I’VE not even had breakfast yet and Jeremy Hunt is putting me off my food. That man knows how to suppress an appetite.
The health secretary has taken time off from annoying doctors to lecture restaurants, cafes and pubs about the size of their portions and the sweetness of their puddings.
According to the Times this morning, Mr Hunt says that offending establishments will be “named and shamed”. Funnily enough, Hunt was misnamed and shamed years ago by James Naughtie on the radio in a spoonerism that stays in the mind because he seemed so deserving of the accidental honour.
I do feel conflicted about governments interfering in what food establishments can serve. This is partly because puddings, cakes and bakes are treats, and in life we should be allowed a treat.
Just imagine that you are about to tuck into your cake or dessert in a restaurant or café when suddenly a man with a permanently startled face looms up over your shoulder…
“There’s a man behind you.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Frowning at that slab of sticky toffee pudding you are about to eat.”
“Now he is holding up a big placard that says, ‘This man is eating too much pudding’.”
At which point the health secretary leans over the table and slices off half of the sticky toffee pudding, which is then removed to a government-approved pudding landfill site where calories deemed officially unnecessary are condemned to rot away without harming the nation.
The thought of Jeremy Hunt telling us what to eat really is disturbing, isn’t it? Next thing you know he’ll be gate-crashing the Great British Bake Off and swiping that extra slice from Paul Hollywood’s hands.
All very alarming, but the thing is we are all getting fatter. According to the report in the Times, “Calories-cutting targets for fatty foods including burgers and pizzas will be decided next year. Calorie caps for individual products such as chocolate bars or muffins will also be introduced.”
This did make me wonder if a calorie cap was a restriction or something you are forced to wear, a dunce’s cap for the modern over-eater perhaps.
And this is where I am conflicted. Governments sometimes wish to interfere too much in what we do, and yet if we are all getting fatter, and obesity is such a problem, then it is obvious that something needs to be done.
According to the BBC Good Food Nation Survey, also published today, one in six young people eat fast food twice a day, and the average person has two takeaway meals a week. We must be far from average in this house as we don’t eat two takeaway meals a year. The only takeaway I like is fish and chips, but even that is a rare treat.
Where Jeremy Hunt has a point – and dear God those words were hard to write – is that people eat out a lot nowadays. In this sense we are not ‘people’ as we eat out rarely, although our three twenty-something children eat out more often, far more often than we do.
The BBC study of 5,000 people also found that half thought “a meal isn’t a meal without meat”. Now I used to think that once, but living with a vegetarian for years put paid to such attitudes. I still like a good meaty feast, and did a top roast chicken only the other day, but I am happy with meat-free days. Occasionally I smuggle a piece of salmon into a vegetarian meal, a tasty bit of contraband among the lettuce leaves.
My solution to keeping Jeremy Hunt’s nose out of my plate is simple, but it won’t be popular with many people, I guess. The answer is to cook decent food at home. Nothing flash or MasterCheffy. Just proper good food. Eat treats more at the weekend. Don’t obsess about what food is bad for you and never say things such as “Can I have a gluten-free skinny pancake to go, please.”
I don’t understand the modern obsession with gluten, something which is a problem – and a very serious problem – for approximately one per cent of the population. Hardly anyone has a problem with gluten, yet gluten-free food is a fast-growing area, and most of it is mass-produced and packed with fat and sugar and the like.
My rule, although not a scientific one, is that anything which is free of something is to be avoided. Fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free – no thanks, I’ll just have a proper mouthful if that’s all right with you.