In J.D Vance’s book ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ (a book all teenagers need to read), he writes about ‘Mountain Dew mouth’, were babies teeth rot away due to being giving bottles not filled with milk but with fizzy drinks. To many, such an idea will sound tantamount to child abuse, and I suppose it is, but then I suppose so is giving kids fruit juice, one deemed good, the other bad, separated by class, but all just marketing. Never the less, Mountain Dew mouth is not confined to Appalachia.
My mum – who’s not a hillbilly – told me how she’d put a spoon of sugar in my bottle, bottle feeding also viewed as ‘modern’ in the ’70s, when babies slept on their tummies, watched over by smoking mothers. She also started feeding me baby rice at three weeks old, when we now start at six months.
Hull, where I grew up, always comes out as one of the top ten most unhealthy places in the UK, something that it wears as a badge of honour; after all, what else can you do but own it? If you walk around, you won’t see that many children eating carrot sticks dipped in hummus like you would in upmarket Sheffield, but more Haribo and Coke. It’s a controversial view, but I’d say that just as crime creates poverty (not the other way round), shit food causes poverty (sorry to sound all Jamie Oliver). Just try drinking two litres of coke and an 800-gram bag of Golden Bears and then compose a symphony. What can we do about this? Nothing, because sugar is more addictive than opium, and if it comes down to a choice between real food and real drugs, the drugs always win (that why you don’t get many fat junkies).
And so I suppose along with a university education, nutrition is another modern class distinction, that just as once upon a time you were either salad cream class or mayonnaise, frozen food or fresh, now you poverty can often be measured in the weight sugar you consume, which for most people is around 70kg a year.
I blame Mary Poppins.