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It'll take more than a chirpy cockney to get Britain eating five a day
Sunday 20 April 2008
Portion control is a wonderful bit of catering-speak. It means foil-wrapped pats of butter and coffee sugar in paper twists. It means not wasting and spoiling things in butter dishes and sugar basins and not employing people on site to fill and clear and clean.
Fogey Britain hates the language, with its commercial genteelism, and hates the ideas behind it. Gents take their own decisions about these things; they like the idea of an Edwardian sideboard groaning with glorious waste.
Portion control is also the language of the global diet-and-health lobby. The world can be redeemed and wars and pestilence will cease if only people would eat the right stuff in the right quantities. That's part of the background to the constant wrangles about food labelling between the healthy-eating types and the men and women of big food manufacturing and big grocery retailing. The hard fact is that things they make and sell masses of – from choccy to every kind of industrial starch like bread and cakes – will look alarmingly wrong if you apply the new labelling clearly and truthfully. But cruise any big mainstream supermarket in any poorish area and you'll see great aisles devoted to chocs, sweets, crisps and laboratory soft drinks. Meaning that they're all basic foods for a fair few of the local customer base. It's about poverty (but that's relative in Britain), partly about access – and a lot about ignorance and children's pester-power.
All this is desperately uncomfortable stuff for policymakers, who worry like mad about "imposing middle-class values". The one positive story they have is fruit and veg, those modern saints, and the more portions of them everyone eats, the happier we'll be.
It'd help to define what fruit or vegetables actually are and what a portion is too. I remember reading some British research that showed that a majority of children questioned had eaten a lot less vegetable matter than they were supposed to. And one in 20 hadn't eaten any in the past week. The policy people know pretty well who they are, but they're not saying.
Instead there's a new inclusive government campaign built around a cheery cockney fruit and veg market stallholder and cockney rhyming slang. He's giving you a quick word in your King Lear about eating more fruit and Uncle Reg because you've got to look after the strawberry tart.
This will all go down a tourist treat in foody homes but as for catching the imagination of Badlands Britain in the 21st century, I really don't Adam and Eve it.
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