Pete York On Ads

The truth about 'healthy' ready meals is coming home to roost

There was a woman creating in the Sidcup Tesco's the other day. She was haranguing the checkout girl about cruelty to chickens, as seen the night before on Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 exposé of battery farming. There's been a positive chicken fortnight on C4, starring the Jamie/Hugh/Gordon supergroup, big lads all, acting like pop stars and actors together, only more so.

But it's been grim viewing all the same because the life of factory-farmed birds is grim. I thought everyone knew that by now and had chosen to deny it because cheap chicken is a godsend for a family on a tight budget. But apparently not; if this woman was typical, people were shocked and wanted to do something.

The big supermarkets – all of them, because industrialised chicken farming is universal, not a Tesco innovation – will have assumed till recently that most of their customers can't afford full-on ethical eating, but that the Worried Well-off could be reassured and bought off with smart ranges of high-priced organic, free-range everything. But they may just have got it wrong.

On Channel 4 again, Jane Moore (a good choice as presenter because she's got that red-top touch) has been fronting a programme about the newest food deception – in the labelling of those rather smart supermarket ready meals that promise the earth. You know the sort of thing; the range name will be something very Because-You're-Worth-It, such as "Treat Yourself Healthy", and the recipe will incorporate Known Value Items – prawns, wild mushrooms, etc – in a smart-sounding, gastro-pubbish recipe, all with the promise of safe indulgence because it's well-balanced, healthy stuff that won't big you up. The calories, fat content, proportion of daily requirements and so on, are all shown on the front of the attractive packet in big clear graphics. It's reassuring because it looks like absolute science. But, according to Moore's researchers and analysts, they can practically make up the nutritional information as they go along. The fat and salt content can be miles higher than they say – the regulations concerning animal feed are apparently tighter than those for products for human consumption – and there aren't enough food safety scientists to go round.

The New Healthy Living range from Tesco sounds nice in the commercial, talked up by Jane Horrocks' rural Lancashire voiceover ("nor-tay", "hunn-ay", etc – do they all really talk like that?). The recipes are called gentrified things like Chilli Prawn Tagliatelle or Thai Spiced Chicken with Mangetout, and the big idea is that they've produced "balanced dishes you could eat every day". You can't just go on eating special fried rice and chilli con carne, says Jane. But the great demotic coup in this commercial is that of course you can – because there's CCC at the end, rendered smart healthy and unfattening by the Tesco touch: "healthier versions of your everyday favourites".

But I've seen the other Jane deconstructing this kind of offer. (I have to say I can't remember whether she fingered Tesco in the programme, although the saintly Waitrose was definitely mentioned.)

There's something happening and it's spreading way wider than the Worried Well-off. From out of my personal left field, all this food scandal coverage reminds me of that emotive pre-war marching song about the terribly fat man with the car, the yacht and the aeroplane, who watered the workers' beer.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam