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
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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 Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?