scared of the feeling of hunger, filling your stomach with fillers thinking, “as soon as I’m full then I won’t have to eat anymore?” The fear of food warping into a fear of hunger making you eat more to take away the fear that came out of the fear of the food you are now using as a solution to solve the fear of eating?

Are you tired of looped logics making your head spin so much your stomach curls into a ball, so sick to your stomach you almost feel hungry or violently ill but you no longer know the difference?

“I have started a new nervous habit: beginning at the furthest reach of my arms – at my ankles; the insides of my shoulders; the recesses of my spine – I dig my fingernail into the soft, upper layer of my skin and begin drawing deep lines up the length of my legs and along the creases of my ribs. Upon reaching a natural end, I stop, clean the skin from beneath my nail, and start again. I finish when I am covered in red scratch marks; or when the time spent on the activity becomes more nerve-wracking than the state of mind that began it. I dress, and continue my day with the surface of my limbs and back stinging.“

It’s not called Anorexia Nervosa for nothing. But then An – “without” + orexis “appetite” does not make sense because I’m constantly hungry. It’s not that I don’t want food it’s just that I can’t have food – can’t have food without this great panic spreading under my skin so nervous and filled with energy that it pushes outwards, pushing at the boundaries of my skin till it feels so tight it could burst. If only there was less beneath it to make some room, to release this tension, “just a small buffer.” Just some breathing space. Just one less number, one movement downwards so I know I’m moving in the right direction. Down, not up. Less, not more.

It’s been seven years since that day.

Every seven years every molecule in our body is renewed, so shouldn’t this be a new body? Shouldn’t this “new” body be able to escape the fears the “old” one had, the one disposed of, one molecule at a time; the one that started the panic? The one that decided that the way to deal with anxiety was to shrink? That the way to deal with feeling incompetent was to slowly disappear? That the best way to feel nothing would be to cease to exist?

FOOD POLITICS - September 2018 Laura Alexander

Anthony Bourdain, The Memory Magician

Written by Laura Alexander

I’m lousy at food, and as far as I know his show was never broadcast in the UK, so when Anthony Bourdain died this summer, it was more or less the first I’d heard of him. Over the week or so before the next big story, obituaries filled my newsfeed and the home pages of my standard news sites. Reading them, I was amazed by the outpouring of love on the screen. My head is firmly up my own arse at the best of times, but it seemed crazy that so much love could exist for a person in the public eye without a word having even vaguely trickled through to me – I couldn’t even remember having heard the name. Before I knew it, clips of Bourdain were making their way into my killing-time-on-youtube-when-I-should-be-doing-something fare. He seemed nice, this gangly, grey haired figure standing around on street corners getting excited about things, asking questions and bouncing with enthusiasm. I searched for clips of him in the cities I’d visited, and the cities I’d hoped to visit, and salivated every time the camera zoomed in on some cheese. And then, while I was explaining to him how to make a Negroni (clearly the most delicious of summer drinks, as Bourdain, it turns out, also knew) the editor of this magazine asked me to write him a piece on the guy. All of which is a convoluted way of saying that I’ve been thinking about mussels.

My mum doesn’t like them at all, and my dad will eat them if they’re there, but isn’t really fussed, and so I went my whole childhood and adolescence without ever tasting a mussel. I knew they existed, sometimes I saw them on menus, but it would never occur to me to order them. The same is true of most seafood, but it’s the mussels that stand out. As far as I was concerned, I just didn’t like mussels, right up until the moment after my first year of university that I went to Istanbul for a week. It was the farthest I’d ever been from home on my own, and I was planning on staying there a week or so and then meandering down the coast and entering Greece through the islands.

I was nineteen and ready to explode with excitement. I’d been put in touch with a friend of a friend who could give me a couch to sleep on, and as soon as I arrived he took me out to hang on a street corner with his friends, drinking gin and playing the guitar and spitting the husks of sunflower seeds out onto the street. All of them were much older than me, nobody I’d ever met knew where I was, the night air was warm and I didn’t understand what anyone was talking about, I was in heaven. Someone looked up and across the street suddenly, at a vendor setting up a tiny stall, and then ran off and came back with a couple for mussel shells.

If you’re new in town you have to try this, they said, or something like it. I would have said I didn’t like mussels, but I was scared of losing face so I didn’t, so I slurped it down.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I found out later it was called midye, mussels stuffed with slightly spiced rice and served with a twist of lemon juice. Fresh, salty, ever-so-slightly spicy, smooth-mussel-texture against the slightly rougher rice. Down in one bite and swallow, you can just keep eating them without stopping until you’re full. Sold on every street corner, with judicious warnings from everyone that the street trade in them was totally unlicensed and possibly illegal, and if you happened to get a bad one the food poisoning would lay you out for days. I had at least ten every day for a week, and then I went away and I haven’t had them since.

That was four years ago, and yet I still find myself dreaming of them, in the nostalgic way a lost love is dreamt of, like remembering the look in someone’s eyes on a particular night, like the smell of jasmine. They’re still, probably, the best thing I’ve ever eaten (although I tried steak tartare for the first time a few months ago and that suddenly became a serious contender for the prize), but it’s more than that. Alone in a big new city for the first time, a romantic and impressionable teenager with no self-preservation instincts, they were the new, the unexpected, the opening of a door I hadn’t quite known was there.

Midye shows up in Bourdain’s work. Half an hour into an episode on Istanbul from 2010, there they were. Sampled fresh down by the water with the general lack of food safety highly emphasized.

“Nothing I like better,” quips Bourdain as he strolls along the waterfront, “than unlicensed seafood of indeterminate provenance”. They are favored with a quick these are in fact excellent before the camera moves on.

No matter. My magic doesn’t have to be his. But even a cursory glance at this guy’s output is enough to get you thinking of all those meals the memory of which locks into place with the right trigger. Neapolitan pizza out of a box on the steps of a church, whiskey old fashioned out of mugs in Paris, gyros in deep-fried pitta in Athens. So much food over the years since Istanbul, mostly eaten ad hoc, outdoors and in moments of such intense joy. I don’t know much about the guy Bourdain, and I probably never will, but this gift alone, to be able to share these little jolts of magic, is enough for me to mourn, just a little, that he’s gone.

FOOD POLITICS - September 2018 Jurek Wotzel

Will a modern apple a day keep the doctor away?

Written by Jurek Wötzel

Being conscious about the health effects of the foods you buy is exhausting. Meat gives you protein, but is often packed with hormones and antibiotics; fish contains so many beneficial omega-3s, but is contaminated with heavy metals; vitamin-stuffed fruits and vegetables come with a great deal of pesticides.

As though these problems aren’t enough, people have become worried about the depletion of vitamins and minerals in grains, vegetables, and fruits produced in industrial agriculture. Now, this is truly problematic. What if your apple a day isn’t going to keep the doctor away anymore?

Researchers such as David Thomas have been studying the composition of foods for decades and have found some alarming results. For instance, analyzing government food tables between 1940 and 1991, Thomas concluded that the calcium content of potatoes has dropped by roughly 35%, broccoli has lost 80% of its copper content and carrots lost 46% of their iron. A group of Canadian researchers found that between 1951 and 1999, potatoes lost 100% of their vitamin A and 57% of their vitamin C.

Nutrition scientist Donald R. Davis told the New York Times in 2015 that the decline in minerals in foods may be particularly present in crops that have a strongly increased yield today than, say, 50 years ago. This “dilution effect” means that there is an inverse relationship between crop quality and crop quantity. In his 2009 study, he added that the dilution effect is also present with regards to protein levels of broccoli and potatoes.

Irakli Loladze, a trained mathematician that turned to biology, reported to Politico in 2017 that the rising CO2 levels may be a reason for changes in the composition of plants. The increasing availability of CO2 for plants makes them store higher levels of carbohydrates, which crowds out other compounds such as minerals and vitamins. Thus, another dilution effect appears to take over; while rising CO2 levels are beneficial for plant growth, meaning that there is potential for higher food production, this will likely result in lower quality fruit and veg.

But is our diet really getting worse as a result of the decline in trace elements and vitamins?

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Robin Marles doesn’t think so. He acknowledges the dilution effect in some crops, like fruits and vegetables, but says that there are increases in other trace elements and vitamins. In addition, as broad groups, many fruits and vegetables naturally have wide ranges of variation in their mineral or vitamin content. Hence, different breeds of a plant may display different levels of certain compounds. Simply classing all breeds under the same category, as previous studies have done, skews the results because some breeds may be much more prevalent today than decades ago.

Richard Mithen from the UK Institute for Food Research says that our health is, in fact, largely unaffected by the changes in food composition. “We use different fertilizers now, we have different pollution which may have an effect. Some of these minerals may have gone down, others will have gone up. However, the health implications of this are not at all apparent”, he tells The Guardian. Slight mineral or vitamin deficiencies have been linked to chronic diseases of the cardiovascular system or diabetes, but it is unclear whether this cause-effect relationship holds. Nonetheless, Mithen, too, must admit that the dilution effect is real, and that many plants that have been bred for yield have not been able to take up trace elements and vitamins proportionally to their carbohydrate content.

So what’s the deal? For one, the composition of some of our foods is changing. Second, this may be due to a variety of reasons including climate change as well as industrialized agriculture. This does not mean that our diet has worsened to a concerning level, but it does mean that we have to be diligent in ensuring that we get enough of the right nutrients in our body.

It is worth considering reducing the amount of grains, fruits, and vegetables that one buys from large supermarket chains and, instead, switch to locally produced goods that aren’t affected by modern agronomic technology. Anthony Fardet and Edmond Rock from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research note in line with a great deal of other researchers that the reductionist view of food composition, as I have used it in this article so far, is insufficient to account for the true health effects of diet. The reductionist view presumes that we can isolate 1-1 cause and effect relationships when it comes to nutrition. Nutrition scientists such as Fardet and Rock think this is too simplistic. Rather, they support the view that the health effects of diet are nets of multicausal links.

Acknowledging this means adopting a holistic view of preventive nutrition. Vitamins and minerals cannot be isolated and simply be ascribed the same effects in different circumstances. For example, an apple may contain a range of different fibers and carbohydrates which ease vitamin C resorption, whereas a banana may lack those properties. Different foods have interaction effects with each other, enhancing or diminishing the benefits of their compounds. So the change in the composition of our foods can have long-lasting effects which cannot be measured by purely looking at the amount of mineral X or vitamin Y. Analysis needs to encompass a greater variety of variables.

Therefore, to take the safe route, one can buy the produce breeds people have been eating for hundreds of years. They are likely to be unaffected by modern production techniques that are thought to significantly alter dietary effects. In line with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s philosophy, it is always a good idea to only expose your body to the foods that we have ancient wisdom about.

A great example of applying this principle is sticking to the Mediterranean diet, which has frequently been shown to reduce mortality and risk of chronic diseases. A holistic approach means that without yet knowing the concrete causal links, we know that something about this dietary pattern is good for us. Additionally, in Mediterranean countries, the degree of industrialization of agriculture is much lower than in the US, the Netherlands, or Germany, for instance. Foods are less subjected to intervention, and thus, their composition is not prone to quick changes.

All in all, if you generally eat well, your daily apple will probably still save you your trip to the doctor. Yet, if you want to be sure about what you eat or improve your diet even more, take a holistic approach and be aware that industrially produced foods may have different nutritional values and different compositions. In the end, it is difficult to know whether your otherwise healthy industrially produced diet has an immediate impact on your well-being; but given a choice, choosing the safe option is never a bad idea in itself, even if it is a little exhausting.

FOOD POLITICS - September 2018 Phillip Morris

Greenhouse Gases Fresh From the Farm

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor-in-Chief

Despite the efforts of a few backward individuals, the world has recognized the need to mitigate the impact of climate change by reducing GHG emissions. The world has however been slow to recognize the important part that food will play in facilitating that reduction. Even further behind is the acknowledgment that primarily meat-based diets are unsustainable.

Global agriculture emissions contribute 20-30% of the GHGs annually. The EU has acknowledged that agriculture contributes to climate change, but when it comes to policy the focus has long been on ensuring food security and economic performance, which helps explain why methane was excluded from the National Emissions Ceiling Directive even though methane emissions from livestock are a significant part of overall emissions.

Some of the agricultural emissions come from the CO2 exhausts of machines used in agricultural production; these will be reduced by legislation that limits vehicle emissions, and market forces that encourage hybrid and electric vehicles. What is likely to continue to be overlooked is the amount of GHG produced by the animals raised for food, and specifically bovines. When organic compounds break down in an anaerobic environment, like animals digestive tracts, they produce methane, a GHG 10 times more efficient than CO2 at trapping heat. These then get released in a constant stream of burps and farts.

Agriculture emissions would be significantly reduced by a cultural switch from meat to plant-based diets, yet, in the name of preventing consumer confusion, the EU, Germany, and most recently France have passed policies that make it more difficult to market plant-based alternatives to animal products by preventing the use of terms traditionally associated with animals. It’s such a bad idea, that 45’s head of the US FDA considers it a good idea and is making similar moves to crack down on the use of the term almond “milk”.

These policies hinder the adoption of plant-based diets because consumers are use terms like “burger”, “sausage” or “milk” when deciding between products, even for plant-based alternatives. The European Vegetarian Union has already released a position paper denouncing legislation banning “meaty names” as an arbitrary decision, but denunciations are rarely enough to bring change. When politicians are caving to industry lobbyists over common sense you’ve got to hit them where it hurts.  

Photo by Jez Timms

Taking Action

Article 11 of the TFEU, which it has been argued applies to Member States along with EU organs, requires public policies to balance their objectives with their impact on the environment, but it doesn’t appear that such consideration was given with these restrictive policies. On the other hand, the companies subject to the restrictions actively promote their environmental consciousness.

Professor Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre has stated that despite the benefits of a plant-based diet for the environment and human health, eating meat is too culturally embedded in the developed world to be easily changed. Indeed, studies have found that consumer awareness of the environmental impact of animal-based meals in Europe is less than 50%. Still, individuals have recognized that their diet can impact climate change and a growing number are making changes to reduce their contribution by reducing the amount of meat in their diets and reducing food waste. Where the embeddedness of meat consumption comes into play is in government policy, where there has been plenty of acceptance that agriculture overlaps with health and the environment in general, but less so for climate change specifically. Any policy that neglects to consider the industry’s contribution to climate change is worth challenging.

The French law is really ripe for challenge because it is based on a misinterpretation of a Judgement of the CJEU. In this instance, the National Assembly states “Names associated with products of animal origin may not be used to market food products containing a significant proportion of plant-based materials…” It then gives “steak”, “fillet”, and “sausage” as examples of such names. It cites June 2017 Judgement of the CJEU for Case C-422/16 Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v TofuTown.com GmbH as the basis for its logic. However, that judgement differentiates between substitutes for meat and substitutes for milk, “In the present case, that the fact that, as regards sales descriptions, producers of vegetarian or vegan substitutes for meat or fish are not, according to TofuTown, subject to restrictions comparable to those to which the producers of vegetarian or vegan substitutes for milk or milk products are subject, pursuant to Annex VII, Part III, to Regulation No 1308/2013, cannot be regarded as inconsistent with the principle of equal treatment.” This should imply that meat substitutes are not prone to causing similar levels of confusion to consumers as substitute milk products and so don’t need to be included in the restriction.

Additionally, Regulation No 1308/2013, and related Regulation No 1305/2013, do not seem to address the relationship between agriculture and climate change, except for mitigating the latter’s impact on the former. This goes against Article 11 of the TFEU, whereby “Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.”

Where I believe the error lies in the Judgement is its test of proportionality which references protecting consumers from confusion and finds restricting the use of the term “milk” appropriate for meeting that objective. I have not yet found a broad study on the level of confusion among EU consumers deciding whether “milk” or “soy milk” are both animal products, but that can serve as evidence that, in general, consumers can tell the difference. Other similar studies would support this conclusion.  In the late 1990s when McDonald’s tried to block the trademark for “McVeg” vegetable burgers, The Australian Trade Mark Office reached the conclusion that “the practical risk of deception or confusion is completely negligible.” In the lead up to Germany’s law, a study conducted by The Federation of German Consumer Organizations found that only 4% of consumers said they bought a plant-based meat substitute by mistake.

New Avenues for Climate Change Litigation

The trend in climate change cases has been to target the biggest and most obvious players: oil and gas companies, and the governments in charge of their regulation and licensing. This, of course, makes sense considering the share of greenhouse gases emitted from their products. These companies are low hanging fruit in terms of their obvious contribution to climate change, but they represent a challenge in securing favorable outcomes due to their deep financial pockets and political connectedness. A cost-effective strategy for fossil fuel companies is to drag litigation out as long as possible to the point where continuing is not a viable option for the plaintiffs, either financially or politically.

While in no way suggesting that these efforts should not continue, I do believe it’s necessary to explore other possible targets. A first step would be for the EU to roll back its unnecessary policies and direct its Member States to follow suit. The next step would be for governments to take the opposite policy position to support efforts to adopt a plant-based diet and in doing so support their citizens trying to make a difference, one meal at a time.

Christian Hazes FOOD POLITICS - September 2018

Oh SNAP! Food Stamps are Under Pressure

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

It is safe to say that ample initiatives coming from American presidents have miserably failed. Ronald Reagan’s intense acceleration of the War on Drugs, originally commenced by President Nixon, and its devastating impact on incarceration rates and especially the Black community, is probably one of the most fitting epitomes of those unfortunate initiatives.

Sometimes, though, a hidden gem comes to the surface. Unlike several other Wars On something started by the United States, the War on Poverty and particularly its 1961 re-introduced food stamps system received critical acclaim. It was President John F. Kennedy that suggested the food stamps system as a pilot and eventually secured sufficient and healthy nutrition for a staggering number of American families living below the poverty line. Up to this day, a vast amount of Americans continues to rely on what is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), preventing widespread hunger across the country including all of its disastrous consequences. In 2016, a staggering 45 million Americans benefited from SNAP.

However, if current president Donald Trump has his way, getting food on the table will soon be a difficult task for a large portion of Americans. Envisaged budget cuts for 2019 jeopardize a precious and effective American welfare component, thus leaving many American families in peril.

Trump aims at trimming the SNAP-related spending severely over the next decade. Approximately a quarter of the current program’s funding will have to be cut according to the president. What this boils down to is the fact that a significant number of current SNAP recipients will lose access to this invaluable social safety net. In the case that Trump is able to fulfill his wishes, the aforementioned number of 45 million Americans that participate in SNAP will drastically decline.

Unsurprisingly, SNAP has always been a vexed topic within U.S. politics. The debates on SNAP make a longstanding and notorious schism in American culture come to the surface once again. On one side, liberals laud the bulwark of the American social safety net, emphasizing that the program spares millions of American households from misery. On the other hand, (mostly Republican) conservatives tend to detest the program due to its alleged motivation-stifling nature.

Obviously, every individual is allowed to have a certain ideological preference. But, the primarily positive effects of SNAP cannot be denied. More importantly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly guarantees freedom from hunger, thus making access to food a human right.

SNAP’s first and foremost goal, quite evidently, is to reduce food insecurity. In other words, the nutrition assistance aims to prevent having uncertain or insufficient access to food. Research consistently shows that participating in SNAP is accompanied by a decreased risk of food insecurity. What’s more, the height of the sum that participants get plays a huge role: the higher the benefit received, the lower one’s food insecurity risk is.

But SNAP does more than simply put food on the table of the needy; its positive long-term effects are likewise noteworthy. The incidence of babies born underweight – a tragic event that comes with a slew of complications during later stages of life – fell relatively drastically; roughly 10% fewer occurrences were measured after the inception of the food stamps program. Seeing as access to nutrition assistance in early life stages is vital, health problems dawning in adulthood can be circumvented by ensuring access to SNAP in utero and during early childhood.

SNAP’s reach extends to the economic domain as well. The initiative lifts numerous American households out of poverty, as well as many out of deep poverty (those living below half the poverty line). But that’s not everything. Food stamps have become an automatic stabilizer of the American economy. The program stimulates the economy by virtue of a larger enrollment rate when the economy slumps and many families need nutrition aid. On the other hand, when the economy overheats, SNAP participation decreases. Furthermore, essential expenses such as medical bills and rent can be maintained more easily when food is being provided by the government.

Fortunately, SNAP can expect much support in its battle for survival. SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, a bill supporting the demand, thus boosting production, for food. The food industries and agricultural lobby groups would be far from happy with shrinking the size of SNAP. In addition, the vital function of the nutrition assistance as a social safety net is much appreciated by many Americans. Cracking down on the already minimal welfare provisions of the U.S. will not be a very popular decision amongst the needy and the liberal. Cutting back on SNAP expenses will maybe even mean political suicide for Trump; a great deal of states that chose Trump over Clinton have a population that relies heavily on SNAP.

Despite the moderate chances of passing, the attempt to cut back on SNAP funding is worrisome. Concentrating on ambitions, goals, and desires instead of an empty belly is so important in life and many people would not be able to develop that part of themselves without food stamps. SNAP remains, somewhat uniquely, one of the most successful initiatives within the U.S. Cutting back on SNAP would not fix something that is broken, rather, it would break something that actually works.

FOOD POLITICS - September 2018 Issues

September 2018 – Food Politics

Dear Infected,

September is often associated with the start of the new school year. There’s a wave of excited energy running though students and their families as back to school seasons starts. Students joining a new school or program get to feel a bit of fear and apprehension. Returning students get to feel the joy and warmth that comes from seeing their favorite peers and teachers after weeks of summer. For a significant portion of students, the feeling of hunger underlies every other feeling and everything else they do.

In this day and age, no one needs to go hungry. The global agriculture industry produces more than enough food to feed everyone, but perverse economic and political motives stand in the way of a just distribution causing billions of tons of food to simply go to waste. In fact, since 2014 the number of people going hungry has been on the rise to now include nearly a billion people. While climate change, drought, and conflict play a part in food insecurity the choices of our leaders can exacerbate the issue.

Global hunger is one possible topic for September’s theme, Food Politics,  but we’d like for you to also consider the many positive associations with food. For many, the choice of what foods to eat is a significant part of their cultural identity that they take pride in. Where some might choose to follow a vegan or keto diet others are born into halal or kosher households, but across the board sharing a meal with someone is a sign of inclusion and friendship.

We hope that your meals this month inspire you to create, and in turn that you’ll share those creations with us.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

The Pandemic Team

Contributing Writers MADNESS - July & August 2018

Transient Madness

Written by Max Muller

According to the philosopher – and former sufferer of psychosis – Wouter Kusters, wisdom lies behind madness. There are multiple ways by means of which useful knowledge can be gained from mental illnesses. For instance, one may be able to formulate deep insights about oneself from the talks about one’s own personal road to insanity.

In addition, mental illnesses can teach us important lessons about our own society. According to this doctrine, madness is not so much a signal of individual mental health problems. Instead, it signifies problems on a societal level. Like canaries in a coal mine, those with psychotic disorders alert us of a society in which interpersonal relationships are suffocating. According to this view, psychosis is more of a vision than a confused malfunction of the brain. It is a healthy reaction to a sickening environment (such a conception of mental illness was also advanced in Jurek’s article for this month’s issue).

From this point of view, it follows that we can unravel certain negative and debilitating aspects of our society if we can adequately describe what ails those who have gone mad. In a sense, those with mental problems can pinpoint the weaknesses and evils of the society in which they live.

Let us consider, for instance, the case of a mental illness that has, by and large, disappeared by now. An illness that has prevailed within a certain time frame and geographical area is called a transient mental illness. Such a type of madness is not some mental malfunction that comes and goes in this or that patient. It is a type of madness that exists only at certain times and places.

In Mad Travellers, the philosopher of science Ian Hacking chronicles the story of the transient mental illness called fugue. It began one morning in July 1887, when a young man arrived crying in a ward in the ancient Bordeaux hospital of Saint-André. His name was Albert Dadas. He was 26 years old, and the first fugueur. Albert became notorious for his extraordinary expeditions to Algeria, Moscow, Constantinople and other places.

While those expeditions are interesting in their own right, there was something else remarkable about them; they were made, in a certain sense, unconsciously. Albert traveled obsessively, as if under a spell. While he traveled, he often did not carry identity papers. Indeed, he did not know who he was or why he traveled, and he only knew where he was going next. When he arrived at a certain location, he had little recollection of where he had been. It was only under hypnosis that Albert could recall lost weekends or even years.

As word about his travels spread, Albert initiated a small epidemic of compulsive, mad voyagers. At first, hysterical fugue was diagnosed only in Bordeaux. Soon, however, it spread to Paris. Later, people all around France were found who supposedly suffered from this mental disease. It subsequently spread to Germany, too.

It is interesting to note, however, that people have been making strange and unexpected trips – often in states of obscured consciousness – for a long time. Only in 1887, when the young medical student Philippe Tissié described it in his thesis, did it arise as a specific, diagnosable type of insanity. Why did the identification of this type of mental illness happen to take place specifically during the end of the 19th century in France? Why did it spread so rapidly? And, perhaps equally important: why did the phenomenon fade away after a while? The last conference on fugue took place in Nantes, 1909. Between 1887 and 1909 fugue was a significant, if transient, mental illness. And then it was no more.

Philippe Tissié hypnotizes his patient Albert Dadas under the watchful eye of Étienne Eugène Azam, another doctor from Bordeaux

To be able to grapple with these questions, we must delve into Hacking’s notion of the so-called ecological niche. It is a metaphor for a framework that allows us to understand why certain types of mental illness and some arrangements of symptoms proliferate at some times and places, while they are absent in others. The ecological niche is a concatenation of a large number of diverse types of elements – including social factors, biological origins of the patient, and medical viewpoints – in which some particular types of illness can thrive. We call these components vectors.

Please note that just because a mental disease is transient, it does not mean it is not “real.” It is never merely a social construct. These people genuinely suffered. There are two possibilities for the transient aspect of the disease. First, it could merely mean that the symptoms of the disease are later subsumed within other mental illnesses, rendering the diagnosis of the old disease impossible. On a related note, our ideas about what constitutes a mental illness change over time. Homosexuality used to be typified as a mental disease, but not anymore.

Second, it could mean that the vectors supporting the niche within which it thrives at some point erode or even disappear. This makes the disease possibly less prevalent, or its symptoms less severe. Societal influences can amplify or diminish the severity of mental diseases that have biological origins, or even account for their existence.  

In the case of fugue, its ecological niche consists of four principal vectors: cultural polarity, release, observability, and medical taxonomy. Let us examine the first two of these vectors. By cultural polarity, Hacking means that fugue fitted between two important social phenomena in fin de siècle France: romantic tourism and criminal vagrancy. The second half of the 19th century was, among other things, the era of popular tourism. It was not limited anymore to the highly affluent aristocrats. With the advent of a widespread railway network across Europe, travel agencies, and efficient, steam-powered trains, tourism became available to the masses.

However, Albert and most other fuguers were not part of the middle class. They were members of the working poor. As such, they were not able to take part in touristic activities like their wealthier contemporaries. Fugue literally provided a way out. It allowed relatively poor men (for they were almost always male) to escape and see the world.

While tourism was the virtuous side of travel, its polar cultural opposite was vagrancy. Vagrancy was seen through the lens of France’s degeneracy program. This was the set of beliefs that identified the decline of France compared to Britain and Germany, and it was exacerbated by France’s loss of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and massive unemployment during the Belle Époque. It was connected with low birth rates, suicide, prostitution, homosexuality, and insanity.

Dr. Jekyll and his dual, the degenerate Mr. Hyde, capture the European obsession with decline and degeneracy towards the close of the 19th century (picture from 1895)

To the French people in the 1880s, the vagrant signified racial degeneracy, no reproduction, or reproduction of those very features that the French race ought to get rid of. Thus, tramps came to be seen as a critical social problem. In 1885, a fierce set of anti-vagrancy laws was passed. Vagrants were degenerates and should be medicalized.

In this regard, it is easy to see that many fugueurs came to be seen as vagrants. They were often seized by the police, who claimed they had found yet another antisocial vagabond. However, psychotherapists insisted fugueurs were afflicted by a very real mental affliction and should be treated as such. Thus fugue became part of a power struggle between medical men on the one hand and police on the other. The doctors relieved those with fugue from their individual responsibilities, for their behavior resulted from mental illness.

Therefore, fugue thrived between two cultural opposites. On the one hand, fugue became a pathological variant of tourism for those who could not afford more customary ways of travel. It provided men with a kind of release from their duties and boring lives back home. On the other, fugue hovered just above crime. Those afflicted escaped harsh penalties for vagrancy, for a type of insanity they could not control that caused their behavior. Those in the medical establishment protected the status of fugue as a form of madness, thereby ensuring its legitimacy.

One of the reasons fugue did not continue to be a significant mental disease was the gradual disappearance of the vagrancy scare and its corresponding overarching degeneracy program. Furthermore, tourism itself became more and more entrenched in French society. Its novelty had worn off. Thus, two important vectors of the ecological niche for fugue disappeared. Finally, the definition and the symptoms of hysterical fugue were subsumed within a new framework of mental illnesses. By 1990s criteria, some of those old fugueurs probably suffered from head injuries, some from temporal lobe epilepsy, and some from a new disease called dissociative fugue.

We will not go into the details of the process by means of which fugue gradually died out. For our discussion of the topic, it suffices to note that a certain ecological niche allowed fugue to thrive in a certain time and place. When the niche disappeared, so did the transitory mental illness as a species within it. We might wonder what kind of ecological niche(s) we can observe nowadays, allowing contemporary types of insanity to flourish in our society.

The cultural polarity vector of the ecological niche for fugue represents the basic premise of psychoanalysis:; mental illness concerns the collision of desire and its prohibition. The working poor in 19th century France longed for fantastic journeys, but they were inhibited by the duties they had to fulfill for their families, and by limited financial means. They found their release in quasi-criminal, mad travel.

This conflict between desire and its prohibition concerns the demands of society that go against the desires of the individual. What kinds of societal demands are nowadays imposed on us? In On the new discontents of civilization, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe observes that we currently live in a so-called neoliberal meritocracy.

Neoliberalism refers to the idea that every market regulates itself, and should, therefore, be steered as little as possible, in order for everyone to get equal opportunities. While this may sound like an admirable arrangement, the model often results in very negative consequences for people in places where it is implemented. In a meritocracy, everyone is responsible for his or her own success, and for his or her own failure. It propels the myth of the self-made man.

The Dutch government adopts this line of reasoning. They even radically extend it to domains vastly beyond the reach of the economic sphere. People are held accountable not only for their own welfare (resulting in enormous economic disparities), but also for the wellbeing of nature, the environment and the dangerous effects of climate change. Interestingly enough, the government often turns a blind eye to polluting companies. People and companies are not held to the same standards.

In the 1990s, the Dutch government’s policies were redolent of neoliberal ideology. Within that context, the governmental organization Postbus 51 formulated the slogan, “Een beter milieu begint bij jezelf” (A better environment starts with yourself). On the surface, it is a rather innocent statement, encouraging people to be more environmentally aware. However, it is an insidious psychological trick, emphasizing our individual responsibilities with regards to climate change.

In the wake of carbon-induced rising temperatures, we are obliged to behave as formidable, responsible model citizens. We must live frugally, emitting as little greenhouse gasses as possible. We must turn off the lights, drive as little as possible, and re-use our plastic bags. We are obliged to insulate our houses, go vegan, and replace our gas stoves with their electrical counterparts.

Yet at the same time, we must behave as frantic consumers, supporting the companies that act as pillars of the neoliberal economy. It is paramount we buy biological eggs, fair-trade chocolate, and recyclable clothes without animal fur. We are encouraged to buy plane tickets, but should also pay a carbon tax for the resulting emissions. Living green should be our number one priority, never mind the prohibitive costs and the difficulties it imposes on our lives.

Both of these contradictory lines of thinking emphasize the same message, if disastrous climatic consequences unfold, you are to blame. We, as individual citizens, are held accountable for the rising sea levels and massive ecological devastation. The government’s slogan capitalizes on our feelings of guilt and shame. As individualized people, we all carry it on our own. Individuality has led to less solidarity. This makes it even harder to bear.

It is perhaps not surprising that in such a social climate, new transient mental illnesses arise. In the Tegenlicht episode “Worsteling van de Groenmens“(Struggle of the Groenmens), people are shown to be struggling with their perceived individual responsibilities to save the world from climate catastrophes. One poignant example is Babette Porcelijn. At one point during the documentary, she confesses that she even had suicidal thoughts. After all, it would be best for the climate if one were not alive anymore. If you kill yourself, you cannot cause the environment and the climate any more harm.

This extreme compulsion to alleviate the harmful consequences of individual emissions on the climate and the environment was coined “ecorexia”. I believe this neologism hits the nail on the head. It is an allusion to the clothing industry that sets unrealistic beauty standards for women around the world. This industry thereby causes widespread insecurity among women, and in severe cases it results in anorexia. Both anorexia and ecorexia are examples of symptoms of greater societal problems.

Akin to the clothing industry, the Dutch government and the neoliberal meritocracy it embraces provide the base for the ecological niche in which ecorexia can proliferate. Oddly enough, psychologists and medical experts have not systematically studied it yet despite multiple cases already being reported (here, here, and here). I think it is only a matter of time before the diagnosis of this mental ailment will become endemic to Western culture.

As we have seen from our discussion of fugue, however, mental illnesses can be transient. Ecorexia, too, could be a case of such a disease. Just as it arrived within a certain ecological niche, it could be one day be eliminated, too. The niche counts the neoliberal meritocracy, government propaganda, and a highly politicized and heated debate about climate change among its vectors.

Babette Porcelijn is our modern-day Albert Dadas. From her we have learned that our current approach to climate change mitigation is harmful to regular people, possibly even lethal. We ought to change our society in such a way that we can remove the vectors supporting the niche for ecorexia. First and foremost, we should replace the neoliberal meritocracy with a more humane societal system. A system in which cooperation, solidarity, and interdependency are stressed. This will allow for the sharing of the burden of responsibility.

Furthermore, the focus of responsibility for climate change should be transferred from citizens to large corporations. People’s behavior is not the main cause of climate change. Between 1751 and 2010, 63% of all global industrial gas emissions came from just 90 companies. In the Netherlands, households pay almost two-thirds of environmental taxes, while they emit only one-fifth of the total amount of carbon dioxide. It is not the people, but the large companies that are largely to blame. The government should hold them responsible and tax them accordingly.

Hopefully, this will alleviate Babette’s symptoms, and minimize the possibility of other people struggling with them in the future.

Contributing Writers MADNESS - July & August 2018

A Recipe For Mental Illness

Written by Jessica Van Horssen

“If you judge a fish on its ability to climb, it will spend its whole life believing it is an idiot.”

As a mother I can now see that by the age of 2 a child’s temperament and personality starts to show. I believe that when a child is born into this world, he or she comes with a certain temperament, a blueprint of potential. I believe that very much like a plant, a human being needs the right kind of nourishment to flourish. Just like plants, no two humans are the same. While a cactus doesn’t need much water, a tropical plant needs lots of water to thrive. Similarly, different types of humans need different types of nourishment in terms of friends, surroundings, and activities. Some humans are extroverts, some introverts, and some ambiverts. If the right circumstances are not provided for a human being, or trauma happens without enough time for recovery, mental illness can develop. On this issue, the nature-nurture debate has been going on for years and the big question is: Are we really born with mental illnesses or are they made?

After years of observation and work as a social worker, along with my personal experience of mental illness, I have come to believe that most “mental illnesses” are made (with the exception of spiritual awakenings that seem to happen in some people who go through depression or a burnout).

I’ve met this woman, now in her thirties. She is articulate, beautiful, and if you look into her eyes you see a bright sparkle, a lust for life. She also has a dark side. She stopped believing in herself. She is very insecure. While she has a very dominant personality, her dark side prevents her from fully coming into blossom. She has no control over this dark side (yet) as it is still very much in her subconscious, carefully protected by a huge fear. She knows it, she sees it, but the fear of really stepping into her power prevents her from becoming all that she can be. Maybe she is a late bloomer? Maybe she is deeply hurt? I think it’s the latter.

Go back in time, say around 30 years ago. The girl was born into a family with parents who suffered from childhood abuse. Because of their abusive upbringing, the parents developed disorders themselves, such as OCD and PTSD. However, they never spoke of such a thing, not to each other nor to anyone else. It was all swept under the rug. So imagine this girl, sensitive and bright, born into an environment of shame and silence. She could sense what was going on, and could even express it to her parents, but was shamed for voicing the pain that was hidden in her family; even blamed for it.

Being intuitive and smart, she could see and feel things that others would not notice. Now, take this gifted child into a school system that wasn’t ready for kids like her. Unlike the numerous children being labeled as having ADHD today, labeling was a lot less specific back then. Kids were just labeled as a “problem child” or “difficult”, especially when the child happened to be a female. Additionally, the school this girl went to was in a poor neighborhood. A neighborhood where intellect wasn’t valued very much. So although she was very smart, her school failed to recognize it. Her mother did, but no one believed her. At the time, this school was run by people who had positions but no real passion for teaching.  They were the kind of people who used their power to make themselves feel better, not for the sake of teaching children or helping them grow. They were just in it for the paycheck and wanted children to follow their orders instead of encouraging them to thrive. So instead of getting extra work at school, the girl was told to clean closets.

This girl was not the kind of girl who would shut up and listen to someone saying: “Because I say so”. This girl happened to be a whistleblower, saying out loud what she saw and perceived. We all know what happens with whistleblowers though – they get punished. Instead, they deserve a stage, since they are among the only people courageous enough to stand up against injustice.

So, this girl has been going through years and years of punishment and shaming, while also growing up in a culture of bullying (in her school). She found out very quickly that she’d better adapt to survive. So, she changed herself to fit in.

By the time she reached puberty, she lost the core of her being. She became depressed because she felt like an alien. She felt like a kid who was forced into an adult world she wasn’t ready for. The only thing she knew she could do well was studying, so she studied hard for good grades. But emotionally, she didn’t feel connected with her classmates. Because she was both troubled at home and in school she slowly sank deeper into a depression. She didn’t know who she was anymore and started hating herself. Why couldn’t she just be normal? Why couldn’t she just fit in? Why was she feeling the way she felt? Where did it all come from? She channeled all her self-loathing into cutting herself.

That was the only way she could cope, carefully hiding it from everyone by wearing long sleeves all the time. Insecure and unable to proceed, she discovered marijuana. It brought temporary relief. So much relief that she started missing school for it; she got kicked out of high school by the time she was 16, and out of her home a year later. Did she end up in a better environment? Yes and no. She got the freedom she wanted, but got trapped in an abusive relationship full of violence and drugs, experiencing more mistreatment on top of what she already went through in her childhood.

Photo by Al Martin

This girl is now a fully-grown woman. A woman who has been diagnosed with about three different types of mental illnesses. A woman who has undergone extensive therapy but never got to the bottom of her dark side. A woman who doesn’t know how to relax or feel rested, as if being haunted by something. A woman who has considered killing herself like so many of her friends.

Mental illness, while being extensively researched, is still a bit of a black box. The nature-nurture debate is an ongoing debate that doesn’t seem to have a clear cut answer to the question of how mental illnesses come to exist. I know it’s a very individual process and not one person is the same. Furthermore, there are many biological processes that can play a role in the development of mental illness, as well as things like (teenage) substance abuse that can changes one’s brain chemistry. But prolonged physical and/or mental abuse can do that too. The problem is that the label of mental illness has too much stigma to it. When people think of a person with a borderline personality disorder, they think of a crazy person, as if that person has done something wrong, while most of the time that person has been a victim of childhood abuse in some way.

So I’d like to advocate to drop the label or call an illness by its proper name such as “childhood abuse disorder”, or “lack of proper nourishment”. This will help relieve people of the stigma that comes with a disorder and also provide more room for growth. Some famous people have opened up in the last years about their “mental illnesses”, such as Prince Harry, The Rock, Trevor Noah, Jim Carrey and many others, so it’s clear that with the right kind of nourishment and circumstances, people with a history of abuse can flourish. Let’s start to fix the environment too instead of just focusing on changing the individual.

Change must go beyond what one person is capable of. Let’s, for starters, stop stigmatizing people with a so-called “disorder”. Let’s change the mental health care system so that proper treatment and help becomes available in all layers of society. Let’s focus less on diagnoses but more on what an individual needs to thrive. And, foremost, let’s look each other in the eye and admit that we are all “disordered” in some way, say something that would make the whole thing much lighter and less alienating. We are all social creatures and, as much as individualism has given us freedom, we still need each other too. Excluding or shaming people is not helpful and we all deserve to flourish as human beings – disordered or not. Let’s create a society that promotes healing for all its inhabitants, because when a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix its environment, not the flower.

Contributing Writers MADNESS - July & August 2018

Cycling Creativity

Written by Tuisku “Snow” Kolu

Creativity can be a kind of madness, taking over your motive and drive whenever or wherever it pleases. This can be problematic when you’re on the road and have limited supplies to express yourself. But the Creative needs to be fed. Limited supplies doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for the Creative, but rather reforms its drive to find a way to express itself. Hence you find yourself painting with a messy brush that is falling apart onto a piece of bark ripped from a tree. For now, your mind can be still from the need to create, but not for long.