Wednesday, 24 June 2015

June 25 1903 George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), novelist, essayist and critic (Animal Farm, 1984).

Volume 91, 1 August 2015, Pages 150–156

Research report

Nutritional advice from George Orwell. Exploring the social mechanisms behind the overconsumption of unhealthy foods by people with low socio-economic status 


Social mechanisms continue to influence nutritional behaviour across changing times.
Socio-economic instability mitigates appropriation of a (new) healthy diet.
Identity and tradition (often) takes precedence over nutritional considerations.
It is harder to delay gratification when you are poor.
The existence of social mechanisms challenges concepts of “rational” food behaviour.


Despite a general consensus and recognition of the importance of the “social gradient” on nutritional standards and ultimately people's health, (0020, 0100, 0105 and 0155), the body of literature identifying and describing the actual underlying social mechanisms which could explain this association is small, fragmented and not contained within one single discipline of thought – the effects of this conundrum seem easier to describe than to explain. The aim of this article is therefore to explore and identify social mechanisms, which could help explain why people with low socio-economic status consume a disproportionate amount of unhealthy foods and therefore also observe poorer diets. It is therefore in many ways an exploration into the nature of (relative) poverty. The point of departure for this exploration and identification is historical descriptions (in the form of excerpts) from George Orwell's (1937) book “The Road to Wigan Pier” on the living conditions of the British working classes. These descriptions will be aligned with results from contemporary research into nutritional behaviour. Strong similarities are identified between George Orwell's historical descriptions of the working-class's unhealthy diet and the findings from contemporary research into nutritional behaviour of people with a low socio-economic status. Certain social mechanisms influencing nutritional choices are readily identifiable across disciplines, and even partly reproduced in different historical, social and spatial contexts, with stronger negative (nutritional) consequences for people with low socio-economic status. The disregard of social mechanisms, and therefore implicitly issues of class, could indicate a general “de-socialization” of nutritional advice also in its dispersal through various health-promotion initiatives and campaigns, which raises serious questions about the usefulness of much nutritional advice, already tentatively questioned by some nutritionist (Burr et al., 2007) as well as “food” sociologist (Smith & Holm, 2010).


  • Nutritional behaviour; 
  • Nutritional advice; 
  • George Orwell; 
  • Low SES; 
  • Social mechanisms
Acknowledgements: This paper benefitted from the comments by two anonymous reviewers who helped strengthen the readability and overall argumentation of the paper.