Consuming Issues: The hidden perils of eating out

With their multi-billion pound colonisation of town centres and suburbs, supermarkets make easy targets for campaigners.

While it's generally true that the big grocery chains push out local traders, beat down suppliers and homogenise food, they are highly responsive to the concerns of their shoppers, and about what those shoppers learn about them in newspapers or on television.

In the past few years British-owned chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer have stopped selling endangered fish, handed out fewer plastic bags and cut salt, sugar and trans-fats in products, often very substantially.

Aside from their natural public-spiritedness, they do this partly because they cannot hide what goes into their processed products; labels tell their own peculiarly-worded tale of intensive processes and E numbers. And partly because stores feel the heat from campaigners, politicians and customers, who manifest their views occasionally in direct communications and more frequently and indirectly in market research.

Admittedly, the grocers perform less well when the heat is off; witness their failure for years to tackle the important but unpopular issue of forest-wrecking palm oil. Nonetheless, generally, grocery multiples act to protect their reputations and customer loyalty, thereby driving up standards.

A better place to look for dodgy practices affecting consumers' health and finances, or environment or animal welfare, is eating out. Far from being the occasional treat it was 20 years ago, cafe and restaurant meals are now commonplace and four in every 10 meals are consumed out of the home: a croissant on the go; a lunchtime sandwich; a pub or restaurant meal. Unlike the rapacious supermarkets, firms providing this food are more likely to be locally owned and their "fresh" food does not carry labels.

While many meals eaten outside the home are lovely in every way, the sector has more secrets than the brightly-lit store aisles. First, its food is laden in fat and sugar. While it's hardly a surprise that restaurant dinners are high in cream, calories can be sky high.

A survey in 2007 found that one in three pub and restaurant meals contained 1,500 calories – three-quarters of a woman's recommended allowance of 2,000.

A Pizza Hut "cheesy bites" Hawaiian pizza has a whopping 2,538 calories.

Another area is salt. Excess consumption of salt, not at the table, but hidden in cheap food, sends 15,000 Britons a year to early deaths with heart disease.

A survey by the anti-salt campaign Cash last year found some three-course pub meals could exceed the recommended six grams a day. At Vintage Inns, for instance, anyone having the tomato and basil soup, hunter's chicken and sticky toffee pudding would knock back 8.28g.

Meat. The Independent disclosed last year how restaurants and fast food outlets are selling chicken surreptitiously bound with water by beef protein. Typically produced in Holland, this type of chicken could be served to you in an Indian or Chinese restaurant, probably without the owners' knowledge.

Hygiene. While one in 1,000 major supermarket stores scored a dangerously worryingly zero stars in environmental health inspections last year, the total for food outlets in general – including restaurants, pubs and cafes – is one in 20. Conditions at these places are likely to be disgusting; you can check hygiene scores online for most areas of England.

Although many cafes now stock Fairtrade coffee or tea, the proportion of products with ethical stamps is far lower than in stores. So while almost half of eggs sold in shops are free-range, that falls to one in five in catering and processed food.

The chicken or pork you eat in the shop sandwich or takeaway meal is highly likely to have had a short, cramped and boring life.

Of course, none of this means that you shouldn't enjoy a lunchtime sandwich, a kebab or a blow-out meal, but it's worth bearing in mind that you are eating food whose ingredients and provenance are unlabelled.

Heroes & Villains

Hero: British beekeepers

The disappearance of bees from the countryside over the past three winters has been something of abstract interest to city-dwellers, until now. The British Beekeepers' Association is inviting members of the public who cannot keep bees to sponsor a hive. The money raised will fund research into bee health and training beekeepers. "We cannot take it for granted that the bees will always be buzzing around," are the honeyed words from the chef Raymond Blanc. For £29.50 you receive a jar of honey, a fridge magnet, a wooden honey dipper, postcards, factsheets, a certificate and – it doesn't mention this but I'm sure it's included – a warm glow.

Villain: Car dealers

Put on a seatbelt and brace yourself for a shock: some second-hand car dealers are rogues. A report by the Office of Fair Trading into the £24bn-a-year trade found the vast majority of faults on used cars emerged in the first three months, suggesting "many second-hand cars sold may not be of satisfactory quality". Drivers were spending £425 each, or £85m a year, fixing faults that should have been repaired by dealers. Arthur Daley is alive and well.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

    Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

    The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

    £43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all