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Riding in the Fast Lane

  • Opinion

Harriet Freeman, BSc, Economics

Since the effusion of late 20th century consumer technology into our lifestyles, computers, mobiles and the internet have transformed the concept of ‘time’ as we knew it. Rather than lending us more of it however, we seem to be saying ‘why aren’t there more hours in the day!’ more than ever.

For example, this new ‘flexibility’ in corporate structures granted by technological progress has blended boundaries between the home and office and increased workers’ efficiency pressures. Urban societies as a whole have adapted to business demands for higher productivity individuals, adapting to offer from-home, one-click services along the way.

In London we live in one of the most prolific hubs of high-speed lifestyles, invited by the abundance of activities, sites, clubs and pubs. Yet, we are incessantly pursued into haste through the high social value we have come to place on being ‘busy’. Busy is status we almost boast about. We steal moments of just ‘being’ (sitting on the tube, walking to university, enjoying a coffee) for brain-cramming as much news from online Guardian as possible in the 10 minutes we ‘made.’

But how healthy is busy? Are we submitting ourselves to a long-term state of being ‘wired’,‘run-down?’

Research as far back as the 1950s tests the direct health effects which result from headless-chicken, fast-pace tendencies in behaviour. In 1959, cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman developed a theory relating two opposing personality types – Type A and Type B- with likelihood of developing coronary heart disease. They hypothesised individuals with Type A behaviours – time- urgent, competitive, driven to meet goals, concerned with material acquisition and numbers, hostile – doubled their risks of suffering from heart disease when compared to the relatively relaxed Type Bs. Today, many Type A behaviours appear to reside in a great proportion of Western urban individuals and are reinforced, re-bred, by society and business’ worth of high-efficiency. Type A is what high-paying employers generally want to see apparently.

Although there has been mixed evidence to support Friedman and Rosenman’s direct link between health and ‘busy,’ we experience the unambiguous, very real indirect health effects daily. A recent national survey, Life In The UK’s Fast Lane, told us 71% respondents suffer frequently from indigestion and 79% from excessive alcohol consumption as a response to modern living. Other surveys look at the spikes in traditional fast food consumption. These findings are nothing much of a surprise, but that does not undercut the potency of society’s structural problem at hand, clearly marked by NHS expenditures on treating obesity and drink-related afflictions.

Now this isn’t an article advising you students to downsize your commitments, remove all stressors or lead an orderly life. For me, that would equate to an acutely humdrum, beige life. It’s about recognising which aspects of life should not be slipped into our fast track, for the benefit of us as the individual and the wider world; behaviour towards food is one of them.

Our interest and consideration is dwindling in what food we eat, where it comes from and the knock-on effects our consumption can have. I propose the need to reflect on just how ‘good’ our food is.

Slow Food, the international grassroots organisation which vigorously supports local food cultures, pinpoints three ways to define ‘good food’: good for us, in terms of quality, flavour, affordability and health-content; good for those who grow it through just remuneration; good for the planet by considerate use of cultivation methods.

We at SOAS are advantaged to have this whole-heartedly good food in the immediate vicinity.

In spirit and soul of Slow Food philosophy, What Nature Offers (WNO) is a project which leaps over the middle man and provides London with Sicilian organic fruit, direct from their handful of small-holding farmers in the quaint hill-speckled Noto district. The precision and laboured care these organic production methods need is never ending and never harmful. Through ordering via WNO’s e-shop we can equip ourselves with full-bodied oranges, lemons and grapefruits and even their three-blend extra virgin olive oil, and feast our interest on the stories of these products in origin. The collection point is none other than our JCR bar. Last week WNO teamed up with SOAS’ Food Co-op, another key grassroots organisation, which similarly looks ‘beyond food as a product to the wider global context’; every Wednesday we can support good food philosophy by visiting their organic, fair trade, no-nasties stall.

These movements (Slow Food, WNO, SOAS Co-operative) that define themselves by their concern for food locality, quality, producer justice and conservation are inspiring and exciting to interact with; understanding the wider context of the food we consume is educating in the nutritional, biological and political realms. We can only fully benefit from our ride in the fast lane if we look after our heads and bodies. This requires us to funnel our scattered attention towards good food choices, allowing ourselves, small producers and the environment to become sustainable entities. The benefits are expansive if we take the approach of slow digestion to food reflection.


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