From toilet paper to takeaways

It was very predictable that a rush to fast food would be in the news this morning. Many years of marketing seems to have created an addled and addicted clientele.

Leading up and at the start of the Level 4 lockdown there was bizarre panic buying of toilet paper and a rush to stock up on other things. At Easter and other times there were long queues to get into supermarkets. Quite a lot of people had problems dealing with logic and slower or less frequent shopping.

Social and business restrictions have been relaxed a little today as we switch back to Level 3 lockdown. Fast food outlets are now allowed to feed the frenzy (with contactless and safe distancing requirements). And inevitably the news is littered this morning with a rush by some to buy over processed and over packaged food.

News reports say that people were queuing two hours before opening at 6 am of outlets this morning.

It’s not even fast food – it would still be quicker to cook up a meal than to drive to the nearest outlet and queue for fat and sugar laden. But the modern consumer society driven by often absurd marketing wasn’t going to disappear with a month of lockout.

Regardless of precautions taken unnecessary trips to join queues to buy food of questionable quality raises the risk of coming into contact with Covid. I value my health more than taking that risk (and don’t like fast food queues at the best of times).

For various reasons I won’t be going out and buying takeaways for some time yet. Some fast food had reputations for not just unhealthy food, but also unhygienic food. I remember first getting fast food poisoning about 1974.

Pre-Covid I could do without takeaway slow queue food for weeks. I can happily live without it for another month or three.


On the eve of a lesser lockdown

Some more people will be able to go back to work tomorrow as we drop to Level 3 lockdown, but most of us will be still confined to our homes and neighbourhoods except for essential trips to the supermarket and for healthcare if required.

RNZ: Building firms gear up to reopen tomorrow under alert level 3

Under level 3, workers can resume on-site work, provided they have a Covid-19 control plan in place, with appropriate health and safety and physical distancing measures.

Building firm Naylor Love’s chief executive, Rick Herd, said plans would be different at every work site, where each site had varying numbers of workers.

“There will be additional cost in some sites where shift work will be required or there will be separation of people which will require a lot of management,” Herd said.

“Some sites will be less efficient than they would have been pre Covid-19 level 3.”

Herd said the lockdown meant clients could see some projects finishing later than anticipated.

Even essential businesses that have operated through the lockdown have been operating on reduced capacity – I know of a freezing works that has been operating under social distancing requirements and has been about half their normal capacity.

The economic effects will be felt for some time for most businesses.

Some people seem to have been suffering from fast food withdrawal and may soon be able to appease their cravings, if they’re prepared to wait their turn in the online queue.

But returning to work has it’s complications for some.

RNZ: Union worries fast food outlets may breach level 3 restrictions

Unite Union spokesman MIke Treen said he has been in touch with McDonald’s about training photos, which appear to show food passed to drive-through customers, closer than 2 metres away. New Zealand will be at Alert Level 3 from Tuesday 28 April

Under Golden Rules for life at Alert Level 3 we are still being told “If you are not at work, school, exercising or getting essentials then you must be at home, the same as at Alert Level 4.

Some people may have fast food outlets in their neighbourhood, but it is still non-essential travel and it challenges “Keep your bubble as small as possible”.

The Covid level 3 rules are contradictory, as Golden Rules for businesses at Alert Level 3 say “Your customers can pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way. Delivery or pick-up must also be contactless.” So pickups of fast food are ok?

I thought most of the food would be delivered, but obviously pickups will pick up.

This won’t worry me, I won’t be racing to the nearest fish and chip shop (which is sort of in my neighbourhood) but I can imagine the possibility of a flood of fast food famished fix finders.

I wonder if any fast food outlets try opening at midnight tonight? That could be more chaotic than the supermarket congestion (that seems to have settled down as people settle into lockdown routine).

NZ Herald: Last day of lockdown – Jacinda Ardern’s message to New Zealand

The headline is misleading – for many if not most of us the lockdown will continue much the same under Level 3.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned people not to get too complacent during the final lockdown hours.

“Our marathon will take patience and endurance but we need to finish what we started. Lives and livelihoods depend on our success as a nation.”

That’s right, it’s going to take a lot of time yet to get through this. and the transition to level 3 is going to pose some challenges for some people.

KFC and a normal kid

During the week there was a bit of attention given to a sponsorship deal between Rugby League and KFC. Somehow this risked creating a generation of sedentary fast food addicts – despite the fact that KFC has a similar deal already with the Australian Rugby league.

Lizzie Marvelly: Sponsorship ruckus does a fat lot of good

The assertion by Consumer NZ Chief Executive Sue Chetwin that KFC’s sponsorship of the Rugby League World Cup is an attempt to target children so that they will “build up a lifelong addiction” to junk food seemed particularly overstated. It was certainly alarming enough to garner attention, but singling out sporting events sponsored by fast food companies as having a causative relationship with fast food addiction in children triggered my scepticism reflex.

As a child, I ate a reasonable amount of junk food. Most weeks there would be one night when I was allowed to choose between McDonalds, KFC and Georgie Pie for dinner. I also ate cake, biscuits, lollies, chips and many other things that would make some of today’s yummiest mummies gasp – alongside fruit, vegetables, meat, carbohydrates and dairy. Not a cacao or chia seed bliss ball in sight. Thank God.

Was I fat? Objectively, no (although I thought I was – thanks to the 90s obsession with heroin chic fashion and dieting fads). Did I develop a lifelong addiction to junk food? I couldn’t actually tell you the last time I ate McDonalds, KFC or the like, so it seems not. I was a normal kid who was allowed the odd treat as a part of a generally nutritious diet. A kid with parents who could afford to ensure that the food I ate was mostly healthy, and who were quite capable of saying “no”.

Any good parent should be mostly be able to hold sway over advertising and sponsorship when their children’s eating habits are concerned.

There were a lot fewer junk food options available when I was a kid, of the takeaway type at least. No KFC, no McDonalds, no pizza – I first ate that in my late teens, no franchise fast food at all.

Fizzy drinks were a rare treat – but we did make up Greggs cordial and saw how much sugar went into it because we added it ourselves. There was plenty of baking and puddings, as well as meat and 3 veg plus a lot of fruit.

Some people with probably a similar type of diet went on to become fans of fast food – I did eat things like fish and chips quite often but have largely resisted getting pulled in by advertising.

Every time the video ref makes a decision against the Warriors I can quite easily resist racing to the nearest KFC.

I by some junk at the supermarket but not a lot and usually manage to not eat too much too often.

I haven’t been to McDonalds since before my grand daughter stayed in Ronald McDonald House in Auckland.

Diets and obesity and diabetes and heart disease are all major issues, but we must be able to deal with them better than banning or taxing everything that someone says is unhealthy, or could prompt unhealthy behaviour.

Food marketing criticism tainted by political slogans

Food marketing which promotes junk food to children is a real problem, but raising the issue with ‘neoliberal’ labels taints the message of Darren Powell, a lecturer in health education at the University of Auckland.

NZ Herald: Needs of children, not Big Food, must win out

It looks as though our Advertising Standards Authority will, once again, fail to adopt a strict code of food advertising to children and young people. This is hardly surprising.

In neoliberal societies such as our own, the wants of the private sector frequently take priority over the needs of citizens, including children. This is especially true for the “Big Food” industry which includes the multinational food and drink producers with massive marketing power.

The marketing of multinationals, especially when it involves the promotion of unhealthy eating, should be addressed, but including vague political slogans doesn’t help Powell’s case. Labelling it a neoliberal problem may please a few political activists but it will turn off ordinary people, and also those with the power to do something about the problem.

The ‘Big Food’ label doesn’t help either, that smacks of us against them.

A raft of public health experts, journalists, researchers and the public blame Big Food products, lobbying and marketing practices for the childhood obesity “crisis”.

Claiming the support of ‘the public’ is a common and lame political practice. Without any substantiation it is poor coming from an academic.

Powell does make some important points.

Although on the surface it looks as if corporations are promoting healthy lifestyles and health products, at the same time they are stealthily creating and profiting from a new market – advertising “health” to children.

An example of how devious and successful fast food companies can be is the association of Ronald MacDonald with child health in Auckland (and nationally).

This is where the narrow focus on “junk” food advertising restrictions is naive, even dangerous: all advertising to children is potentially “unhealthy”.

But it’s totally unrealistic to protect all children for advertising – and futile when it is parents that make diet decisions for their children.

Children are being conditioned to believe attaining good health is as simple as listening to advertising and consuming the right products. This deflects attention from complex and powerful determinants of health, such as genetics, poverty, colonisation and inequality.

Should children be educated on complex determinants of health such as genetics, poverty, colonisation and inequality? Should they have Politics 101 at pre-school?

Through marketing, children’s understanding of health is being altered. It is moving away from traditional and cultural perspectives of well-being and towards a corporate-friendly version of health that emphasises individual consumption.

My traditional and cultural diet, relatively uninfluenced by advertising, was later slammed as unhealthy – too much meat, supposedly bad fats, sugar loaded baking, and even our vegetables were

Rather than being shaped by culture, biological needs or family income, children’s choices are increasingly being guided by mascots, cartoon characters, product placement, free toys, free educational resources, sponsorship, philanthropy, and the promise of a fit, non-fat, socially acceptable body.

Those are important and serious issues.

This must stop – our policymakers must introduce controls that prevent children being advertising targets. And it can be done. Brazil, for example, has made it illegal to market any products to children on the basis that it is equivalent to child abuse.

Unless all food advertising was banned – and this should include useless health supplements, diet fads, exercise fads, and products that cause more problems than they are purported to solve like disinfectants – then it’s an uphill and probably futile battle.

We must challenge the assumption that marketing healthy lifestyles and healthy choices is inherently “healthy” and examine how marketing tactics may actually shape children’s thoughts and actions in unhealthy ways.

Yes, but that should be done with research and fact based information.

Further, we must find better ways to make advertising – of both “healthy” and “unhealthy” products – abnormal and help children to become critical consumers, aware of marketing strategies and stealthy tactics such as sponsorship, product placement and “educational”, “health-promoting” programmes.

No suggestions at all of how that could be done. Ban all advertising? Ban all sponsorship? Implement state enforced diets and state controlled media?

Food (and other) marketing is a real issue, but politically tainted rants will more likely detract from rather than contribute to effective solutions.

Food (and other marketing) and sponsorship is a complex issue that creates difficult to resolve problems.

Powell has raised issues, tainted them with political slogans, and has failed to offer realistic alternatives. He means well but seems to be sheltered by an idealistic academic bubble.