10 October '20

Food and Memes

On the day that the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN World Food Programme, I can’t help myself ranting about the way that food is treated by the wealthy in the West.

We live in a world of excess and capitalistic pleasures where all of our desires are met with the tap of a plastic card. Well, I say we.

Since 1979, inequality in the UK has sharply risen, peaking in the 90s and since staying at around that level. Similarly, the wealth gap in the US more than doubled between 1989 and 2016. This translates to food bank users increasing from 26,000 in 2008/09 to 1.9 million in 2020 in the UK. In the US the number is just as dire with Feeding America reporting that 1 in 7 Americans access a food bank.

And that’s just the West. In Syria, after years of tearing the country apart, there are now 9.3 million people living with food insecurity. That number is still climbing to the highest ever recorded — an increase of 1.4 million in the last 6 months. And let’s not forget about the devastating emergency in Yemen (although I think it’s hard to forget about something that seems to have never been acknowledged). Over 20 million people are food insecure, of which 10 million are acutely food insecure. After decades of adverts showing the bloated skeletons of African children, are we numb now to the hunger pains of others?

I’d argue yes.

Have you seen the (usually American) TV shows where the presenter visits a restaurant to try out their challenge of eating five days worth of calories in an hour? Or have you noticed your plates getting bigger and filling up higher at your local pub? What about how reviews of restaurants nearly always criticise/compliment a restaurant on portion sizes?

Western society faces an infatuation with more.

Please don’t judge me. At the end of the day I like to unwind by getting into bed and snuggling up with a good old fashioned meme video. They’re such a harmless way to end the day: cats jumping and falling, skateboarders jumping and falling, toddlers jumping and falling, and a whole range of other silly delights to put me to sleep.

But it feels like lately there have been more viral videos dedicated to food. There’s the guy who breaks about a years supply of spaghetti for the lolz, the guy who steps on fruit and veg then slips on an onion, the hundreds of videos of people throwing cheese at cats, people, babies, dogs; the list goes on. Don’t get me started on How to Basic. Honestly I could go on for such a long time. It’s become cool and funny and the cooler and funnier it gets, the more people copy and the more people that copy, the more food is wasted.

Look. I love a silly video and I love to eat. I can see why people might laugh at the food meme videos. And I can see why getting more food for your money might seem amazing value. But it’s a reality that neighbours are forced to choose between food and heating the house and it’s a fact that there are tens of millions of people are starving everyday, can we please be more thoughtful about food?