Bacon, the answer to hangovers. Photo: Getty Images
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Felicity Cloake: Hangover cures shouldn’t involve further suffering

In the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.

Tis the season to be jolly, as the old song has it, and though there’s barely a dent in the Advent calendar, the sticky scent of mulled wine already hangs over the nation like a festive fug. Angels are old news. In Britain, we prefer to herald the Messiah with booze and, for most of us, the Christmas party season is now in full swing.

I won’t dwell on the catering, which will be disappointing however good you’ve been this year, but in the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.

Instead of “preloading” (as I believe the young folk call it) with drinks while getting ready, try to channel your mother and have a proper meal before going out – or at least a helping of something fatty to slow down the rate at which alcohol enters your system. In parts of Africa, this would be a spoonful of peanut butter and the Mediterranean region tends to prefer olive oil but you could do worse than a sneaky glug of milk from the office fridge.

Drawing a discreet veil over events at the party buffet and quietly passing over the ill-advised doner stop on the way home, we move on to the next morning, when food really comes into its own – if you can stomach it, that is. You should at least try. Eating will speed up your metabolism, allowing your body to process the alcohol more quickly. Carbohydrates are a good bet for restoring depleted sugar levels, while protein will make up for some of the damage done in your brain – which is all the excuse you need for a fry-up.

However, a full English is not the only option. Indeed, the Roman sage Pliny the Elder swore by fried canaries and raw owl’s eggs, which is along the same basic lines, though it might raise a few eyebrows at your local caff.

Soup, one of the last dishes I’d rely upon in extremis, is strangely popular around the world, with tripe featuring surprisingly widely, especially in south-eastern Europe and Turkey. Head north, and sour pickle-based broths are preferred – counterintuitive, perhaps, but not as actively unpleasant as the rabbit-poo tea brewed up by American cowboys after a hard night round the campfire.

Dishes that actively stick two fingers up at one’s gag reflex are more common than seems entirely wise in the circumstances. Pickled sheep’s eyes in tomato sauce were once all the rage in Mongolia, while Korea still considers spicy broths gingered up with hunks of spine and congealed blood just the ticket for a dicky tummy.

Filipinos swear by fertilised duck eggs complete with bonus feathery foetus and Sicilians are said to have traditionally restored their machismo with a dried bull’s penis (though these days, like many Italians, they mostly stick to an espresso and a cigarette).

There’s an air of penitential suffering about many of these so-called cures, a belief that such wicked self-indulgence can only be rectified by a culinary hairshirt the morning after. Yet all these strong flavours and all that grease suggest that most of us also cling to the faint hope of distracting the body from its alcohol-induced misery by battering it with fresh horrors.

There may be something in this. Large, indigestible meals will certainly provide brief respite for thumping heads and whirling guts but the only cure is time. Time, sleep and a chargrilled bacon roll liberally laced with hot English mustard and thick-cut marmalade. Consider that last tip my gift to you. Happy partying and happy Christmas. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Deep trouble

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.