Thursday, 13 May 2010

A Tax On Fat?

Since the Second World War, our love of food has escalated to high proportions. Supermarket shelves are heaving with produce from all over the world, high streets are overcrowded with restaurants, bars, cafes and fast food outlets, and cookery programmes fill our TV screens nightly. Everywhere you go, cities and towns basically look identical. You could be anywhere in the world and still mistake it for the UK! Do we really want the developing world to fall under these same influences? It's fast becoming a reality... The popularity of the 99p meal deal says it all. Our senses are indulged beyond our level of comprehension and control. With this unfortunately comes choice, and for some of us it's proving to be too big a responsibility.

Why have we become a nation so obsessed with food and convenience? Has food become entertainment rather than an essential requirement for life? We bow down to the powers that be – supermarkets chains and celebrity chefs, but fail to want to cook ourselves. Glossy recipe books piled high on the coffee table to show that we are indeed connoisseurs of food and know our Gordon Ramsey from our Delia Smith, but actual cooking commands far too much precious time and effort. Why bother when you can order a takeaway or pop a ready meal in the microwave for 2 minutes? The satisfactory knock at the door or ping from the oven providing that all important full-up-feeling. I admire Jamie Oliver's ministerial efforts, but the nation's willpower to follow through is wavering. Vegetarians are not exempt either. We too fall into the same trap, especially when convenience foods and restaurant meals are smothered in cheese. It's seems most aspiring chefs are informed at cookery school that you can never offer veggies too much pasta or cheese with everything – enough already! I'm all for making vegetarian products and meat alternatives more accessible, but some of these come at a price. They're not much healthier than their meatier counterparts. Being a veggie should be an effort and an education, not a slippery slope to fat filled pasties, pizzas, meat free burgers and chips.

In our culture of succumbing easily to 2 for 1 deals and eat more for less, who do we blame for our lax discipline and judgement? Ourselves? No, why should we take responsibility? It's not our fault the government, schools, hospitals, food manufacturers etc don't provide compulsory food education, healthier options and more nutritious food at affordable prices. After all, even some hospitals have on-site fast food facilities endorsed by Micky D, so if it's okay for patients to scoff then it must be okay for the rest of us too. What are our options then? For the next generation, education is essential, but for the majority of the population more drastic measures are required. It's tempting to advocate a tax on fat and unhealthy choices, but would this be enough and would it make a difference? It hasn't curtailed smoking. How about actually taxing the fat? I don't wish to promote discrimination, but it could be interesting from an incentive point of view. In all seriousness though, I think we should bring back rationing. During the war years, enforced food rationing was the only means of survival. People may not have enjoyed it, but combined with their war efforts they were all the more healthier for it. Nobody wants to return to a country under siege, but rationing may be the only viable solution to winning the war on overabundant choice and supersize portions.