This post was originally published here on 18 February 2017
Public health activists used to give valuable, life-saving advice, and in many parts of the world they still do: Don’t shit upstream from the village, because it’ll foul the drinking water; don’t let standing water accumulate, because mosquitoes will breed in it; vaccinate your kids, because it will protect them from disease; stay away from the dog that’s walking stiffly and starting to drool, because it’s rabid. This is work that has to be done, and it’s public health organisations who need to do it.
Unfortunately, in the developed world public health has gone horribly wrong. It’s mutated from a field of medicine and science dedicated to preventing disease, and become a crusading movement that’s determined to impose their vision of an ultra-healthy lifestyle on the entire population – whether we want it or not. Not a day goes past without another terrifying revelation in the newspapers about some food (always something tasty; never quinoa or kale) that will kill us if we don’t immediately stop eating it.
The few foods that public health do permit us have to be prepared in increasingly specific ways, carefully chosen to eliminate any vestige of flavour. Do you like toast? Then “go for gold,” because if you leave it in the toaster until it browns you’ll die of acrylamide-induced cancer. No, never mind that golden toast just tastes like warm, dry bread; your enjoyment is not important. Oh, did I say dry? That’s right; if you butter it you’ll get diabetes.
The “go for gold” rule also applies to roast potatoes, by the way, even though they taste much better when they’re brown and crispy round the edges. I’m just waiting for the press release that says using goose fat to add some flavour to your horrible, pallid undercooked spuds will cause some other lethal disease. Leprosy, maybe?
Don’t drink alcohol, because there’s no safe level. If you do drink alcohol then restrict yourself to 14 units a week. Men can’t handle any more alcohol than women despite being an average of 35% heavier – unless the woman is pregnant or, according to a frenzied anti-alcohol decree from America’s CDC, “pre-pregnant”. Yes, I know that pre-pregnant is just another way of saying not pregnant, but that isn’t how CDC see it. If you’re not pregnant, but you’re capable of getting pregnant, then you’re pre-pregnant and you shouldn’t ever drink any alcohol at all. Feel like ignoring the CDC? It’s your funeral, but take the advice of Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, and think about breast cancer every time you pour a glass of wine.
If you drink more than three pints in one session you probably have an alcohol problem, because this is binge drinking. Yes, really. When I was in the Army we thought binge drinking was going to the NAAFI bar for a couple on Friday night, then next thing you know it’s Tuesday and you’re in a Moroccan police cell, naked except for one sock you don’t recognise. Apparently we were wrong.
Binge drinking is on the rise, of course. So is the number of people who drink more than the government’s recommended limit every week. According to public health this is because the UK is awash in cheap alcohol. I live in Germany, and trust me on this: No matter what public health say, there’s no such thing as cheap alcohol in the UK. This is almost certainly why alcohol consumption is actually falling, and has been for years. Incidentally, the UK’s recommended weekly alcohol limit has fallen from 50 units a week to 14 in my lifetime. Could that be why more people are exceeding it? Just a thought.
Sugar’s an addictive toxin that food companies use as cheap filler, presumably because they’ve run out of actual cheap fillers like flour and potatoes, and we’re all going to die of obesity. After all, two-thirds of us are overweight and obese. They always say “overweight and obese” because the number who’re actually obese isn’t nearly as impressive – less than a quarter – and of course that number isn’t actually rising, but it’s a good excuse to attack more tasty stuff. Now the UK is getting a “sugar tax” applied to soft drinks, because fuck poor people. It won’t reduce obesity, of course – sugar and fat taxes never do – but it was never about obesity anyway. Sweetened drinks taste good, so of course public health hate them.
Always the Sun
Don’t go out in the sun because it’ll give you cancer. If you must go out in the sun wear long sleeves, a hat and SPF 9,000 sunblock on any exposed skin. Sunlight is bad for you, except of course for the fact that exposure to sunlight is how our bodies synthesise Vitamin D. It probably isn’t coincidence that cases of rickets – Vitamin D deficiency – in the UK have spiked back to levels last seen over half a century ago, but never mind the details; sunlight is bad.
As I mentioned before, it’s always nice things that kill you. Nobody is warning us about the dangers of yoga or grotty, tedious vegetables. Oh no; it’s always sunbathing, beer and bacon the public health zealots turn their guns on. It’s always the enjoyable things they want us to give up. It’s almost enough to make you suspect that the real motivation isn’t to make our lives longer; it’s to make them more miserable. This isn’t a far-fetched conspiracy theory either, because there’s a surprising level of overlap between public health organisations and old-style temperance groups. Nineteenth-century Christian Socialism sprouted a vigorous growth of lifestyle Puritanism, and sadly it hasn’t been eradicated yet.
Most people, of course, are not Puritans and don’t want to be dictated to by the minority who are. That’s probably why hostility to the nanny state seems to be growing. Personally, my own resentment boiled over long ago. By this point I hate the public health establishment so much that, if I die of something because I dismissed their advice – bacon cancer, say, or toast diabetes – I’ll count that as a moral victory. They tried to keep me alive by forcing me to stop eating toast, but failed? I win; take that, you miserable killjoys.
Go forth and multiply
But it’s not too late for public health to redeem themselves. There is still work for them to do. That work isn’t in the rich west, of course. Here, life expectancy is at an all-time high and infant mortality at an all-time low. Diseases that used to kill or cripple millions vanished decades ago. Our food is safe, our water is clean and our lifestyles are healthy. If we really have time to worry about the cancerous properties of toast, we’ve basically won.
No, public health’s work is in the developing world. That’s where diarrhoea still kills millions of children, and measles is as big a scourge as malaria. That’s where sinister, demented holy men tell mothers that vaccination is a western plot. That’s where the bites of rabid dogs send 65,000 people a year to a screaming, insane death. That’s where the poor are dying because they aren’t getting the right advice. So pack your bags, public health, and go forth to save lives. Go to Africa and Asia, tour the villages and save the people. They need you.
We don’t. So piss off and leave us alone.