Tuesday, 27 August 2013

On Massive Tellies

Perhaps the telly looked massive because the room it was in was tiny. I don't know. I wasn't there, so can't say what transpired to make Jamie Oliver so contemptuous of a family's choices. That they chose a different priority (entertainment) over his (nutrition) is not surprising in the least. You can't stare at the wall. Food is fleeting.

Poverty is a trap and a cycle. There is no future when you're dirt poor so who cares about avoiding cancer or heart disease? Fat tastes nicer than lean. White bread is delicious. Chips are too. See the Orwell quote doing the rounds and try to empathise. Buying a big TV on credit is a thrill and watching Sky is a distraction.

When I was growing up, under the adorable hell regime of Thatcher, you could get a free telly from the council because TV was on an 'essentials' list. Telephones weren't, because those were a luxury easily replaced by letters. If you were too poor to afford a TV, even Thatcher's government was sympathetic. They didn't specify how big was too big, and I'm wondering what size now qualifies as massive.

It's a simple mistake, assuming someone makes an economic choice by weighing up the benefits and disadvantages of each and educating themselves on the long-term effects. In reality, hardly anyone does this. When you're poor, you buy expensive stuff on a whim to cheer yourself the hell up because depression is common and life is hopeless and bleak. You don't buy it with cash, for you have none. You use credit, not understanding compound interest or its implications. You make yourself financially poorer by trying to become emotionally richer. Culturally relevant. Your kids will be bullied if they don't speak the same TV language as their peers. You will too, subtly. On council estates, no-one speaks in brown rice and organic carrots. On ours, we were bullied sometimes for being a bit different. Snooty, you know. Not about food though. Lunch was a white bread fishpaste sandwich, a snack was a chunk of black pudding. I'm middle-class now and still eat both, or sometimes oysters and caviar, in front of my massive telly that I proudly paid cash for. Food is cultural, not all cultures are the same. No amount of wealth is going to change my tastebuds or rewire neural pathways so a blue Slush Puppy is no longer a nostalgic thrill.

Jamie Oliver has done some great work in schools. One slip-up doesn't undo that. He advocates for nutrition because kids need it for brain development and being clever is how you break the poverty cycle. It is important, intangible, unquantifiable. A gamble, as all health choices are. A massive telly, though, that's something else. Solid, dependable, visible. I'm glad I no longer have to choose.