Questions Children Ask Parents and Teachers: Granny, did we have Smarties when food was rationed in World War 2? Mummy, did you, Daddy, and I eat beef during BSE?
1. History repeats itself, even within one human lifetime. Do-gooders tackling the scourges of childhood malnutrition with mixtures of salts, water, and a few essential nutrients began to appreciate the apparent futility in restoring a baby into communities where protein-calorie malnutrition and other diseases were rife and where emergency supplies of food provided temporary or fitful benefit.
2. The principles of triage had to be applied in allocating supplies of food and medication to populations most able to help themselves and the best chances arbitrarily assessed of their survival in long periods of value added life. It is not unusual in allocating care, cures, and medication in times of shortage or facilities or demonstrations of the will to live. It is the challenge of the Old Lady with the Broken Hip readied on a Saturday afternoon for the 3rd time to occupy the team in an NHS hospital when A and E send in a young motorcyclist with broken legs as a result of a traffic accident.
3. Decisions of this type challenge many competent rescuers. How is the patient be treated who has led a sober and prudent life, if his place in the queue is usurped by an overweight smoker urgently needing treatment and surgery, attributable to his feckless lifestyle and urgency? How can one tell? Dire as the effects of smoking are, they are symptoms of a calming effect that prevents the social harm of road rage or allows the imagery and inspiration of great art to flourish?
4. We are already entering an era where physical attributes or disadvantages apparently disfavour applicants for jobs in which their care of their own body or breeding may be judged, a sign of improvidence and unsuitability. Inability to squeeze into a cockput or hatch on a tank must undoubtedly disqualify military personnel from certain functions, and promotion on the basis that their impediments are rated much more preventable than, say, short-sightedness. The contrast in these judgements may disappear with more research, but the chances of survival and advancement become increasingly obvious to an employer, advocate, or doctor armed with perceptions of bodyweight, height, and BMI and the epidemiologists' statistics of aging, morbidity, mortality, and other indications of unsuitability and disability.
5. And persistence of reputations and habit may dog representatives of political ideas and judgment. Who could judge a politician on the condition of his fingernails, or his insistence that vegetarianism was a perversion of the natural order and beef was safe to eat, pasteurization of commercial cows' milk was not essential, indulgences such as smoking could still set a good example for a Minister of Health acting as a worldly advisor to the tobacco industry, and Fellows of the Royal Society washing their hands of any hastily conjured acknowledgment that this "natural order" portended disaster if animals evolved as herbivores should be fed as "carnibals"?
Bankruptcy, Famine, Food, Rationing
6. In the exigencies of post-WW2 famines and scourges, Chinese aid workers pursued the line of helping those who helped themselves: "better to teach a man to fish" than to distribute consignments of aid that might sporadically beggar the market for local farmers. The Chinese solution could be fitting in some conditions, eg by rearing fish in the paddies growing rice, but this ingenuity, like many others, still avoided the overriding ability of delivering and saving newborns into conditions in which they were ill equipped to cope. Methods of well-meaning birth control therefore seemed to offer feasible or least-worst solutions: these were methods feasible for the poor and unnecessary for the rich; furthermore, it put a lot of the control on the distaff side of these procedures increased as populations of consumers increased with extensions of longevity, so that the simplest observations could calculate that populations aged over 65 years, and thus pensionable, would exceed those under 35 years, who would be generating the wealth to pay for the looming economic and demographic disaster we are facing today in the so-called "developed" countries.
7. And as "high standards" of living - rather than the thrifty quality of life-rose with a shift towards inefficient methods of feeding livestock to provide high protein: carbo calories ratios farming policies lurched into a ruinous disarray and wastage. The solution was obvious - to restrain the growing and greedy populations by methods of self-discipline and example, as well as by abortion and control of conception. This would head off the threats of intensification, crowding, and urbanization that would risk humans, like rabbits from myxomatosis to the scourges of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and insects associated zoonotic spreads and reservoirs would accrue.
8. By the 1970s and recognition of serious famines, the fecklessness of the rich nations contrasted with the precautions imposed in totalitarian regimes to prevent the threatening demographic disasters. The Duke of Edinburgh was stupid enough to deliver a homily at an international meeting on birth control, where he had to be reminded that he and his wife had already delivered 4 competitors for the world's food production and they looked set for patterns of living extravagant - or, bluntly, greedy - compared with the rest of the world. The indelicate task remained to remind many leaders of thought and lifestyle likewise. Drunkenness and other forms of debauchery now exceed in manifold exhibitions the celebrations and sacrifices of "primitive" peoples sustaining themselves from the diversity of plant foods tricked out for the occasional celebration over the flesh and guts and entrails of an animal, human or other.
9. So it is that a Government advisor augments advocacy pronounced by officials at DEFRA, with a call for a limit of 2 for the children from one couple. Jonathan Porritt, who chairs the Government's Sustainable Development Commission and was Tony Blair's advisor on the environment, says that "curbing population growth thru contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming….
Political leaders and green campaigners should stop dodging the issue". A report by the Commission, to be published next month, will say that governments must reduce population growth through better family planning (The Times 02 February 2009).
Populations, Movements, Demography, Ruddy Ducks
10. "I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibilities for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate. I think we will work our way towards a position that says that having more than 2 children is irresponsible. It is the ghost at the table".
11. Jonathan Porritt has 2 children. Tony and Cherie can muster 4. (On this day of snow and winds from Siberia that surpasses many of earlier winters we must recall the measures and "equipment" that Cherie took on a visit to a drafty and bitterly cold royal castle recently; and it was not for huntin; shootin' or fishin? Anyway, Ken Livingstone's Green Homes insulation advice might be given extra appreciation for its environmental and demographic benefits).
12. The Porritt view harks back to Malthus and introduces goings and comings in movements of populations and workers, and a Sunday Times editorial (01 February 2009), presenting a defence for the middle classes (and thus presumably most of its readers) heads a comment with "Go easy on the Guilt Trip, Jonathan". And from this follows the need for leaders and politicians to declare their own acts of self-determination and the effect on the public. Tony Blair and Cherie, for instance, went coy over their policy of vaccinating their children. We think this a disclosure of interest, but of no special signifance because they are no more knowledgeable in this matter than any other responsible couple consulting their G.P. This intimacy is small compared with the financial disclosures of office and influence expected of MPs, MEPs, and members of the House of Lords. Confessions of smoking (of any substances) or traffic behaviour should be admitted as they are of greater significance in society and youthful solecisms could be publicly regretted and not persisted in.
Professionals, Behavior, Lifestyle, Openness
13. VEGA is calling for greater openness from members of official committees and advisors and corporate purchasers of their choices. Do they actually read and understand the information on the labels they devise and approve?
Do they choose organic, vegetarian….? Do they refuse battery eggs, £2 broilers, or halal meat or white veal? Would they translate such practices to the procurements they are responsible for, or for their own kitchens or meals out, i.e. are they moved from desistance and resistance, to outright boycotting? Do chefs always use those "free range" eggs described in their recipes (i.e. the description, a use of words meaning even less to the recipe than brown or white? Does any individual member of these committees and boards have any experience of catering or buying for a celiac, diabetic, meat-free, dairy-free, or cruelty-free? Do any of themselves describe themselves as "vegetarian" ("but I sometimes eat dairy or fish"…..or "I have this or that allergy" or "just don't like sea-food")?
14. We think those of us "out there" ought to be informed. And, in the light of the Animal Welfare Acts and associated legislation and education, we would remember that the "family" may include livestock, other than human children. Pet food is nowadays a major, well-advertised part of the food industry with consequent demands on the environment. And, as the procedures at the Philips BSE Inquiry indicated, foodies and animal welfarists in official positions must be prepared to answer the question
15. "What did we eat (at home or school) during the Great BSE Outbreak, Mummy? and declare it. (Prof John Krebs, first Chair of the Food Standards Agency, was happy to declare that he gave up eating beef for a while, and he added that his wife was a governess of a school that withdrew beef from its meals).
16. The attitudes and practices of professional bodies with special involvements in matters of farming, food, health, and the environment and with the welfare of all animals must require attention to evidence that they practise what they preach or engage in lofty disdain for problems that disturb the hoi polloi, provoke desistances or resistances or outright refusals of certain foods or toiletries in the procurements for their official functions and offices. The British Veterinary Association has its own Animal Welfare Foundation, so it would be expected to evince some recognition and participation in schemes and the market in reducing avoidable cruelties. As an affluent group, they have no excuse in lagging well behind action provoked by various celebrities on the TV. Doctors the world over profess objection to practices such as capital punishment and to mutilations, but will attend such events in efforts at reducing the pain and terror suffered by victims and prevent further killings. The veterinary profession likewise attends, through its officers in the Food Standards Agency and Meat Hygiene Service, the slaughter - or massacre, would be an apter word - of billions of non-human animals in the avoidable cruelties of humane (an unapt word, whose application of which it connives at) killing. We have no evidence or indication to show that vets individually or corporately strive officiously to refuse purchase or consumption of animal-derived foods that entail well-recognized damnable violations of their avowed professional standards.
17. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) arrange open meetings at which they employ contractors to provide refreshments and buffet lunches, for which they provide collations suitable for vegetarians of all types, including real cruelty-frees, albeit with the need for some instruction from the FSA officers and by the visitors. This is an advance headed by VEGA and indicates an accommodation to dairy-frees and an understanding and acceptance of enquiries put by procurement offices of the standards to the contractors. Campaigning Animal Welfarists would be expected to prefer soya milk over cows', but many still plump for the latter even when the dairy-free is prominently identified with markers provided by VEGA and after the evils of "the milk of human unkindness" have been rehearsed yet again.
18. Such favors are bestowed only fitfully on consumers attending (in London, at least) meetings of the Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) Open Board meetings, much depends on the friendliness of the staff; uptake by veggie visitors and animal welfarists (and rightists') is deplorably poor because few of such people turn up to exert an influence. This indifference is disappointing because both the FSA and FAWC are beginning, after a shaky start, to combine forces with other interests to tackle more than questions from the floor and enter debate on a wide range of topics, which (for instance, in a grouping named GACS (Government Advisory Committee Onscience) chaired by Prof Colin Blakemore) will extend to topics such as ethics. Again, animal welfarists and environmentalists fail to exploit their chances and abandon the case for constructive debate and research that can offer to criminal groups. Recent cases at the Old Bailey illustrate just how damaging and futile such malign activities can undermine worthy and well-researched persuasions.
19. The press are reacting less earnestly than the warnings of threats to dietary and environmental wellbeing, even of food-rationing, with parallels in post-WW2 sequels; accordingly, the public complacency over solutions and needs for reform needs special testing and demonstration of precautionary principles and of thrifty and prudent lifestyles informed by expert advice or, where that is equivocal, with the citizen's final resort to common sense. Royal persons often take decisions in medical and veterinary treatments that embrace complementary methods (eg homeopathy) or even complete alternatives. There should be no harm in the public recognizing that they have to plump for decisions when the experts disagree over alternatives and suitabilities in schooling, immunization, and "mutilations" (eg circumcision) where orthodoxy may be avoided but with prudent monitoring. Secrecy generates suspicion and disrespect, John Gummer's irredentist adherence to an expert confidence in the safety of British beef would have gained him some respect if he admitted that had made a regrettable error of judgment allied to a respect for citizens who had made a prudent decision with a small convenience in family lifestyle. Politicians lose respect if they refuse to answer questions on their smoking or drinking habits in their youth, setting a precedent in admitting shame and the bad example they have unfortunately set. Likewise the Blairs need have no resort to secrecy or prevarication over their immunizations for their children and sharing with other parents the consequences and assessments of outcomes.
20. So VEGA expects much more openness and declarations of interest when experts and advisors confer and set, even unwittingly, standards and paragons to illuminate the decisions and lifestyles of healthily critical citizens.
Bewilderment, "Managed Wildlife" and Anthropocentrism
21. Politicians and media commentators wish to assert their claims of connecting with the British public in the frenzy whipped up in the fickle opinion polls and the testimony adduced by pundits offered to parents, carers, and teachers; they must then share with the nation the heed they and their families pay to all the advice and warnings on well being in every sense and the exercise of critically assessed precautions. Are alcoholism and drunkenness and smoking crimes that self-restraint should, by one and all, curtail the temptations of deplorable markets and industries and substantially reinforce fiscal regulations and incentives to saner human enterprise. There is every reason for knowing what luck the great officers of state and the opiniated commentators of the broadsheets have in persuading granny to bribe children left in her care with sweeties when they fetch her slippers, while mum and dad eat out in a posh "organic, locally-grown" restaurant serving diners with an abhorrence of junk foods and advertising?
22. Do the foodies and health-food enthusiasts follow "received" advice on dietary supplements and "mass medication" with fortified foods (we can think of statins and immunizations) or have inklings of alternatives and precedents that they might cite as a responsibility of high office; there's no harm, only some possible benefit, to know the details in these contexts of princes and their families, and does the president of the RSPCA adhere to all the regimens and reforms that the Society aims at imposing on Crufts' breeders?
23. Treating all of us as keepers and carers of livestock, we should not expect teachers, ethicists, behaviourists, and backers of racing or competitive species the watchfulness and observation of laterality that informs our appreciation of Rover's preferred address to the lamp post and of the comfort for greyhounds and the gee-gees with clockwise or anti-clockwise running on the racecourse when they have to "put their best foot forward". And do the parents'dilemma at imparting the facts of life remember that there are more than the positions taken in the Kama Sutra in the production of honey and the reproduction of the plants our species, great and small, depends on for its survival. And shouldn't the shooters in their butts be able to converse with the peasantry in the field and on the farm in the knowledge in both parties that cows rise from recumbency lifting themselves in different ways from horses. Real respect for nature is a joy to be contemplated and shared by all walks of life; we should grow up with a range of choice, even with science as an overriding influence, in which we act as informed and appreciative learners and practitioners of common sense and the exchange of knowledge that drives it.