So we’ve just attended an event called “EthicsXchange“, billed as ‘a platform for some of South Africa’s leading opinion makers to challenge our thinking and behaviour when it comes to ethical decision making.’ It was an interesting morning, and some very good speakers (and of course some not so good). Some I’ve also heard before, notably Leonie Joubert, and Tim Noakes.
But I was disappointed by Joubert’s talk for two reasons: first, it was basically the same as her TedX talk, which while a nicely packaged talk (as TED’y type talks are meant to be), seriously oversimplifies the issues around the interactions between our bodies and the environments we live in. It’s simply not true, as she argues, that cities make us fat and sick. It is true that urban environments conduce to making us make poor choices when it comes to what to eat and how much to move (or not). But that’s of course a key problem with TED-y type talks, because delivering big ideas in under 20 minutes leaves no space for nuance or complexity.
She also told the audience that sugar is toxic and addictive, just like cocaine. Well, we’ve been down this road before. And that is also simply not true. The same bits in the brain light up when you eat as when you take cocaine? Yes, that’s because the same bits in the brain light up when we do something pleasurable, and guess what – eating is nice. Most people enjoy it. Nobody seeks out horrible food.
I don’t want to minimise that many people have many problems with food, and that sugar can’t be detrimental to some people. But it’s really annoying to see people who are regarded as “thought-leaders” and opinion-makers simplify things to the levels where everyone just passes around bits of pseudoscience at the dinner table.
“Have you heard, dear? Sugar is toxic and addictive!”
“Really? What’s for pudding, then? (Because surely not our sugar – just the stuff poor people eat, right)?”
And there’s the second thing which disappointed: Joubert routinely tells us that “we” are fat and sick. A room full of well-dressed people who paid R300 to listen to people talk about ethics are not “we”. Who are they then? And who is responsible? There was a real missed opportunity to have an interesting conversation about ethical obligations from different parties involved.
Anyway, just a little rant. I thought it was an excellent touch that they put out popcorn for the second part of the show, which concluded with Tim Noakes talking about something he called “groupthink” (which I think is just what everyone apart from him thinks).