Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore

Today I was at a community house for local activists/radicals/anarchists and found this sticker posted underneath by the water dispenser:

Surgeon General's Warning:
Consumption of soft drink bevarages may result in
Rotten teeth, diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, osteoporosis, & Cancer

Well it wasn't exactly like that, because it was all in caps.

I took it down, and tomorrow I'm going to leave this in its place:

To the person who put up that sticker, and everyone else who couldn't be bothered to take it down.

I have gotten tired of taking down messages that reinforce mainstream ideas about food and bodies. Rather than just removing that sticker, I am going to explain why I find it problematic - in the hope that one day peopel will stop putting such messages up - or at least other people will take them down before I see them.

1. I have no idea why you thought this message is necessary. Presumably you believe that there are people out there who have been deprived of the information that soft-drinks can lead to rotten teeth, and there only way of accessing this information is through alternative chanels. We obviously live in very different worlds.

2. Telling people that they shouldn't eat a particular food because they might get fat, is about as un-radical message as you can find. I'm not even going to go there, you should know better.

3. As activisits we should be focusing on health collectively rather than individually. We challenge the system of unemployment rather than blaming people for not getting a job. Surely we should challenge the system of food production rather than blaming people for getting sick

4. Think for a second about people who have the diseases listed - would you really be ok with someone with rotten teeth reading that? Are you even aware about the link between rotten teeth and poverty? Is this just another way of making sure that only middle-class alternative types feel comfortable in this space?

So lets stop with the moralistic bullshit around food. Let's treat food politically or ignore it. Repeating mainstream messages is not an option.

PS: Surgeon General? Can we please stick to the bureaucrats we are actually inflicted, without borrowing other people's.


  1. Why are you opposed to activists warning themselves against drinking poisons disguised as food? I might understand (probably only partly) your anger at the conditioning to think about particular foods as inherently bad,and that particular foods cause obesity with the inference that obesity is bad for you, but why defend stuff that is only good for cleaning drains? Yes, I'd prefer that there was some detailed information there, but a sticker gets the point across, and allows people to make choices about what they want to put into their bodies, rather than on the basis of the bullshit conditioning/advertising designed to encourage us to use soft drinks.

  2. I want for me and my friends to have good teeth in 30 years time. Soft drinks, energy drinks, and most commercial fruit juices severly reduce the chances of that happening.

  3. Maia, I don't get it. I assume you're not arguing that fat, toothless activists are better, or that information shouldn't be conveyed by stickers. But there's something too subtle for me here. Is there a passive-agressive fight going on in that space between the coke addicts and the health food freaks or something?

    So: what would you prefer?

  4. Moz - for the record I don't think fat toothless activists are any worse than skinny toothful activists.

    Georege - What? I didn't even mention soft-drinks, let alone defend them. Are you really arguing there are people who go into that house who don't already know that information?

    I don't think individualistic 'choices' are a solution for any political problem.

  5. The sticker was about the dangers of soft drinks. You removed it, and then blogged about how justified you felt in removing it.

    Are the posters and stickers prevalent in any activist focussed space about giving us information we don't already know?

    Of course choices don't change the system. You and I not engaging in certain behavoiur isn't going to destroy patriachy. But our choices can have powerful impacts over our lives and of those we know.

    I don't even hate soft drinks. I love Coca Cola for example, but try and keep my consumption very occasional, and to have it with food to reduce the impact of strong acids, and avoid the sugar rush/crash that accompanies it.

    Point is that I think that soft drinks fall into the category of foods to be avoided because they harm you. Not because of fat, or anything like that, but because a mix of sugar, acid, and artificial colours and flavours isn't good. I know that contradicts your efforts to combat food negativity, and a whole bunch of other things, but in this case I think it's justified.

  6. Wow, this is interesting.

    Soft drinks and cigarettes were the first products to be marketed to Americans using advertising techniques drawn from what was learned in social and depth psychology.

    They have no purpose OTHER than harming your general health.

    That considered, what's wrong with sending the message that those products are poison?

    (the problem w/ sodas and the teeth isn't a 'rot' per-se, but...a loss of enamel. Sugar+acid+carbonation literally strips enamel off the tooth...(try pouring some coca cola on your car battery terminals and watch in awe))

    (btw, moz's conclusion sounded most feasable to me: "Is there a passive-agressive fight going on in that space between the coke addicts and the health food freaks or something?")

  7. er, to conclude, I think that people DO NOT get the idea of how damaging sodas actually are.

    EX: I recall my mother buying us absurd ammounts of sodas as children.(luckily for us, toothpaste as well)

    Also, I grew up in an upper-middle class home where we could afford to go to the dentist on a regular basis, unlike most of the invisible, trailer-parked, white poor.

    I think the goal of educating americans to the dangers of consumer products (particularly those that are accompanied by 7 figure PR campaigns, such as sodas)
    is just and worthy.

    so, I oppose tearing down that sticker because people are still being harmed by the product it seeks to accuratly discribe.

  8. My point has nothing to do with soft-drinks. I don't like soft-drinks and don't give a shift about soft-drinks.

    My point is that this sticker promotes the idea that people can controle their own health outcomes, and that they have a moral duty to do so.

    I think that idea is both inaccurate and inconsistent with a radical anti-capitalist analysis.

  9. But the sticker was about soft drinks...

    Are you saying that what I put into my body has no impact on my health? The decisions I make do give me a large degree of control over my health. I'd like to reclaim that from capitalists who put shit in front of my face and call it food. I think the idea that we have no control over our bodies and health is fundamentally disempowering.

    I can see where you're coming from, but I really do want to seperate the idea of health from the idea of body image/weight/etc. I really do think that we can promote health while still challenging concepts of the body that are fundamentally unhealthy. Can we have health back from those who would seek to have only certain shapes and sizes acceptable? I really do get the impression that you're not saying this is possible. And that seems like a cop-out.

  10. Anonymous10:29 am

    Maia - you have obviously lost the plot here.

  11. Anonymous11:15 am

    I don't think that the note is particulary informative at all. Just someones rant about their personal dislike for soft drinks.
    i don't see notes around that house warning against the over use of soy milk, the trans-fatty acids in marg, caffine warnings on boxes of tea etc etc Although, there are lots of other annoying notes at that house.(not that it is the issue at all)

    I think the issue maia has is that it is indiviualising the issue of health, particulary in a space that is supposedly radical. maybe the note should of said something about the soft drink industry instead of being a personal attack.

    I oppose activists trying to get people to do stuff thought bullshit guilt trips and self rightous moral standards. It reinforces the already strong paternalistic pakeha middle-class attitudes in that community. As someone who is neither pakeha or middle-class I can see why Maia has reacted the way she has.

    i think that there is passive-aggressive fighting about a number of things in that space.

  12. Maia, if this is "I'm copping it personally in that place and I'm over it", then I'm sorry you're copping it. I can understand you feeling angry (and you so need my permission, I know that :-P )

    But on the other paw, if you're serious.... Maia's point that there's no point trying to change my behaviour because I'm helplessly in the thrall of society is something I can at least understand. Maia, is that a fair statement - that you think people are unable to do anything about their health, and consequently are under no obligation to try?

    Have you been reading the Dilbert blog where he goes on and on about people having no free will? In other words, is this an argument about whether people can control themselves, or "just" about whether health is determined by factors outside people's control?

    Either way I disagree. Firstly, because the "no free will" argument is fatalistic, and similarly to Pascal's Wager I feel better if I act as though I have free will, and if I don't it doesn't cost me anything (I can argue that I'm made to feel that I have free will :)

    Secondly, if it's just health, I fear the consequences of that belief. Really, seriously, telling people that they are not in control of their health so they might as well keep smoking, drinking and eating McShit... that's not helpful. It also goes against the white middle-class science studies that show that even minimal intervention with people helps.

    I admit I'm way mroe familiar with reading programmes, but I've worked with people who do "healthy eating" stuff, mostly kids breakfast programmes (since we have the same target/client groups), but my understanding is that even just getting people to switch from acid-with-sugar to sugar water (carbonated crud to sports drinks or cordial) helps, and things like the "eat fruit" campaigns do have some positive effect on community health - especially when delivered locally rather than as TV campaigns.

    How does this relate to specific individuals? Well, on the one hand if they try the "eat healthy stuff" that helps them, and of course if "we" manage to recruit one of "them"they not only get a health boost from better food, but from the sense of purpose and stuff. That's also important, and quite a few of the volunteers I've worked with arrive that way.

    But then, I also live and work with meat-eating smokers, so my recipe for personal change is not a universal success... one day I will become omnipotent {strains} but apparently not today.

  13. George surely you understand that disagreeing with an argument against something isn't defending that thing. Those who don't agree with populationist arguments aren't defending the pro-life stance, etc.

    You say the decisions you make give you power over your own health. I'm not going to disagree with you, although I've no idea if that's true (and I'm willing to lay large amounts of money that very few of the things you do that feel give you control of your health have been demonstrated in any way to work for groups of people). But just because you feel that your decisions give you power over your health, that doesn't mean that the decisions you make are good for everyone, or that anyone can control their health outcomes by what they eat.

    I'm saying health is neither an individual problem nor a moral virtue. We can discuss the longevity and functioning of our bodies in a way that doesn't buy into the standard paradigm, but we don't.

    Anonymous - I'd like to point out that I fight over this passive agressively when I roll my eyes or make snide comments to people. By leaving a note and signing my name I've gone to agressive-agressive, which is a step forward.

    Moz - I think you're missing my point.

    I'm not at all convinced that the set of behaviours that society thinks people should engage in that is 'healthy' actually improve people's quality of life and longevity. So the argument isn't whether or not people can change their behaviours, but which behaviours need to change.

    Leaving that aside, I think that no-one changed their behaviour because they were lectured by a sticker. When it comes to abortion (which is my comparison of choice for this comment, who knows why), I say 'if you don't like a woman's choice change the circumstances under which she makes that choice'. I think that holds true for many different situations. I think we can trust that people are generally making the best decisions that they can, and if we want to change that we need to change the options they are given. Generally I don't think it's education people need, but a new world.