Tuesday 23 October 2007

One's area of expertise.

This is just plain awful:

A radical plan to persuade people to stop smoking, take more exercise and change their diets was proposed last night by a leading Government adviser.

Ah, proposed by a government advisor, eh? I think we all know by now where that leads.

In a speech to the Royal Statistical Society last night, Professor [Julian] Le Grand said instead of requiring people to make healthy choices – by giving up smoking, taking more exercise and eating less salt – policies should be framed so the healthy option is automatic and people have to choose deliberately to depart from it.

Making the healthy option "automatic": there's a nice formulation.

Among his suggestions are a proposal for a smoking permit, which smokers would have to produce when buying cigarettes, an "exercise hour" to be provided by all large companies for their employees and a ban on salt in processed food.

Yes, that sort of automatic.

What's particularly sad about this is the sheer humdrumness of it. This is a normal state proposal these days; there'll be ten more like it next week. Typically enough, it sounds like something out of 1984 — as Jon points out, that's because, this time, it actually is out of 1984.

The interesting new twist in today's bit of creeping fascism — and I use the word advisedly — is Professor Le Grand's frankly brilliant marketing. The word he uses to describe this scheme is "libertarian". His reasoning for this makes perfect sense to anyone who doesn't have a clue what the word means. Like him, for instance.

The idea, dubbed "libertarian paternalism", reverses the traditional government approach that requires individuals to opt in to healthy schemes. Instead, they would have to opt out to make the unhealthy choice, by buying a smoking permit, choosing not to participate in the exercise hour or adding salt at the table.

By preserving individual choice, the approach could be defended against charges of a "nanny state," he said. "Some people say this is paternalism squared. But at a fundamental level, you are not being made to do anything. It is not like banning something, it is not prohibition. It is a softer form of paternalism."

To quote him is to ridicule him. Sadly, none of our political class realise that. They have a pronounced tendency to mistake this sort of codswallop for the wisdom of the ages.

And I particularly like the way this git is described in the tagline:

Obesity, alcohol abuse, smoking: Britain is among the most unhealthy countries in Europe. Now a pioneering NHS adviser is proposing a revolutionary cure for our ills

"Pioneering"? What's so bloody pioneering about this? Using the power of the state to control people is humanity's default option, and has been practised enthusiastically for longer than recorded history. It's the exceedingly rare individual who actually does something to increase our freedom who's a pioneer.

Anyway, enough. It's clear to us all exactly what flavour of bastard this man is, and it's clear to us all that he will get his way, because the British people, whose ancestors did more to spread the cause of freedom across the globe than anyone else's and whose ideas continue to do so, want nothing more than nice quiet bureaucratic slavery. Fine. Let them have it. It's the only way they'll learn.

But I would like to say a word or two about this proposed salt ban.

Food manufacturers would be banned from adding salt to processed foods which is a major cause of high blood pressure. This would hand control of the salt content to the consumer who could choose to "opt out" of the healthy product by adding salt at the table

Now, this really pisses me off. This is absolutely bloody typical of what's wrong with these people. It's not the statism, or the obsession with other people's health, the refusal to comprehend that people might knowingly take the less healthy option, it's not the bedrock belief that people are broken and that he needs to fix them. No, it's the fact that Professor Julian Le Grand cannot cook.

I don't mean he's not a great gourmet cook; I mean he can't cook at all. I mean the man can't even fry an onion properly. Maybe he can manage toast. And how do I know this? Because he thinks that putting salt in food during cooking and putting salt on top of food after cooking are the same thing. This is so fundamentally wrong that I guarantee that, were you to accept something as simple as scrambled eggs from this man, you'd regret it.

Firstly, all flavourings behave differently when heated. The flavours change, and mix, and infuse the food around them. You can't achieve the same effect by adding them later, cold. If you could, we would just eat everything raw. After all, what's so special about salt? If it can just be added later, raw and cold, so can everything else.

Secondly, salt isn't just a flavouring. It's used in cooking primarily for what it does to the food around it: due to its crystalline structure, it draws liquids — and therefore flavours — out of things. You sprinkle salt on frying onions if you don't want them to brown: it draws out the onion juice, meaning there's more liquid in the pan, meaning the onions can cook for longer without browning. You don't put salt on frying onions just because you want them to taste saltier. Cooking's a little more complex than that.

But the health fanatics can't get their heads around this. I hate their underlying presumption. Cooking involves some of the most advanced chemistry mankind has developed, but these guys think there's essentially no more to it than putting all your flavours in a sack and giving it a shake. They push this image of the packaged food industry as being full of mad scientists coming up with ever-more outlandish chemicals to chuck in the pot, just to see what colour the public turn when they eat it. There's no acknowledgement that any of those ingredients might go in for a reason.

And that's the problem. We have people making government policy about what can go in our food who know nothing about food. We wouldn't tolerate a chef prescribing our drugs — or I wouldn't, anyway — so why do we have doctors doing our cooking?

The salt ban's already snuck in, to some extent: the fascists have got their way with baby food. Go out and buy a jar: spaghetti bolognese or chicken risotto or any of the other things that you know should taste good. And look at the ingredients: baby food is not, as a rule, full of crap: it's good stuff, and it's well cooked. Apart from that one little thing: there's no added salt. Now taste it. That's what all your food is going to taste like in a few years: nothing. Enjoy.

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