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This Program Is Captioned Live. THEME MUSIC I'm Tony Jones. Hello and welcome to Big Ideas. how does an atheist deal with death? On today's show, And US food guru Michael Pollan on our food packaging. debunks the misleading messages There are other cereals focus at school, that promise to improve your kids' of nutritional deficiencies, that promise to relieve any number

a heart attack. that promise to save you from 43 % sugar by weight. These are breakfast cereals. really confused. So no wonder people are But first, since the end of the Cold War. the USA has enjoyed global supremacy in the international arena But its use of power has been as controversial as ever. during the terms of George W Bush. This was especially true at the University of Sydney, Here addressing the US Studies Centre veteran war reporter Mark Danner to foreign policy discusses his country's approaches over the past decade. You know, the key problem the War on Terror, when you talk about what is the actual issue here? in the Arab world Erm... it is autocracies has with them. and the quarrel that Osama Bin Laden when it comes to US policy It seems to me the problem there political scientists call has to do with what "political modernisation." of course. It's a very condescending term, But the implication being, the Mubarak autocracy how do you take horrible prisons, torture, three years of a state of emergency,

a very sclerotic elite, and elite... you know, very er, some way, how do you take that and make it, into a more representative government of advancement, in which people have some hope among young people, in which there's hope in which the thousands of people very active universities who graduate from Egypt's have some hope of progress. proposed the Iraq invasion You know, oddly enough, George W Bush I've just identified. as an answer to the general question too complicated, you know, Can't do it in Egypt, they're our ally. We'll do it in Iraq. fighting a war for democracy - And was he sincere about some of you will scoff at that - actually did believe in that. but I happen to believe the President not other reasons for the Iraq war, This is not to say that there were including oil reasons, including realist reasons, it's absolutely true. But what was perceived, himself I believe, particularly by the President were simple and clear. is his ideas on foreign policy to an ideological problem. He saw this as an answer Condoleezza Rice put it this way - How do you -

to give the region's young people - how do you act in such a way hope and particularly it's young men - the solution to their problems so they will stop thinking that in New York and Washington. is driving airplanes into buildings

you open up the political system, And one of those reasons is of representative government, you create some kind deeply distressed world you destroy the sclerotic, of Arab autocracy,

for half a century. which the US has supported contradictory policy. Erm... so it's a completely policy, to be successful, But I'm saying that US foreign that is not materialistic, has to have a moral element development, that encourages democratic

government, that encourages representative and we saw this during the Cold War of course the key question becomes - and Latin American autocracies when it came to Latin America if you had a democratic opening - and the fear of communist take-over have democratic development how do you, in Egypt, in power? that doesn't put fundamentalists

quite homologous The kind of problem is actually and democratic openings. to the Cold War problem of communism I think the Muslim Government, Now my point of view, excuse me, or the Muslim Brotherhood, who, everybody seems to agree, in Egypt, would win. if there were a truly free election that would be a salutary development. I think frankly, I don't think that would, you know, the temple, I don't agree with that. that's like the Huns overrunning Erm... I think that the US, on the West Bank in Gaza, when Hamas won the election the US should've worked with Hamas to work with Hamas and should've encouraged the Israelis had constituencies to answer to. because Hamas suddenly democratic results. And it had to deliver by refusing to work with Hamas, And by shunning Hamas, an excuse to be repressive. the US gave this political grouping

election. So that was a very interesting democracy and morality... You've alighted thus far

..but in your own work, Have I? (LAUGHS) the torture issue you obviously - looms very large. and hypocrisy, moral hypocrisy, about torture So I wanted to ask you a question and the legacy of September 11, about it from - beginning with your own quotation you say, again from the book, which is, and the treaties violated, "Go beyond the laws broken of a dynamic more corrosive it is hard to think

of the Liberal idea of government, in its power, a government limited and its laws prevented by its basic philosophy of the individual." from violating the autonomy that I think you are making So, the charge is out there, and many others have made that resonates around the world, and certainly it's one with the American response to 9/11 that the biggest global problem is hypocrisy. You were supposed defending freedom

of detainees, prisoners of war, but you violated the freedoms and others through terrorism. said exactly the same thing President Obama, of course, has run into some difficulties. but as you know, the President Guantanamo Bay, He's not been able to close

to try detainees he has not been able on the American mainland in criminal courts

for a high-level inquiry and he seems unwilling to push hard into how torture happened, leaving open the possibility of prosecution of senior Bush officials. What kind of grade are you giving the Obama administration... (SCOFFS) ..regarding its response to torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and all of that, this extraordinarily sad piece of recent American history? At the moment, I'd have to give it a failing grade, absolutely. Erm...you know, the most egregious remnant er, or the most egregious development in our political life, as a result of September 11th, is the fact, nearly a decade later, that apparently a majority of Americans truly believe the country cannot be kept safe and they cannot be kept safe while following the law. Torture was not something that was done, it's something that IS done. In other words, it has become part of the American system. We now have - we have two major political parties, one of them has a view on torture that is absolutely clear. It's for it. I'm talking about the Republican party. They are for, what are called - Dick Cheney is very happy to say this in public. He is indeed. He said it 10 days after leaving office. 10 days after the new President took power. The former Vice President said this publicly and he said it repeatedly, and unfortunately, he is not some kind of crazed prophet

howling in the wilderness, he's had a very substantial effect on the Republican party,

which as I say, is squarely in favour of what they call EITs - extreme interrogation techniques. Er... so one major political party is very clear on torture, it's for it, it doesn't call it torture, but it is torture. It's not something - I mean the story extremely well-known now it's documented with great thoroughness, I published a book on it as you mentioned in 2004,

six years ago, two thirds of which is documents setting out how the torture policy was arrived at, what particularly it consisted of, how the lawyers justified it, we have known this for at least half a dozen years in great detail.

So, one political party is strongly for it, the other major political party, the one in power, the Democrats, is ambivalent. Barack Obama has spoken eloquently - and I give him credit for this - against torture and in favour of the proposition that one doesn't have to choose between security and human rights and the law. Because one should say, the law, that the United States has made substantial international undertakings not to torture, including singing the Convention Against Torture and implementing domestic statutes that forbid it in line with that convention. Erm... so he has said the right things. The development that's so interesting over the last year - and you know when I say "said the right things," I'm not talking about just making a speech, his second full day in office, he signed three executive orders, this was live on television, vowing to close Guantanamo prison within a year, vowing not to torture and vowing to set up a new interrogation regime.

All of this was done with great pomp and display, and it was striking to see because essentially this stuff has been in the news

but Presidents have been pretty loath to talk about it except for George W Bush when he spoke for it and said, "We don't torture," and then in effect said that we do, you know, it was kind of a wink. During the last year, he has - President Obama having stated these goals has been frustrated, as you say, in almost all of them.

Closing Guantanamo has been blocked, Congress has refused to vote him the money. It doesn't mean it won't happen but it's been slowed down, he has missed his deadline. Erm... the tentative efforts to perhaps investigate some of those who did the torturing - and this was extensive action you know, that probably 100 or more detainees were fairly severely tortured - there is in effect no real investigation into those activities. There is a special prosecutor who is looking into the destruction of video tapes or video recordings of these interrogations that were destroyed

and as part of his brief, he's supposed to look into those interrogators who went beyond the very broad limits of what the Bush administration allowed, which included water boarding, very, very harsh, horrible stuff, they're supposed to if... in some cases, where interrogators went beyond this, for example where they threatened to rape the wife of a detainee who was in custody, where they threatened to kill the children of a detainee who was you know in prison, naked, in a black site, being kept awake for seven, 10 days at a time, erm... who racked a gun, you know, a semi-automatic pistol, next to a detainee's ear, he was a hooded...had a hood on, was naked, hands chained to the ceiling, feet chained to the floor. Interrogator came in and went, "I'm going to blow your brains out now, you're going to die now," put the gun to his temple. Well that is illegal. You can waterboard, you can do all these other things, but that's illegal. So perhaps the investigations will take in that. But the basic policy that allowed waterboarding, that allowed long-term sleep deprivation, that allowing walling and beatings of various kinds, that allowed keeping people up for two weeks, three weeks at a time. Think of that for a moment. Erm, that basic policy, is for all intents and purposes still legal in the United States. So torture went from being an anathema to being a policy choice. And Obama, who would clearly like to change this, in his very tentative efforts to move against it, has been attacked ferociously at ever turn. So we have a situation where the politics of fear, erm, you know, it's the most lucrative political emotion in a democracy. Fear. And the politics of fear, which the Republicans used very effectively under George W Bush, and were quite explicit about using it, er, continue - have been essentially installed as a permanent feature of American politics. And torture's persistence - it's not being used now according to the administration but it could be -

is essentially an artifact of those politics of fear. That was journalist Mark Danner talking with Geoffrey Garrett at the US Studies Centre. And if you'd like to hear the rest of that conversation, you'll find it in full on our website, at: Well next up, one for the pedants. If you're constantly correcting other people's grammatical errors, despairing over the increasing absurdity of corporate jargon, then this talk from the Perth Writers' Festival will make you happy for days. Journalist and former speech writer Don Watson teamed up with Philosopher and amateur grammarian AC Grayling to discuss, dissect and mock

the way that our language is becoming increasingly meaningless. Yesterday at 8:55 I went to an all-day in-house seminar in a Victorian Government Department on plain english. They invited me to open the in-house seminar

and about 70 people were there. But before I went in I was sitting in reception and a brochure was lying on the table. And hold up brochure, as they would say. LAUGHTER And I was sitting there and I was reading it, and it had a picture of the director of the department and his signature under this: "For the past 3 months we've been focusing heavily on strategic planning. I am excited by our new vision and I want you to be excited, too. To be a catalyst for continuous improvement in the accountability and performance of the public sector, supported by our values, integrity, personal accountability, teamwork, learning and being outcome-focused." LAUGHTER "I look forward to working together over the next five years towards achieving our vision through the implementation of our key priorities." Now... LAUGHTER ..repeat that back to me if you would. And he winds up, "These are challenging and exciting times ahead and I thank you for your support and welcome your ideas and input." Now in that he sort of encapsulates modern management language as it has sort of spread out into everything. Into everything. For instance, the archbishop Pell or Cardinal Pell I think he is, I'm a Protestant, erm he... LAUGHTER ..I was raised that way. And he ended his Pastoral letter the year before last, "May the Lord be with you, going forward." LAUGHTER When its reached that point or if - Anglicans aren't exempt -

they, if you - I noticed last time I was at St. Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, they've got their missions statement now on the wall and it refers to their excellence in hospitality. LAUGHTER Surviving the Black Death, the Great Fire of London, all of this, they never had excel- they just gave out soup and bread. But now, they provide excellence in hospitality. It goes everywhere. No sooner that I read this and stuck it in my pocket then the man who's image is here appeared before me and he escorted me into the seminar.

And I wanted to say - we'll call him Jeff - Jeff, how could you? How could you hold an all-day seminar on plain english and offer this piffle? Erm... this is to language what dead sheep 'round a dried up boar is to Pastoralism. LAUGHTER Is what ghostly ring-bark gum trees are to nature. Erm... it's what powerpoint is to Abraham Lincoln. It's terrible, Jeff. But I couldn't bring myself to say it so I quoted from this huge file of examples I had, all of them sent to me by people hiding behind filing cabinets, in corridors, sending little emails saying, "You should see what I'm putting up with here." LAUGHTER From school rooms to public service departments to corporations and all the rest, and I gave them a lot of this stuff and as usual, the ten or so women - people out of the 70 who were onto it quickest were the women who nod very quickly, look bright-eyed, laugh like this and know exactly what you're talking about and as someone explained to me later, that is because they know they have no future. LAUGHTER They know this is a power relationship involved in this language and that they're going nowhere. And at the end a woman rose and said, "I have to write every day in this job and every day that I write, I write in fear.

Fear that anyone suffers when they write because writing is difficult. I fear that I won't be able to describe what I need to describe and I won't have the words or facility for it.

Fear also that whatever I write, I have to put these messages in and these words in or it will come back to me from my superiors saying, 'Where are the key messages? Where are these phrases that we need?' So, she said, I always, I overcome the fear

by going to what is effectively the default position, which is, I write this stuff." And that is actually the experience of millions of people working in all areas of employment. From grade two school rooms where they write mission statements now as one of their first tasks, in the language of business. They even talk about risk-taking. And then they laminate it and put it on the wall. LAUGHTER This is in school rooms where kids have to wear helmets before they can go on the monkey bars. They don't talk about risk-taking as in taking risks, climbing trees, they're talking about risk-taking in the business sense, the entrepreneurial sense.

To cut this very short, erm... I think that the biggest threat to the English language -

I think it is real, year after year of this has convinced me - that the biggest threat really is that it's not necessary anymore. People actually don't need it in their work. And if they don't speak it, they'll become like William Buckley, the convict who after 30 years with the Aborigines couldn't speak his native tongue.

I mean, that's really how we are - I think we'll end up under freeways speaking it in secret. LAUGHTER At the bottom of this you'll see the percentage of parliamentarians satisfied with the reports of this department. And you see, most people are very satisfied. So it doesn't matter, that this is drivel, doesn't matter doesn't have any effect on, if you like, effectively what is the bottom-line of this department. It's the same in business. It's the same in the big banks, it's the same - it doesn't matter. You don't need - George Bush didn't need language to succeed. LAUGHTER He got two terms. Kevin Rudd uses language every now and again. When he thinks it's a good idea. The rest of the time he knows it's better not to use it. John Howard rarely used language, he used images, embracing people, mainly. Rather awkwardly, I thought, but nevertheless, he did it. LAUGHTER Language is not doing Barack Obama any good at all. Any good at all. I honestly don't think it does matter anymore. The idea - I mean, people like Samuel Johnson to George Orwell and the rest of them wanted to sort of stabilise meaning. Business has stabilised meaning, the way management language stabilises meaning is to remove the meaning. Flattens it out, uses one word where we used to have to decide between 20 or 30. Take a word like 'issue.' On my Austar, on my cable television screen the other day, I turned it on and it said, um, "We apologise, Austar is experiencing an issue."

LAUGHTER Please bare with it. I mean, how do you experience an issue? This is an interesting question. We would have once been told what the issue was. In fact we wouldn't have - the word issue wouldn't have occurred to us. 'Impact' is the same. 'Impact' - we can be impacted, if you like, by a meteorite, walking out the door, or by a dose of tinea between our toes.

LAUGHTER It will say 'Impact' on the tinea fungus cream, and the headline of the meteorite hits you, will be 'impact' as well. We were impacted by fires last year in Victoria.

We weren't warned, but we were impacted. LAUGHTER We weren't warned, because, as the CFA said, the responsible authority said at the Royal Commission, "We couldn't warn people about this fire because the fire was unprecedented." LAUGHTER So when the commissioner said, "but surely there have been fires before?" They said, "Not like this." LAUGHTER They were unable, because they'd been to management school, they didn't have the language to warn people. This is literally the truth. It's there in the transcripts of the Royal Commission. When you can't do that you really are in strife. If you can't say "Hot." "Burn." LAUGHTER "Danger." "Danger!" Hmm. You know. "Get out!" Anyway, I'll leave it there. Thank you. Bravo.

APPLAUSE Bravo. Antony, what would you like to rant about? Well, firstly I want to second all that. Then you may remember that when Barack Obama was elected

there was a huge crowd, millions of people in the mall in Washington. There was a cartoon a couple of days later - a couple of people were standing at the back of this enormous crowd, all of them, big crowd, cheering, and the one person saying to the other person

"Who are all these people gathered here?" And the reply was "Grammarians". Which was because after eight years of Bush everybody was delighted that somebody had been elected who could speak the language. Absolutely everything that Don says is right.

There's a corruption of thought, an obfuscation, a masking of thought that comes through this bureaucratic lingo, this drive to appear to know what you're doing and saying when all that you're actually doing is filling up some space on the front of a brochure, which is a sort of design feature, rather than actually a message which is being transmitted. And that is one way in which our ability to express ourselves and to articulate ideas - that is put across ideas in ways other people can grasp is being undermined by this sort of misuse of language. But of course there is another driver, which is the demotic use of the language - the simplification of forms in language and the invasion of ordinary, everyday speech

by colloquial forms. Which is also having the effect of undermining language's expressive power. So you have these two things going on simultaneously

and it's like the poverty gap, the rich getting richer - or in this case the bureaucratic language getting more bureaucratic and the ordinary street-level ability to express distinctions and to think clearly and logically

because language is being used correctly to that end.

These two things are pulling apart and leaving in the middle a gap. And the gap is exactly where the real task of language, which is communication, which is establishing relationships between minds, which is getting people to grasp something, to carry something out on the basis of instructions to respond to something adequately.

It's exactly in that space where language is most needed. And I noticed that the bureaucrats, because they're aware of the fact that there's a degree of language corruption at the demotic level respond to it in their own democratised version of bureaucratic language. So, in London for example, where I live,

there's some bus services that run up to the West End and they were being re-routed for some reason

and they put up a sign in the buses explaining these re-routings in a completely incomprehensible manner

and then they, in order to be cheerful, to end on a sort of an upbeat the notice had this concluding sentence which said - "So the buses run smoother and there are less delays."

Now, I had an argument with the - LAUGHTER I'm not kidding you here at all -

the Rupert Murdoch Professor of English at Oxford University - LAUGHTER

I'm sorry to tell you that that's absolutely true, there is such a person and such a chair - who is a great believer in the evolution of language, her thesis is language evolves, it simplifies,

it, you know, takes on new, colourful forms - that street-slang for example eventually becomes the lingua franca of a community and that these very colouful uses of language are a very, very good substitute and sometimes even better than the original expressive power that belonged to the dominant class in the society. And I accept the argument that language evolves

but that there are certain kinds of evolution of language like the kind that Don is exercised by - that's the evolution into this meaningless poly-syllabic, space-filling noise which doesn't say anything, that's one thing. But also the evolution of language in other respects where it really is the case that grammatical forms are lost and with them logical distinctions.

The real key there is not so much that language changes, of course it does over time. If you look at something like Chinese which has a very, very long, continuous history, it's lost tenses and genders and definite and indefinite articles and it's become very simple structurally,

it's one of the simplest languages in the world to learn to speak and one of the most complex to learn to read - marginally less complex than, perhaps, Japanese,

but it's very complex to learn to read. And it's done this because the users of the language have found ways to say very sublet and nuanced things in a very direct and simple manner. So one can accept the fact that language is going to evolve but not at the expense of clarity not at the expense of logic. So if you take the bus notice that I mentioned earlier I used to joke around with a colleague of mine at Oxford, when I was teaching there. We would look for signs. In the old days, when it was possible to smoke everywhere there was a sign in buses in Oxford that said, "Smokers must occupy only seats in the rear half of the bus," which always amused us 'cause we found other places to sit if we wanted to smoke in other parts of the bus. And then he was particularly amused by a sign in one of the department stores at the bottom of the escalator stairs which said, "Dogs must be carried," so you can't get upstairs unless you've got a dog - you have to bring your dog with you. So with all those little nuance things that we were keen on because of the logic of the thing. And I used to write it out for my students on the board to warn them that ambiguity in language was always to be avoided. I wrote up the sentence, "Our mothers bore us." LAUGHTER I can tell you, by the way, that as time has gone by so that's got fewer and fewer laughs amongst - LAUGHTER So there is the loss of logic in the language, which is a very serious point. So that bus sign, "So the buses run smoother," you're suddenly talking about the suspension of the buses and not the bus services running more smoothly.

So the contrast between a comparative adverb and a comparative adjective has been completely lost. And there are less delays.

And this is something that really puzzles me because nobody would ever think, unless they were using English as a second language, of saying, "There were much They would say, "There were many people there." But they would be just as happy to say, "There were less people there," when they should be saying, "There were fewer people there." That was philosopher AC Grayling with a lesson in grammar and if you'd like to see the rest of that highly amusing talk join me tomorrow at 11 am right here on ABC1 for Big Ideas Extended Mix.

Well, the cliche goes that we are what we eat but since scientists have moved into food production industries it's become much harder to identify exactly what it is we're consuming. Are low-fat foods really better for you and how do you accurately interpret labels on food packaging? In his new book Food Rules, An Eater's Manual, science journalist Michael Pollan makes sense of it all. Anyway, what I'd like to use my time for today is tell you a little bit about the project that led to this book and then leave plenty of time to hear from you and answer any questions you have

about whatever. This book was actually inspired by some doctors who had read my previous couple of books, In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma

and said that they were really struggling with the issue of nutrition in their patients. You know, the way we eat in America is responsible for most of the chronic diseases that we suffer from. Most of the money we spend on health care can be traced to the American diet but doctors are pretty ill-equipped to deal with it even though they really should be on the front lines. They don't get a lot of education and nutrition at school. You should ask your doctor some time how much time he or she's spent in medical school learning about nutrition and they will tell you and it's really a matter of hours, not even whole courses necessarily. It's amazing how little time they get and then they get very little time with their patients to discuss nutrition in any kind of meaningful way. And so a couple of doctors asked me, you know, "It would be really great if we had a pamphlet, of really simple, memorable, sticky rules, that, you know, don't go into all the biochemistry, that basically lay out some personal policies for eating, that would help people because people are really confused. And it's no wonder that people are really confused about food. I mean, if you spend a little time in a supermarket it's -

you know, and I do this regularly. Usually when I speak I bring some props of whatever the latest wonders of food science are. I almost felt like bringing Twinkies into this space would be like bringing comic books into church or something. I haven't brought any props. But every time I go into the supermarket looking for some new items to talk about, I'm just floored by what's there and how confusing the messages are. There's a new product that just showed up

called SPLENDA with Fiber.

LAUGHTER

Now, what are we to make of that? Is that food? Is that chemistry? An artificial sweetener with artificial fibre.

Does your body really know how to process this or what to do with it? I mean, this is a product that's lying to your body in several different ways. But it's very popular and people buy it in the mistaken belief they're doing something for their health. Um...most food today is sold on the basis of bogus health claims. Um...you go down the cereal aisle and it is amazing the promises being made. Until just a couple of weeks ago, all the cereal boxes had a big banner that said, "Helps with your immunity." The implication being that if you eat these cocoa puffs or feed them to your child they won't get swine flu. And this, finally, woke up the somnolent FDA and they said, you know, "You really can't make that promise. It really doesn't hold up." But there are other cereals that promise to improve your kids' focus at school, that promise to relieve any number of nutritional deficiencies, that promise to save you from a heart attack. These are breakfast cereals. 43% sugar by weight. So no wonder people are really confused. There was a new marketing program in the supermarkets that was recently stopped by the sheer force of ridicule and that was something called the Smart Choices program where a group of big food companies like Kraft and General Mills combined with some nutrition scientists at Tufts who really should have known better to come up with a labelling system to supposedly guide us in our food confusion and put a check mark on the healthy foods. And when it became clear that Froot-Loops had earned this check mark it became something of a little scandal in the newspaper, in the New York Times, and the reporter went to the nutritionist at Tufts who had signed off on this and said, "Why are you giving a healthy check mark to Froot Loops?" And he kind of said sheepishly, "Well, we looked at it and they're better for you than doughnuts." So my suggestion is we have a labelling system that merely says, "Better than doughnuts." And if that's where we're going to draw the line,

then we'll draw it right there. It's not a very high bar, it's true. But that - Tufts finally realised that this was going to sully

their otherwise very good reputation and they backed out and this labelling scheme fell apart. So there is lots of confusion.

People don't know the simplest - really simple questions about how to eat and the reason is that $32 billion are being spent every year to confuse you about food, to sow anxiety and doubt. That's the marketing budget for the American food industry every year. It's not just advertising, it's the packaging, it's the, you know, all the clever things that are done to communicate with you.

And that message, those messages, drown out any sane messages whether it's the message of the government putting out nutritional guidelines, compromised as those sometimes are, or a writer or anybody. It's an uphill battle. And you have to be really a detective in the supermarket sometimes. I mean, the other day I was preparing to go on a TV show and I was doing a little research and one of the rules in the book that they'd wanted to focus on is don't buy any products that are sold as 'no fat' or 'lite' - L-I-T-E. And that struck the producers of the show as kind of a weird message. "Aren't those healthier? You know, all this no-fat, low-fat stuff?" But I went looking in the yogurt aisle. And do you know that full-fat, Brown Cow yogurt has fewer calories than 99% fat-free Yoplait? Why? Because when they take out the fat, they amp up the sugar to make up for the loss of flavour. And so that, you know, we've so fixed on fat that we've given this free pass to carbohydrates for fine carbohydrates like sugar. And did you know that Yoplait and Stonyfield organic yogurt actually have more sugar per ounce than Coca-Cola? That's outrageous! These products are sold to us as health foods. So how do you confront that kind of food landscape where our obsession with getting fat out of our diet

has coincided with increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes?

We've gotten very fat on the low-fat kick of the last 30 years and it's no coincidence because basically when you demonise one nutrient like fat, you give a free pass to another, like sugar or salt. And so eating by the numbers, eating by the nutrients,

it just hasn't worked. And we all walk around the supermarket with a head full of biochemistry. Everybody knows what an antioxidant is or maybe sort of thinks they might know. Omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, fibre. And we feel like we have to know all this in order to eat.

But of course we know that people have eaten perfectly well for thousands of years before they knew what an antioxidant was and that, as important as these terms are for scientists trying to figure out what - in this Western diet most of us eat - is contributing to our very high rates of obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer - they need to work with these terms. Knowing about nutrients hasn't really helped us. It's helped the food industry fool us but it hasn't really helped us. And so this nutrient -

this way of looking at food as the sum of its nutrient parts

I think we really need to get past. We really need to - you know, we don't even see foods anymore, we see nutrients, good and bad,

and we need to start looking at foods again.

So I got, in the process of this research I've been doing for the last couple of years about nutritional science, kind of disenchanted with nutritional science as a science.

I mean, I find it really interesting. I think that there's important questions to be answered. but if you ask a nutritional scientist they will admit that they know a lot less than the public thinks. And we have a sense of that by the way they keep changing their messages from concern about fats to concern about carbs from saying fat is bad to saying some fat is good.

They've made some really large mistakes, too, in the public health message they've been giving us. A notable one, of course, was getting us all to give up butter and animal fats. And did you see downstairs, there's a wonderful Praise the Lard T-shirt? Well, we're learning, in fact, that lard is better than a lot of the fats that we were persuaded to get on, such as hydrogenated oil-based margarines, which turn out - they led us to exchange a possibly mildly unhealthy kind of fat called saturated fats, which, by the way, has not been strongly linked to heart disease, whatever you have been told, to get on what turned out to be a demonstrably lethal fat called trans-fats. It was a huge, huge mistake for which we're still owed an apology. And it hasn't come. So the more I looked at nutritional science, the more I realised it isn't yet ready to guide us in our eating decisions. They don't yet know enough. Hopefully they'll figure it out but food is really complex. And human digestion and metabolism is really complex. And the way I put it in the book is that, you know, nutritional science is a very young science, to put it charitably. They basically were, the way I think of it, the way surgery was in the year 1650. That was writer Michael Pollan.

For more of his advice about what foods are best to eat and how to identify them, head to our website at: where you'll find that event in full. Well, finally today, do religious people have a monopoly on spirituality or can atheists also find a deeper meaning to life? Here, in a gently profound address to an audience at the Adelaide Writers' Week, novelist Jim Crace reveals how the death of his non-believing father raised many questions about finding comfort without faith

and influenced his award-winning book Being Dead. My father was also like Richard and like myself and, I don't know, maybe other people on the panel, a strong atheist. But he was one of those old-fashioned 1930s atheists

who represented really a lack of belief rather than a clustering of principles or scientific thought. He was a political atheist and in England at that time when he developed his ideas to say that you did not believe in God was not really a spiritual decision about your place in the universe, it was more a political statement, it was to say, "I don't believe in a ruling class." Because in the 1930s, and, of course, to some extent still in Great Britain, the ruling class control and run everything. They control the army, of course, government, universities, banks, well, the list is massive. They even controlled the English language. Because if you think of those three phrases we still have to pass judgement on the kind of way that we speak, they're ruling class judgements. BBC English. Oxford English. The Queen's English. The judgements are all full of class prejudices. So for my father, who was a kind of a stalwart,

working-class, active political socialist, to say that "I don't believe in God," was just to say, "I don't believe in the ruling class." But he never tried to contextualise it, he never tried to apply that lack of belief to those crises or those high points in every human life - birth, marriage, death, those things, which need to have some kind of narrative associated with them - the things that religions do so well. The big narrative religions are very good at clustering stories around those big life events. But my father never spent any time attending to those things. And so when, at the horribly young age of 67 he new that he only had a few months to live the instructions that he gave us were exactly the instructions that a political atheist would give you. And the instructions were that when he died there should be nobody at the funeral. There should be no flowers. There should be no speeches.

Absolutely there should be no hymns. And there should be no gentlemen of the cloth er... within ten miles of his burial. LAUGHTER And he also said to us that we should not even collect his ashes. Such a tragedy because we could have at least taken his ashes - he was a groundsman, that was his job, so we were one of those weird households, maybe the only household in the world where we have subscriptions to two magazines - The New Statesman, which was a political magazine, and The Lawnsman, which was all about lawns. And that's relevant, as you will see, because tonight you're going to hear your first reading about grass. But not the kind that you can enjoy. LAUGHTER Um... ..because we loved our father we did the stupid thing and we did what he asked us to do.

We could easily have done exactly what we wanted. We could have buried him how we wanted - we could have had vicars in there, we could have sung hymns - because he was an atheist. He wouldn't have known even in his own view.

LAUGHTER But we did what he asked, and as you know, and as you can tell, that was the biggest mistake we ever made, because, whatever his set of beliefs, however curmudgeonly and odd he was, we loved him and he was a loveable man. And we sent him to his grave, to the cemetery, the co-op cemetery, of course, without paying due attention and celebrating what a great father, what a great man he was, and what a stalwart in politics he was. And there's not been a day since that death in 1980 that I've not regretted that decision. I knew immediately after, me and my mum and my brother and my brother's girlfriend - they were the only people at this so-called funeral. I knew at once we'd made a massive mistake. And it troubled me deeply. It didn't trouble me so much that I went fleeing to religion because they had some good narratives at events of that kind. It didn't upset my atheism one bit. But what it did do is to make me want something more for my atheism,

something which was more all-encompassing, something which would rival religion's, in that it was offering some narratives of comfort. Because even though those narratives of comfort in the big narrative religions are false the comfort is real. So I was sitting around thinking that I want to write a book to find this question. Can I provide, can I write a narrative of comfort

that can give some solace to people in a world which is becoming gladly and happily increasingly atheistic. Because, after all, you don't have to be a believer to love people and to miss them. So that was the project I set myself. But I couldn't find the story. I was troubled by the idea but I couldn't find the narrative, until, in 1991, when my daughter was five years old, my daughter Lauren, and her mum was out somewhere and she came up to me in her winceyette pyjamas, which is always a seductive thing for a little girl to sit snuggled up with your children in their pyjamas. She said, "Can I sit up and watch television with you, Dad?" I said, "OK, we'll watch half an hour. Whatever's on." And we sat down in the living room, switched on the television, and it was program called Crime Watch. Do you have that in Australia? Basically it's a program in which out-of-work actors get to play corpses. LAUGHTER

Um...this particular Crime Watch was a re-enactment of a very sad affair in the United Kingdom.

It was a re-enactment of a murder and to this day they have not discovered who committed this crime. It's still a mystery. But it provided for me a kind of insight into the way we do, as human beings, transcend death, but in a comforting, nature-based way. The story was that this middle-aged couple with children in their 30s, so we presume they were in their 50s, children in their 30s, had gone on a walking holiday

along the coast of Pembrokeshire in Wales. And any of you that know that coast, it's an immensely beautiful ancient granite coastline, great striations of granite in beautiful colours, big skies, big landscapes, big winds, a glorious place to be. But not a place to spend a fortnight walking with someone that doesn't love you. One little push and the irritations end. LAUGHTER And so we can presume something - even though I don't know it but writers presume things - we can presume that this couple,

even though the first passion of a relationship must have gone, perhaps, or mostly likely would have gone 30 years ago, that relationship was so solid that it had been replaced by something that anyone here who has been married for a long time knows is more granite-hard, actually, than passion, and more lasting, and that is a deep-brewed fondness for each other which will sustain you along the tops of cliff tops for as long as you want. LAUGHTER So the couple. whose names I don't know because this is not about them, walked for four or five days, stopping in bed and breakfasts. Until one day, someone, finding them hand in hand sitting on the coast, looking out over the big sea towards America. Someone with a shot gun came and shot them. The woman through the chest and the man through the head. And all we know about their murderer was that he went off on his bike with their credit cards and twice cashed money in a town called Haverfordwest in the middle of Pembrokeshire. Now that's not what fascinated me, or interested me, the death of these innocent people. But what fascinated me was that it took five days before the bodies were found. And I found in that some comfort - because there were this couple, married maybe for 25 or 30 years,

well, no more than 30 years, um, - that generation didn't have children before they were married. Um - married for all that time, laying on the grass hand in hand, under that big sky, under those big winds, near that big, ah, those granite cliffs - - will, somehow, have left their imprint on the landscape, as they died and went back into nature. We know they would have been covered by insects within those five days. And we know that when the police came, when the police dogs finally found their bodies, and put a tent around them, and when finally that went away, there would be a mark on the ground, which would be where the grass and the undergrowth had been denied sunlight for those days where their bodies had laid, hand in hand.

And that when their bodies were removed, nature would take that imprint back. And I thought, I knew that this was a sentimental view, a kind of a sentimental atheism. But somehow there was a transcendence there.

I felt that for that five days, there love survived in the landscape. So, I wrote the cheerful book, ah, called, Being Dead.

I was saying today - I will repeat myself something I said in the afternoon - um, they warned me against the title, they said it couldn't - - no one would be a book called Being Dead. And, of course, they were right. LAUGHTER Um - but, it was translated into many languages, and one of the languages it was translated into was Chinese.

Complex text in Taiwan, and I'd been translated in Taiwan many times before but never made any money. But Being Dead was providing lots of little cheques. And my wife asked a Chinese student what the title was, which in this text was my name and what was the title. She pointed it out and I said "what does the title mean?" And she said, ah, "Love on the beach."

LAUGHTER Um - That's all you need to know about the publishing industry. LAUGHTER So, we're at the point at the very end of the book, where the bodies are finally going to be removed,

and their love is going to be brought to an end by policemen as those bodies are separated and taken away to the morgue. All of the officialdom of murder investigations. And, um, I suppose the fact that grass is so important in this, is, um, a nod also towards my father, who loved grass.

Um, the very final couple of pages of Being Dead.

"The four young policemen," - Oh, I should, sorry, I should say that the characters names are Celice and Joseph, the man and the wife. She's a tall, admirable, hard-minded woman, tough-minded woman I should put it.

And he's a small biologist. GREATER LAUGHTER The four young policemen - too close now to the pungent details of mortality to concentrate on anything, but horrors of the flesh were nauseas

as they prepared to lift Celice and Joseph from the dunes. They coughed and gagged. They spat into the grass, they held their breath. Anything to keep the taste out of their mouths. This wasn't worth the pay.

They'd rather be on traffic duty, even. Nevertheless, they had no choice but to tuck the two sheets under the corpses, one to Joseph's left, the other to Celice's right. Twisting their heads to take deep lung-fulls of air, two men to a body, they had to kneel down on the grass, spread their fingers against the rocky outcrops of the skull, the shoulder, the hip, the knee, and pull these two unlikely lovers apart. Well, that was novelist Jim Crace,

reading from his book, Being Dead. Well, you can hear the rest of that haunting reading, along with everything else from today's show on our website: Well, that's all for today. I hope we gave you plenty of big ideas to think about. I'll see you tomorrow morning at 11 am, right here on ABC 1, for Big Ideas extended mix. And the rest of Don Watson and AC Grayling's discussion of what's gone wrong with the English language. I'm Tony Jones, enjoy your day. Closed Captions by CSI

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