Will you starve that they be better fed? – Vidya Ramesh, age 18

Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2015 – Year group 12 and 13


“…my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

George Orwell, Why I Write






CLERK: All rise.

THE COURT: Please be seated. We’ll hear argument first this morning.

WOMAN: Thank you, Your Honour. I am here to appeal against the Court’s ruling that I pose a danger to society.

THE COURT: The Court finds it remarkable that you are rejecting the judgement of twelve good men. Surely you realise that your current nutritional intake – the LighterLife diet – can hardly sustain a stable mental condition? The Court understands that you are consuming only 530 calories a day [1].

WOMAN: 530 calories is more than a quarter of the recommended female dietary intake – that’s enough to survive on. Sixty-five years ago the Minnesota Experiment demanded the same of conscientious objectors. All thirty-six of them lived to tell the tale. If those men could do it, why can’t we?

THE COURT: The case today isn’t a battle between the sexes – it only concerns yourself. Moreover the comparison you draw is highly inappropriate The Minnesota Experiment was a scientific study into the effects of a limited diet on postwar rehabilitation [2]. Each man’s intake was purposely controlled to replicate conditions faced in areas of devastation.

WOMAN: How is mine any different? The composition of each LighterLife foodpack is based on emergency supplies delivered to disaster zones. They contain the minimum calories I require, and a base level of protein needed to stay healthy.

THE COURT: And what do you hope to achieve by this? The men in the Minnesota Experiment were of sound mind. They chose to participate in the study as they considered that it was a national service – a worthy alternative to taking up arms.

WOMAN: Maybe I’m doing a national service too, as is any woman on a diet. We’re helping chink the £5 billion [3] or so that our NHS is spending each year on weight-related conditions. Gastric banding, bypass surgery –

THE COURT: Yes, that does sound very noble indeed.


THE COURT: I’ve requested that the clerk to the Court provide me with some demographics on obesity prevalence.


THE COURT: Please be patient. You might be interested to hear that over 67% of men in this country are rated as overweight or obese, as compared to 57% of women [4]. Yet male participation rates in weight management programmes are considerably lower – scraping 10%. You’d do better to convince the opposite sex to enroll.

WOMAN: … I see.

THE COURT: Is cutting the national healthcare deficit really your motivation? Or is it plausible that you are trying to conceal a condition of disordered eating before the Court?  Witness for the prosecution, your clinical psychologist, observed that you were continually chewing gum and drinking DietCoke in therapy. Both are commonly used by females as appetite suppressants [5], I understand.

WOMAN: Doesn’t the case today only concern myself? Your Honour is now happy to put all women in the dock with me.

THE COURT: Please calm down. Certainly not – nor does the Court believe that the majority of women suffer from the outbreaks of ‘hysterics’ noted by your psychologist.

WOMAN: I don’t believe that. Hysteria was the first disorder exclusively pinned to women [6]. There’ve been ‘women’s diseases’ ever since: paranoia, empty-nest-syndrome, “shopaholic-ism”, –

THE COURT: Please –

WOMAN: But what you’ve said hold some truth, Your Honour, I’ll admit that. Some things are peculiar to us girls. Fat shaming, food porn, Googling the restaurant menu the night before and totting up the calories as we do so.

THE COURT: Now it is the Court’s turn to remind you that the case today only concerns yourself. Don’t you consider these obsessive preoccupations, whether the rest of your sex engage in them or not, a cause for the Court to be concerned?

WOMAN: Not at all. When you’re on a diet, obsession is natural. Those men in the Minnesota Experiment admitted to thinking constantly about food. They’d start buying cookery magazines, watching culinary shows – it was all they could talk about at the dinner table. Some ended up chewing as many as forty packets of gum a day and downing up to fifteen cups of coffee [7] once the calorie restriction started.

THE COURT: And did they break into hysterics too?

WOMAN: Would ‘character neuroses’ fit the bill? If that’s the case, then yes they did.

THE COURT: So a set of behaviors analogous to yours.

WOMAN: I suppose.

THE COURT: But you’re making another invalid comparison. The Minnesota men were not on a diet, they were starving. Unless…

WOMAN: Unless?

THE COURT: Of course, the comparison wouldn’t be invalid, if you make an admission to the same behaviours.

WOMAN: But then I would be admitting to starving myself.

THE COURT: If so, please reconsider the question: would that not be a cause for the Court to be concerned?

WOMAN: In a society where women with a history of disordered eating end up with a lower personal income, and lower odds of owning a home [8]? Not at all. We are the most dedicated and reluctant cheerleaders for the patriarchy.

THE COURT: Dedicated yet reluctant, I see. Just as the Minnesota men were for the war-torn nation?

WOMAN: ‘Will you starve that they be better fed?’ – that’s how the brochures addressed those men. Would you not feel somewhat reluctant upon reading that?

THE COURT: But you are starving yourself anyway.

WOMAN: Starve that men be better fed [9]. But we are not just hungry for food. Women are starving for everything, and that is your true cause for concern. Maybe I am a danger to society after all.

THE COURT: If you will concede to that, then the Court considers this case closed.

CLERK: All rise.

THE COURT: Carry on.



[1] Knight, K. (2009, 19 November). Revealed: The obese woman who’s made millions from an extreme diet that was linked to the death of a bride-to-be, Daily Mail, Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1212909/Revealed-The-obese-woman-whos-millions-extreme-diet-linked-death-bride-be.html

[2] Kalm, L.M. & Semba, R.D. (2005). They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment. The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 135, no. 6, pp.1347-1352.

[3] Local Government Association. (2015). Tackling the causes and effects of obesity, Retrieved from: http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/6341755/100+Days+Obesity+publication/b650d6cb-289b-4f8c-a823-3c10380d75ff

[4] Shanahan, A. (2015, 09 April). At last, a prescription weight-loss service designed for men. The Telegraph, Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/mens-health/11522080/At-last-a-prescription-weight-loss-service-designed-for-men.html

[5] Lau, K. (2012, 21 March). ‘I was living off coffee, Diet Coke and gum’: Former Miss America speaks out about teenage battle with anorexia. Daily Mail, retrieved from:


[6] Tasca, C. et al. (2012). Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health. Clinical Practice & Epidemiology In Mental Health, vol. 8, pp. 110 -119.

[7] (2011). The Great Starvation Experiment, 1944-1945, Retrieved from: http://www.madsciencemuseum.com/msm/pl/great_starvation_experiment

[8] Tabler, J. & Utz, R.L. (2015). The influence of adolescent eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors on socioeconomic achievement in early adulthood, International Journal of Eating Disorders, Article first published online: 25 March, Retrieved from:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eat.22395/epdf

[9] Committee on Food Security. (2011).  FAO, Policy Roundtable: Gender, Food Security and Nutrition,  Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/023/mc065E.pdf