The vegetable index: Eating well is too expensive for many

If people are to have any chance of escaping food poverty, either food prices must come down, or wages must go up
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The Independent Online

Want to know where you rank in the British class system? Look in the fridge. If there are fresh fruit and vegetables in the salad drawer, then congratulations – you're posh. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found that healthy food now costs three times as much as junk food. A thousand calories' worth of healthy foods such as tomatoes, broccoli and tuna increased in price from an average of £5.65 to £7.49 between 2002 and 2012, whereas unhealthy food with equivalent calories costs just £2.50.

We talk more about accent and education, but in this country a person's diet is as infallible an indicator of their social bracket. This has remained so, even as middle-class foodies elbowed their way to the front of the queue at Lidl. Where once a pauper's diet would typically consist of home-cooked meals made from locally sourced, seasonally available ingredients – before it was cool – now people can only feel full for less by eating junk food, or "cardboard shavings injected with corn syrup", as we once called it.

Remember Jamie Oliver? He used to tell us that home-cooked meals made from fresh ingredients could be both nutritious and affordable. And up until very recently, he was right. Now that the majority of the 13 million British people living in poverty are also in paid employment, income is not the only constraint on nutrition. Low-paid workers will probably also lack the time and energy to shop around for deals and cook their meals from scratch.

That's on the days when they can afford to buy food at all. Last week's Panorama featured the bleak story of Jason, a single man living in Stockport whose above-minimum-wage salary is not enough to prevent him going hungry for days at a time. Where does Jason work? At a fast-food restaurant, of course.

Cooking fresh meals was once a chore rich people delegated to servants, but it's fast becoming a leisure pastime which only the rich can afford to indulge in. For the Ottolenghi-loving classes food is not merely sustenance, it's a richly flavoured cultural issue, so let's simplify: the predicament of poor nutrition won't be solved by the release of a clever new cookbook, or even by teaching cookery skills in schools – lovely as both those things are. If people like Jason are to have any chance at all of escaping food poverty, one of two things must happen: food prices must come down, or wages must go up.

It's hip to be square

When you close your eyes and imagine the life you'd rather lead, what comes to mind? Perhaps you'd like to be a celebrity? Or a global leader? Or a ruthless criminal?

These role-playing scenarios are already available in the gaming market, but for members of the Facebook group "Generic Office Role-play", the fantasy is very different from the fantasy. Its much more like the reality, in fact. It is one of several online communities which reframe the mundane as escapism. Players get their kicks by pretending to be office workers in a large corporation and sending each other emails about "the broken photocopier on floor 12".

On this front, online innovators are trailing behind their fashion counterparts. Fashion has been celebrating all things ordinary, ever since normcore (that is, dressing like a boring, middle-aged person) became a thing this year. Since then, unwitting normcore brand Gap has tried to reclaim the trend with a new campaign featuring the slogan "Dress normal".

Is this trend, like trucker hats and mom jeans, another example of hip people ironically embracing the naff for lolz? The fact that some people are now choosing normal behaviour as a recreational indulgence suggests otherwise. Perhaps the kids are finally clocking on to secrets their sad dads and loser mums knew all along; being boring isn't just cool, it's enjoyable too.

Packed this virus yourself, sir?

A questionnaire to prevent the spread of Ebola will soon be implemented at UK airports, despite experts dismissing it as a waste of time. "People will lie," said Professor David Mabey of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "They don't want to be subjected to the inconvenience. Why would people tell the truth?"

Customs officials are known to have an occupational mistrust of swarthy foreigners, but curiously they combine this prejudice with a faith in the basic decency of strangers that even Blanche DuBois would think naive. It's sweet, really.

If you've flown into the United States, for example, you'll have been asked to fill in a visa waiver form which attempts to weed out the undesirables in a straight-forward fashion. "Have you ever been, or are you now involved in espionage, sabotage or terrorist activities?" is one question, "Between 1933 and 1945 were you involved in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?" is another. Because, say what you will about spies, terrorists and war criminals; their honesty is renowned.

The Exchequer factor

As heir to the Osborne baronetcy, Chancellor George Osborne can claim many connections, but none quite as impressive as the one revealed on Friday.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, the X Factor sister-act Blonde Electra revealed they are related to the Chancellor through their shared great-grandfather, Clement Samuel Horn.

Blonde Electra, if you don't know, combine the musical talent of Jedward with the industry credibility of The Cheeky Girls. It hardly seems necessary to confirm their relationship to Osborne when the family resemblance is so striking. Much like their second cousin, the girls are not the sort to let the sustained loathing of the British public stand between them and their ambitions.

Monsters we have missed

I'm all for reintroducing lynx to the Scottish Highlands – as long as we're talking about wild cats and not teenage boys' deodorant. The move has been proposed by Trees for Life, a conservation group which believe the predator is necessary to control the red deer population and so protect young trees destroyed by the deer's grazing.

But if the lynx can make a comeback, why not some other extinct species. Just think how improved the boring Boat Race would be if a prehistoric monster such as the 50ft Liopleurodon roamed the Thames.

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