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May 24, 2018


Steven Clarke

Daniel Davies gives a good explanation in his book 'The Secret Life of Money', which you touch on.

There is uncertainty in whether a poor parent will be able to cook healthier meals if they lack experience. And as you say, there is uncertainty whether the children will like the meal enough to eat it.

Wealthier parents can afford a few failed attempts at a meal to be thrown in the waste basket. They can afford a child refusing to eat the meal and getting something instead.

Poorer parents don't have that cushion so stick with what you know.

Luis Enrique

"cognitive biases apply most when we are making judgments under uncertainty ... we all know what chips taste like."

are we certain about the impact of frequent chip eating on our own long-run welfare?


I hardly dare mention it, being myself poor, but your talk is as if “the poor” was a species apart. A contrivance which is the apex of your slippery slope. Who needs class ideologies when among the uninitiated othering will cut straight through.

Luis Enrique

your day job could be seen as trying to help people make better decisions with their money. I'm a little concerned about the idea that people ought to stop trying to point out the errors of others' ways as soon as it can be cast as not trusting the poor to know their own minds (or stop trying to subsidise goods and tax bads). I don't know the details of what taxes Oliver & co would like to put on what, and obviously if they'd be raising the cost of staples that poor people rely on, I'm against it too. But there's a question here about whether people would benefit, or not, as a result, and I'd rather my support or opposition to the policy was informed by that, rather than on a aesthetic dislike of nanny statism. The same arguments could be made about taxing fags punishing the poor. I'm not sure I am really buying the argument that if sweets and crisps were more expensive the poor'd have to go without eating. Unless Sturgeon is also proposing to tax bread, instant noodles and everything else I recall eating when skint.

Yes let's eliminate poverty that'd obviously be a far better solution, but is anyone anywhere making a decision not to attempt that, because they're doing sugar tax instead? Otherwise it's not an either/or decision, I don't see the problem with advocating healthier eating - that might actually make some people healthier and happier, a possibility which is being lost here, or dismissed rather quickly.


From the Phil McDuff article:

"Since the proposals hit the news, the pushback has been fierce, with many people making a simple point: if you want to get people to eat better, don’t make bad food more expensive – make good food cheaper. But that seems so obvious a solution it’s worth asking why so many people would need to point it out."

This article:
"After a long soul-destroying day, people seek relief in drink or junk food."

It's so obvious a solution that it's probably incorrect. I do agree however with you that improving working conditions would help.

Separately, the idea that healthy food is necessarily expensive is a half truth, at best. To give just one example, eggs in Tesco cost about 20p each and there is probably no healthier food:



I don't think the issue is that healthy food is expensive or needs to be cheaper; many healthy staples can be bought very cheaply if one considers it worth making the effort. I'm not even sure the poor cannot stand a couple of wasted healthy meals if they are made from those cheaply available staples.

I think cognitive and biological arguments are more convincing than ones relating to cost. Junk food tends to be high in sugar and salt, humans tend to find these foods gratifying even if they are unhealthy. If there is little in your life that is gratifying then cheap but unhealthy food has relatively much higher gratification potential than cheap but healthy food.

So when a poor person says they cannot afford a bag of apples for a quid, but they can afford a multipack of mars bars the same quid, it's not a literal comparison, but a comparison in the gratification they will get for their quid.

Steven Clarke


So they are acting in accordance with economic theory, getting the most marginal utility per pound spent within a tight budget constraint.


If a bad diet is a symptom of being poor, why are diets in developing countries generally much better (excluding extreme poverty/famine), whilst diets in the US are slightly worse. It has to be more cultural than anything.


LET them eat cake.


Great article.
I think Capitalism is brilliant for a whole raft of things, but it relies on people having a way out of poverty, and the tendency to separate, lecture or even demonise the poor is dangerous.
Separately, for what its worth, I think kids should be taught how to cook - home economics it was called when I went to school


Fascinatingly, in her book "Nickeled and Dimed" Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that most of her working-poor coworkers did not have access to cooking facilities where they lived.

They never made enough money to save up for a security deposit, or even to be able to pay a whole month's rent at once, so they ended up living in cheap motels just because they could pay by the week or even by the day.


I wouldn't get too cynical about Jamie Oliver. State school dinners are probably the only decent nutrition a fair whack of the population gets. Sure he has parents saying "don't tell us what to eat - we know what our child likes - and then take the child straight to the nearest greasy take out chicken joint" - but, you know, even if he gets a few converts, or just a portion of those kids eat the meals the state provides, he has achieved something.



Probably the biggest reason for unhealthy eating is that the government recommendations especially in the USA have been stark raving mad. They are based on no evidence, and usually ignore contrary evidence once it comes in from the series of studies aimed at proving this crazy advice right, generally proving it wrong.

Demonization of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, salt, eggs, meat etc. Promotion of now universally condemned as unhealthy things like trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils etc.

Diabetics for the last few decades have been basically counseled to ignore or even focus on carbohydrate consumption and just shoot up with more insulin. Unbelievable malpractice on a massive scale, reversing the earlier obvious and sane advice - diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance, so avoid carbohydrate. Duh. Modern advice has led to a diabetes epidemic.

I think it is safe to say that people would have been healthier if they had simply ignored all the advice from experts. What is amazing is how healthy people are in spite of the all the bad advice they have been given.


From an evolutionary point of view, is obesity a negative under conditions of poverty? Who is better able to withstand famine, fat people or skinny people? If it is obese people, is poverty similar enough to famine or incipient famine that our bodies want to put on fat? Might the stress of poverty be such a physiological trigger?

In stressful times, is obesity a plus for pregnant women and their babies when they come?

For reproductive success we do not need to live very long, only long enough to reproduce and raise children. It may be better for us to withstand hard times, thanks to stored fat, than to reach old age.

Polly MacDavid

It doesn't take a half an hour to "boil" broccoli. It takes ten minutes to steam it. The problem is that there's no stores in a poor neighborhood that sells broccoli. I know, I live in a poor neighborhood. If I want healthy food, it's at least twenty minutes on the bus to the nearest supermarket. When you're tired or the weather is bad, you eat what you have, even if it's not particularly healthy.

John Day

The food tastes of a lifetime are formed between 6 months and 16 months of age, between a young human grabbing whatever Mom is eating and eating it, and the time he toddles away from Mom when her back is turned, and chooses not to eat poison berries, because he is not used to them as his food. The die is cast very early. We eat what we know, what our parents ate. Intervention has to be early, and has to be intentional, with parents feeding a baby something they never learned to like. Growing a vegetable garden helps. Toddlers like vegetables they pick with adult encouragement.

Zoltan Jorovic

I wonder if you actually watched any of Hugh F-W's latest series? He attacked corporations for pushing highly sugared, carefully marketed snacks and breakfast foods and suggested they could reduce the amount of sugar in them, and stop pushing them by, for example, not stocking sweets etc right by the tills. I fail to see how this can be represented as some sort of middle class attack on the poor - surely it is fair to point out that some people are making a lot of money by pushing unhealthy food (and guess what, it isn't Jamie Oliver or HFW).

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