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Outgoing U.K. Medical Chief Recommends Banning Food on Public Transport

Professor Dame Sally Davies’s report into public health puts paternalism ahead of education

A couple eats on a train as chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies proposes banning eating on public transport
The kind of eating on trains that the government would never ban
Rail Photo/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Banning snacking on trains is not the plan you think it is

A new report commissioned by health secretary Matt Hancock in service of his government’s pledge to “halve childhood obesity by 2030” details 48 recommendations from outgoing U.K. chief medical officer, professor Dame Sally Davies. The report, at large, details a paternalistic approach to food and diet: individual products — and not their consumption — are classed as healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, in a sort of calorie vacuum divorced from real world circumstances; real world circumstances themselves are deemed either good or bad. The most striking of these is a proposed blanket ban on eating on public transport, underpinned by the idea that eating on trains and buses is somehow more damaging than on pavements or in private cars, regardless of what is being consumed. Practically, some train journeys are extremely long! No food for thirteen hours?Such a ban makes implicit, class-based assumptions about who is eating on public transport and what they are eating: rejecting holistic education in favour of “knowing what is best,” bespeaking a structural inability to do genuine, trust-based, educational work that is an — unwitting — hallmark of government policy around food’s intersection with society.

There are further concerning inflections to banning eating on public transport: it’s no coincidence that a male photographer chose “Women Eating on Tubes” as a target for low-key misogyny; it dismisses the impact of time poverty on people’s diets from a position of privilege; it would also be absolutely laughable to enforce: imagine telling a national food critic to put away his plush Scotch eggs on the grounds of health. Much, much, more pressingly, imagine telling a family that they can’t eat dinner at the only time they might have available, and telling them it’s for the good of their health. [GOV.UK]

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