Ed#478: Reasons to Believe

20 February 2015 Alan Attwood

Ed#478: Reasons to Believe

Alan Attwood, Ed#478, February 2015

When talking to people of a certain vintage it is necessary only to say a few trigger phrases to spark smiles and looks of recognition. Phrases like “Sorry about that, Chief” and “Would you believe…?” These come from Get Smart, the spy-spoof TV show that ran from 1965 to 1970. One of its creators was Mel (Blazing Saddles) Brooks, but most of the best lines went to accident-prone secret agent Maxwell Smart, played by Don Adams. I was a Get Smart kid. And it’s scary how many lines are still stuck in my head – so much so that when I started pondering the topic of sugar, one of my first thoughts was: “Didn’t Max have a routine about artificial sweetener?” Answer: yes, he did – in an episode from 1969 in which the king of horror, Vincent Price, made a guest appearance as the villain Dr Jarvis Pym. It starts with Pym asking Smart if he knows what Sodium Calcium Chloride is.

“An artificial sweetener?”

“No, it’s the second most deadly poison in the world.”

“What’s the first?”

“Artificial sweetener.”

It was funny because, at the time, there was much muttering about sugar substitutes being more dangerous than sugar. Now, of course, the focus is on sugar itself. In this edition we have a feature on a new movie that does for sugar what Super Size Me (2004) did to fast food (see p32). Most importantly, Greg Foyster’s well-researched cover story (starting on p14) addresses many aspects of the sugar debate. He considers the subject through the prism of history as well as health. This history is long and sometimes ugly: the closest Australia has come to a slave trade involved island labourers for the sugar industry in the 19th century. Foyster, a Melbourne-based writer who travelled extensively in Queensland on this assignment, talked to people in the industry, some of whom have acknowledged contemporary health concerns about sugar. He also got a first-hand look at the production process that begins in cane fields and ends on tables.

This is a story with national implications, but one that is especially important to Queensland. Just recently, during all the excitement swirling around Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal Party, Queensland Senator James McGrath posted a picture on social media of a bowl of cereal with a caption: ‘The glamorous life of a Senator. Rice Bubbles 4 lunch. With sugar. Lots of sugar.@CANEGROWERS shd be happy.” They might be happy, but there’s a growing army of dieticians and doctors who may now be shaking their heads sadly at the thought of all that sugar on the senator’s cereal. Foyster’s story is food for thought. And comes with no health warnings whatsoever.

There was sugar on the First Fleet in 1788. The story of The Big Issue in Australia doesn’t go back nearly as far: in June this year we’ll mark the 19th anniversary of Ed#1 hitting the streets. After all that time, as strange as it will seem to anyone reading this, there are still too many people who simply don’t understand the purpose of the magazine. Boosting public awareness is a priority, which is why we are grateful to all those prominent people around the country – business executives, politicians, civic leaders and many more – who donated some time early this month to hit the streets with our vendors to spread the word and sell some magazines as part of International Street Paper Vendor Week. It was an education for all concerned: guest sellers got an insight into the practicalities of dealing with the public; vendors got some extra attention and sales and, perhaps, we got a legion of new buyers who will stick with us. Sweet.

» Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.

This article appeared in Ed#478 of The Big Issue magazine.