Cheap food doesn’t come cheap.
It just doesn’t. I’m staggered by some of the packaged products people buy. If these were the fabled time-poor-cash-rich people I might understand it. If you’re a busy executive with not enough hours in the days to run your hedge fund, supervise the children’s nanny, go to Pilates and fit in a manicure then why not buy your veg all washed, cut up and ready to sling in the microwave? Why not buy bagged, washed salad leaves? But the type of customers at my workplace are lower down the economic scale. They’re probably struggling to meet all of their bills. They buy lottery tickets not just for an odd flutter but in the constant, real, genuine – sometimes desperate – hope they’ll win a life changing amount. They sometimes have to put things back as they’ve not enough cash on them to pay the total cost.
I want these people to eat more healthily. I want ‘my’ supermarket to stop selling them food which is supposedly cheap but actually costing them a fortune, both economically and in terms of their health.
I’d love to see the following things banned for starters:
Those jumbo sized bars of chocolate or resealable bumper sized bags of sweets that are marketed as being for 'sharing' or eating over several sittings, but you just know it'll all be consumed in one go.
Cellophane packs containing slices of fresh apple: not even a whole apple, just part of one is sliced and ready to eat, sold in a pack with a sell by/use by date. These seem to be aimed at getting small children to eat fruit. Seriously? It’s really so hard to get a kid to crunch on an apple? A real apple with a skin and juice and pips in the middle? Buying a single apple is so, so much cheaper than buying a pre sliced section of one. It’s a rip off, and serves only to further alienate a child from an understanding of how food is grown.
Ditto cellophane packs of watermelon: you get a small rectangle of melon, maybe half the size of my TV remote. Where’s the joy of sinking your teeth into a big, juicy slice of melon, spitting out the pips, having the juice run down your chin? A packaged slice might be more convenient for a child’s lunchbox, but it’s so removed from the real thing, it’s overpriced and looks like it could’ve come from a vending machine. Give the kid a couple of clementines for their lunchbox instead. Sweet, easy to peel and Mother Nature’s thoughtfully packaged them for you.
I’d ban plastic trays covered in cellophane, containing prepared mashed potato: ready to pop into the microwave, probably tastes as bland as wallpaper paste. What a waste of plastic. We need to value it more so we produce and discard it less. Also, let’s ditch bags of washed, peeled and diced swede, carrots or potatoes. Then there’re bags of grated cheese because – heck! – life’s too short to spend 2 or 3 minutes grating a wedge of cheese, isn’t it?
I’d also ban sale of individual child sized servings of fruit juice (the sort that comes in a tiny carton with a plastic straw attached) and tiny bottles of Ribena style drinks. The packaging is unbelievably wasteful in environmental terms, and these things are so much costlier than if you gave the child a reusable bottle with a sports cap containing fruit juice decanted from a large bottle/carton or –even better – plain water.
It’s also been a real eye opener having watched the recent BBC2 series ‘Back in time for dinner’. The amount our collective diet’s changed since the Fifties is staggering. Not only in terms of increased sugar, fat and salt intake but also with packaging. Nobody wants to go back to the meagre Fifties, and we can’t avoid packaged goods given how our food chain’s evolved, but blimey we’ve got to get our nation’s food consumption back on track somehow. We’ve got to get to the stage where we berate companies for over packaging to such an extent they don’t do it. Where we look at a bag of pre grated cheese with such a sneering, pitying expression, where we always gravitate toward buying mushrooms loose rather than in a cling-filmed, un-recyclable plastic tray. Where treats really are treats, not a daily part of our diet. Growing up it wouldn’t have occurred to me to expect cake every day. That was a treat, maybe for a Sunday afternoon tea. A chocolate or sweety treat was a small bar or bag, not one of those bumper sized offerings that contain more than a single day’s calorific intake for your average adult, let alone child.
We need a kind of food revolution, one that’s not originating with organic yummy mummies or bearded Guardian reading hipsters or overpaid telly chefs flogging cookbooks and kitchenware ranges. We need a food revolution that doesn’t originate in farmers markets or artisan food trucks. But one that starts at the supposedly lower end of the scale. That grows from the ground up. That sweeps through budget supermarkets and improves the diet of those who’re cash poor and hope poor. That’s embraced by people who’re struggling, who’re otherwise facing a vastly increased risk of everything from tooth decay to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
That’s what we need, but how on earth is it going to happen?