Your freedom is more valuable than a healthy lifestyle

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The McDonald's in St George's Street

About once a month I commit something of a crime when I go into McDonald’s in St George’s Street for my breakfast.

The crime I commit is putting salt on my hash brown. I don’t often eat from main menu, but when I do you’ll see me putting salt on my fries, too.

Why? Because I like it on food and don’t think those two particular potato products have enough of it.

That’s probably deliberate since there’s currently a war being waged on what we eat. Chocolate bars are getting so small that almost all makers now offer doubles or large bags of sweets to sate our sweet tooths.

But my adding salt to my food despite the warnings is also in my own way an act of defiance, a personal guerrilla war.

Alexander Herzen championed the cause of freedom

I’ve always done the opposite of what others want me to do. I did little work at school because my parents and teachers implored me to do it.

Freed from them and the dandruffed bores in brown suits who passed for teachers at the Boys Langton in the late 80s and early 90s, I worked hard at university.

It was here that I was introduced to the writings of the Russian radical Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) who became a philosophical hero of mine as a result of his faith in personal liberty.

In a letter to the Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Mazzini while in exile in London, Herzen wrote: “Since the age of 13…I have served one idea, marched under one banner: war against all imposed authority, against every kind of deprivation of freedom, in the name of the absolute independence of the individual.”

Decades later in a world that had moved on significantly from Herzen’s thanks to war, revolution and decolonization, it would take an American-born Irishman who grew up in England to reassert the great message of individual liberty.

I believe that Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 series The Prisoner is still the most intelligent tv show ever made.

Part science fiction, part espionage story, part psychological thriller, it explores numerous themes across just 17 episodes.

Patrick McGoohan as Number 6 in The Prisoner

But its central theme is constant, contained as it is in the opening segment of each episode when McGoohan’s character Number 6 roars: “I am not a number. I am a free man.”

And in an one episode he tells his captors: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own.”

Like Herzen and Number 6, I, too, resent authority. I dislike government and the tentacles of the state through which it operates. I loathe being told what to do, how to think, how to organise my life.

Any attempt to do so will result in the opposite happening.

But what, you may ask, has any of this got to do with me eating salt in Canterbury’s McDonald’s restaurant.

It is this: we as free individuals are under attack. We are under attack from groups of people who believe it is both their duty and their prerogative to run our lives for us.

They tell us we eat too much sugar or must abandon our cars for bikes or adopt the accepted attitudes to any number of political and social issues against our experiences, our better judgments and our freedom to make choices about our beliefs and actions.

For example, I’d never heard of an organisation called Action on Salt until I was watching Sky News one morning last month when up popped a spokesman for it.

This soppy tart warned viewers people are eating dangerous levels of salt and demanded that the government tackle what she defined as a crisis.

In other words, she wants the government to legislate in order to make less free to eat food the way we want to eat. That, to my mind, is extraordinary and unpalatable.

The upshot of all this will be that limiting choices will hurt the poorest worst. But will affect us all as individuals who want the freedom to make choices and not have our diets dictated by others. We must resist it.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Fine words Mr Claridge, with which I can both agree and disagree: mostly disagree!

    First, I agree that we should, in a relatively free and tolerant democracy, be encouraged to make our own, well-informed, choices. However, our apparently free choices are hugely, often negatively, influenced (for which read skewed) by vested interests via overt/subliminal advertising, media-induced societal trends and good old -fashioned peer group pressure. Free as a caged bird then!

    Secondly, I disagree, since the recommendations on salt intake are based on hard science (I can send you the clinical papers if you wish) rather than Nanny State whims, or fanciful theories espoused by busybody do-gooders. Some of the guidance of salt and health is, to be honest, sounds somewhat patronising and is couched in “easy to digest” terms but most of the “at risk” cohort (AKA the majority) don’t have the advantage of your education, or literary skills and information must, therefore, be couched in accessible language. Similar guidance also recommends that we don’t smoke, look out for poisonous fungi, drink lots of water in hot weather and generally look after ourselves. You would be amazed and very disappointed, I’m sure, if you knew the extent to which people don’t. Hey, that’s freedom for you!
    Happily (and I use the word with grinding irony) the NHS is there, innit. Yup, you’re free to stuff yourself full of junk food, smoke, drink yourself silly, take drugs and do all of this, vegging out the sofa, watching endless superhero films. When you have your heart attack, stroke, or any other clinical catastrophe, the NHS will sort it all out and make you 21 again, with the toned, supple body of one (or more!) of your favourite, televisual, all-action supermen/women.
    Sadly though, the NHS can’t work miracles and arguably shouldn’t, if people won’t listen/read and commit to basic self-care, which after all, is the responsibility/duty attendant upon all of us.

    Thirdly, I disagree because you choose to exercise your freedom and indulge your salty preference at McDonald’s. This company, with an annual UK turnover of £1.5bn, merrily evades UK Corporation Tax with a cheery “ooh but we pay all we need to” thus dodging the requirement to pay the Exchequer around £750m per annum.
    Along with Amazon, eBay, Starbucks et al the Exchequer is being underpaid (for which read diddled of) billions of ££ on UK profits. This shortfall could and should be used to help fund the NHS. Until these companies are brought to book, perhaps we should be free to make a different type of consumer choice?

    So, Mr Claridge, if you’re going to espouse the freedom of the individual to make choices, please do so having ingested your salty preferences at the Beano, or Sportsman cafes, or either of the Wetherspoon’s, all of which make money and pay their full whack of UK-generated tax on profits. You could even encourage your readers to boycott McDonald’s and their tax-evading friends until such time as they cough up. Reckon you could do that?

    By way of a postscript. Yer man Herzen, whose clarion calls for the individual’s right to freedom of choice you so admire, died aged only 58. Apparently, he ignored his (doubtless busybody, namby-pamby) doctor’s advice and carried on smoking, despite having been advised to give up. Well, he only had TB so why not ignore medical guidance? After all, it’ was only a fag or six and it was his right and freedom to choose is more important than common sense etc etc. Just a shame the NHS wasn’t around in those days!

  2. Like you I demand freedom for my family……in our case to demand to know how much sugar and salt is added to food in restarants. And, by request, to have the sugar free Polo alongside the 3 sugar-full varieties.

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