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  Opinion   Columnists  01 Aug 2020  Farrukh Dhondy | Boris Johnson's obesity challenge and ‘globalisation’ in COVID times

Farrukh Dhondy | Boris Johnson's obesity challenge and ‘globalisation’ in COVID times

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Aug 1, 2020, 4:59 pm IST
Updated : Aug 1, 2020, 4:59 pm IST

The British government will ban, for certain hours in the week, mind you, advertising which sells junk food

The shared statistics, which seem to determine who can travel from where to where, give a new meaning or urgency to the concept of ‘globalisation’. AP Photo
 The shared statistics, which seem to determine who can travel from where to where, give a new meaning or urgency to the concept of ‘globalisation’. AP Photo


“He said to think is to be full of sorrow
It’s true when we think of the money we borrow
But not true when there are promises of love tomorrow
That should be the nightingale’s song.
He said here we sit and hear each other groan.
That’s true when you have an arthritic bone
But not true when your path with roses is strown
That should have been his nightingale’s song.”
— From Keats Waaley Geeths  by Bachchoo

There was a cruel rhyme we inherited in school — a rude abuse of people whom we would now call ‘dimensionally challenged’. It went:

“Fatty fatty
Eating too much
Ghee Chapatty.”

Since the last word rhymes with ‘fatty’ and isn’t pronounced ending in ‘aathi’ as we Indians would say it, I take it that the slur on ‘kilogrammatically challenged’ (one has to be so careful these days) people came from the Brits of the Raj.

Even so, in the same years of my youth in Pune there was a song which went:

“Sugar, my pretty sugar
Every pound that makes you round I idolise
Sugar, my pretty Sugar,
Put that sugar back and love back in my eyes.”

This expression of love for a lady of dimension, with the attribution of her attractive shape to sugar, was a positive paean to ampleness.

Later in life, making my familiarity with Caribbean culture in multi-ethnic London, I came across the reggae song whose lyrics were:

“Hey fatty boom-boom
Lemme tell you something…”

Which pronounced the amount of the singer’s love to be proportionate to the size of the beloved.

These were positive images, but now the mean British government of Boris Johnson, no scarecrow himself, has published statistics proving that obesity costs the National Health Service literally billions of pounds dealing with the diseases and disorders to which ‘obese’ people are prone.

As a consequence, the government has launched a campaign to discourage people from eating “junk foods” and drinking sugary drinks. The campaign doesn’t ban junk foods. The British government can’t close down McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

It can’t, as once George Fernandes did in India, ban Coca Cola.

Instead they have taken the public relations route. They will ban, for certain hours in the week, mind you, advertising which sells junk food.

I have, gentle reader, no knowledge or statistic about whether advertisements for junk food get people to eat it.

I know that people who pay for advertising are much cannier than the poor old Parsi at gauging whether they are getting their money’s worth by peddling their products on TV or billboards or through subliminal persuasion on the net.

But the question is, will this BoJo government’s ban on fattening products for a few hours a week actually achieve a reduction in people eating junk foods and subsequently a reduction in people becoming obese through the months and years and then finally resulting in the National Health Service not having to spend billions on diabetes, clotted arteries and now a pronounced proneness to Covid-19 amongst ‘obese’ people?

The irony of this initiative is that at the same time as this partial ban on advertising goes ahead, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, offers the population of Britain a fifty per cent discount paid for by the government when they go out and buy a meal on certain days of the week from a restaurant — or from McDonalds, from KFC or the other junk food outlets.

The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is handing out!

And day after day, gentle reader, the British television tells me that people with ‘underlying conditions’, such as obesity have died of the coronavirus epidemic.

Has there ever been a time, in this era of instant news transmission through the TV screen and the Internet, when the number of deaths from the virus plague in several nations are displayed and mulled over several times a day? In the decades before this plague the only numericals displayed through or on these media were cricket or football scores.

Now each night, as I switch on the BBC news programmes to try and get a laugh out of the latest policies and pronouncements of Donald Trump or Priti ‘clueless’ Patel, my consciousness is invaded with statistics of death.

At my age, my friends, one has contemplated death through the recesses of imagination and the experience of friends and dear ones dying. As one of my friends said “we are all on the runway” and one contemplates the inevitable in all sorts of philosophical ways.

But the Covid plague has now forced upon us death as a daily statistic. The UK government determines whether holidaymakers should go to Spain or Greece this summer on the basis of these international bring-out-your-dead figures.

The same figures determine whether Leicester or Blackburn should be subjected to further lockdown. And I am sure that applies to Mumbai and perhaps Bhopal as well.

The shared statistics, which seem to determine who can travel from where to where, give a new meaning or urgency to the concept of ‘globalisation’.

Already the UK government, with the third largest proportion of deaths through Covid, has declared over a hundred other countries as no-go zones to which people shouldn’t travel and from which people are not welcome in Britain.    

I would rather not think about deaths worldwide — not every evening when I switch on the news — but there is no option. Our throats are under the knee of this crisis and for this time, the world community’s attention has to be drawn to the hazards of the invasion of another ‘creature’ with the potential to kill us.

Our faith has to be invested, not in the shameless, exploitative, dishonest and criminal nostrums of charlatans who profess to find ‘cures’ or preventives for Covid, but in the science that is looking for a vaccine. When we have one, TV numbers will again be about scores in games rather about deaths.

Tags: british government