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Time to target the real bad guys

Thursday, October 1, 2015

From my balcony the scent of flowering plants wafts up from the courtyard below. I’m amazed my sense of smell has returned after days of Parisian flu. I stick my head out to soak up the late September sunshine and our new neighbours open a window opposite me and smile and wave. 

Outside in the street other Parisians are sick. A Frenchman on a scooter cruises by on the cobbled streets and sneezes loudly. 

“Heh-chieu!” it sounds like, instead of the common “At-choo” that we Brits favour. 

“Wait,” says T. “They even sneeze in an accent?” 

And we fall about laughing. I’d never before considered whether the nasal expulsion sounds we make are innate or learned. 

Along the street a fat marmalade cat sprawls on a car bonnet. We’ve named him Garfield though his real name is Minou. At the end of our street, the bohemian bar has two of its windows shattered. 

The cracked glass reminds me of the weekend’s occurrences in Montmartre’s would-be twin town of Shoreditch in East London where the controversial Cereal Killer Cafe (literally a cafe selling bowls of cereal for £5) was attacked by a group of anti-gentrification activists called Class War. 

Shoreditch is one of several formerly rundown, working class areas of London which have become populated by cool people with beards, moustaches and drainpipe jeans. Although these folk came with good intentions (first appearing in the 90s setting up art studios in cheap warehouses) they encouraged the spread of fancy pubs and restaurants which London’s estate agents use as marketing tools to triple rent; squeezing out locals from their communities. 

When the cereal cafe opened earlier this year, five years into David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity measures, it was a tipping point. Activists were outraged that many children in the local borough live below the poverty line relying on food banks while cereal is being sold as a posh snack for exorbitant prices. 

On Saturday night, its windows were broken and daubed in paint by protesters who occupied the area with sound systems and anti-capitalist slogans. 

I’m torn on this one. Gentrification has improved poorer parts of London, which is good. But on the other hand it hasn’t regenerated those areas, it has provided a lick of paint and made everything unaffordably expensive, which is bad. 

But should cereal cafes be attacked rather than, say, cereal corporations like the evil giant, Nestlé? 

The crimes of Nestlé are well-documented and yet still relatively unpunished. It remains the world’s largest food company having acquired dozens of huge brand names. 

I was disappointed to find that even in Trinidad,  products ranging from cereal to juice to chocolate to milk are dominated by Nestlé and that the Swiss company even has a factory in Valsayn.

It’s one of only a few corporations I actively boycott. I haven’t eaten KitKats for 15 years—other than that the boycott is painless. But it’s not as easy as you think to avoid them. They own 60 bottled water companies, 40 ice cream brands, hundreds of chocolates, sweets, coffees, contact lenses, pet food, seasoning and 30 per cent of L’Oreal which includes Garnier, Maybelline, Lancome and The Body Shop. 

Among many unethical practices, Nestlé’s worst is baby milk. In 1866 Nestlé invented formula milk, a product marketed as a healthy nutritional alternative to breast milk which positioned breastfeeding as inconvenient and avoidable. Nestlé aggressively markets formula milk in the developing world where water needed to make the “milk” is often polluted. This, and the reduced ability to sterilise bottles, leads babies to die of diarrhoea and pneumonia at 25 times the rate of breastfed babies. 

Formula milk is not real food, it’s chemical food just like McDonald’s or Subway or Pepsi. Would you give a tiny baby Pepsi to drink? So why give it artificial powdered milk when human breast milk contains so much good? 

And, while we’re on the point, why did Kamla in election year give out vouchers encouraging new mothers to buy formula milk? 

Anybody who wants to know how important breastfeeding is should read the columns of Dr David Bratt, medical adviser to the Breastfeeding Association of T&T. 

Also try reading the book Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History by Florence Williams, which tells us that women’s breast milk contains, “four per cent fat, vitamins A, C, E and K, natural sugars, essential minerals, proteins, enzymes and antibodies, 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of virtually everything a baby needs to grow, plus (hundreds of live bacteria) to help ward off a lifetime of diseases, from diabetes to cancer. Every time we nurse our babies, the “love hormone” oxytocin courses out of us like a warm bath.” 

One of the many great achievements my mother will leave behind is achieving Unicef’s baby-friendly status for the Whittington Hospital in North London where she worked as a midwife and breastfeeding consultant. Unicef says babies should have breast milk exclusively for a minimum of six months and recommends mums continue breastfeeding for as long as possible after that. Under NHS guidelines, UK hospitals must help mums achieve this. 

Trinidad’s trendy neighbourhoods are a long way off giving you cereal cafes to protest about, but in the mean time start doing something positive for your community today.


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