I call it Foodoo - the irrational belief that if you change someone's diet, you will automatically change their behaviour, prospects and pretty much their whole lives. As the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, it's very comforting to believe that somehow those at the lower strata of our society have brought their lack of social mobility on themselves by eating junk food, and that if parents switched tomorrow to an organic diet high in fruit and vegetables with at least one meal a day cooked from scratch, kids from council estates would be over-running Oxbridge. (Currently, privately educated pupils are almost seven times as likely to get into Oxford or Cambridge as those from state schools.) Or as Jeremy Vine put it with delightful sarcasm when I was fighting a foodoo fiend on his radio show awhile back, 'If we stop people eating chips, they'll stop swearing!'
Of course, it's a big fat high-fibre lie. Only one thing keeps those at the bottom at the bottom and those at the top at the top and it isn't anything to do with food or brains, or even brain-food. It's this country's savage system of class privilege, which ensures that stupid children still generally do well if they are born into wealthy families, and that bright children still generally do badly if they are born into poor families. A few Turkey Twizzlers here and there really aren't going to make any difference and with the working-class well aware of how the odds are so shamefully stacked against them and theirs, why on earth shouldn't they choose to live for the moment?
Anyway, what IS junk food? And is it really so bad for us? In a brilliant new book to be published in October, PANIC ON A PLATE: HOW SOCIETY DEVELOPED AN EATING DISORDER, Rob Lyons busts open foodoo myths with all the glee of a mischievous child slipping a whoopee cushion under the posterior of pomposity. Did YOU know that the world's fattest populations live not in the McDonalds-crazed U.S and U.K, but in Samoa, Jordan and Saudi Arabia? How can there be both an 'obesity timebomb' AND a 'pensions timebomb' if we are really being driven to an early grave by Gummi Bears? And how delightful to discover that tomato ketchup contains three times the vitamin C, pound for pound, as apples, and less sugar for each unit of vitamin C than apples. 'That's right', Lyons audibly smirks, 'apples, not ketchup, are the sugary, vitamin-lite option. So which one is the junk food?'
The people who will denounce this book are the very same sort of busy-bodies currently telling us that babies should exercise and that pensioners shouldn't drink alcohol. From the cradle to the grave, the Nanny state will do everything in its power to make your life less fun. But when it comes to things that might make the lives of thousands of people fairer - abolishing private education, and making every child start in the same place when it comes to making progress appropriate to their ability in life - Nanny couldn't give a toss. We should return the favour, and tell Nanny to stick her foodoo warnings where the Sunny Delight don't shine.