I’m preparing to travel to Italy in a week’s time, where I’ll be teaching a course on Food Media for the Masters in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Which is really just a way of bragging that soon I’ll be swanning around in this building.
When not drinking wine and seeking out truffles and other goodies, one of the topics I’ll be talking to the students about is Attention Economics (in which attention is our scarcest resource in the face of an abundance of information), and how that contributes to all sorts of confusions in the world of food and eating. Red wine is good for you, and then it isn’t (well kind of, but not so much – or not too much). When not making you fat, chocolate can help you lose weight (OK, we all know that’s not true). Carbs are good; no they’re not. And so on. The point is it can be difficult to filter information and also know that you’re eventually relying on the right sorts of authorities for your
One particularly insidious player in this whole attention game is advertising, which of course has to remind us all that we need improving on, and so helps to convince people that they need all sorts of help (including how to think for themselves), even when nothing of the sort is true. Michael Bywater summarises the situation perfectly in his book Big Babies, or Why Can’t We Just Grow Up?:
We need lifestyle advice from magazines and websites and newspaper supplements and health advisers and personal trainers precisely because we are being nagged about our lifestyle all the time by magazines and websites and newspaper supplements and health advisers and personal trainers.
So it’s all eat better, sleep longer, lose weight, get fitter, snack less, cook more, go gluten-free. When was the last time you saw something advertised to help you stay as excellent as you already are?
No wonder everyone’s so bloody miserable.
(Well except me, and everyone else who isn’t).