The other day I went for lunch with my wife and sister-in-law. The ladies ordered risotto and I asked for a salad. When the food arrived, the amiable waitress deposited my plate in front of me and said, “Ah, so you’re having the healthy option!” I confess, I couldn’t restrain the reply, “So what the others are having is unhealthy, eh?”I thought of this mildly comical episode when I heard on the news this morning that, after a whole 10 years’ argy-bargy, the Government is to introduce a traffic lights system on food products indicating the fat, salt and sugar content of each item. I can’t see the point. It’s not individual differences between particular packets of food that counts, but the appalling fact that, as the country with the greatest number of fat people in Europe, the population is addicted to eating junk..A “leading” nutritionist – what else? – came on the Today programme to give us an example of the way the new system would work and he cited buying a pizza and advised us to choose the packet with the most green indicators on it, as that would be the healthiest. Far better if he’d said, “Don’t eat junk such as pizzas.”
There is a weird contradiction, something surreal, about the British public’s attitude towards food. We have been so brainwashed over decades concerning the stuff that’s good for us and most of the rest which isn’t. As long as I can remember, we have been up to our waistbands – if we can find our waistbands – in healthy eating TV programmes. And yet still it is the junk food that flies off the supermarket shelves.How often I have queued behind specimens who resembled former east European shot-putters, their trolleys laden with pre-packaged muck – because their palates are either so uneducated or jaded that the only tastes they register are fatty, salty and sugary. All the while, they know this rubbish is bad for them.
I don’t blame the supermarkets which have to make a profit to survive and, of course, they can do this only by providing what the public wants. And I commend the supermarkets for their large variety of good fresh meat, fish and veg. Nobody is forced to buy the stuff that clogs the arteries and puts on the avoirdupois. Why not pick up a nice chicken, a cabbage and a packet of potatoes? These things are cheaper than the junk too.There are two answers to this question. First, taste – or the conspicuous lack of it. Secondly, so many people – despite wall-to-wall Nigellas, Ricks and Delias – couldn’t cook a chicken to save their lives. And fresh vegetables appear on only a very few dining tables.And that’s another thing while I’m at it: the dining table and the family meal have all but disappeared as the great majority scoffs its junk from a carton in front of the telly.