Mary Dejevsky: The food police have got at my pizza


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I am as partial to a pizza as anyone, and the chain restaurant around the corner does a passable job, always recognising that it's a thousand or so miles from Naples. On a recent visit, the service was welcoming, the drinks arrived promptly, and the pizzas came properly crusty around the edges, with the cheese melting just as it should. But mine tasted of, well, nothing. I twitched the minimalist vase with the one marigold, but salt pot there was none. Nor on any other table. Hailing the waitress, I began: "Look, I know I shouldn't, but could I possibly have some ..." – she interrupted me – "salt?" A rather battered wooden salt mill was surreptitiously produced and handed over rather in the manner of a black-market transaction in Ceaucescu's Romania.

Apparently, the chain has stopped putting salt in its pizzas; just stopped, in the name of the nation's health. Which is where you want to ask whether anyone in mass catering is actually allowed to rate taste as a selling point any more and how your average Italian would react, served a salt-free pizza. Next time, I'll choose one with anchovies or capers, always assuming they haven't been made "safe" by having the salt rinsed out of them. It may also be time to start hoarding the little sachets you get on planes for future restaurant use – unless, of course, the salt police have got at the airlines, too.

It's hard not to wonder, though, about the effectiveness of the trade-off between pleasure and the nation's health, not least because the takeaway world, where fried chicken and kebabs dominate, seems blissfully unconcerned about salt's public enemy status. You might even argue that salt profligacy is a reason, along with convenience and affordability, why takeaways are booming. It's accepted that too much salt contributes to high blood pressure, which in turn is a cause of the heart disease that accounts for half of all deaths in the UK, but the zeal applied to the task means that Britain now claims to lead the world in salt reduction. So unless the health gendarmes want to tackle fried chicken, perhaps we have done all we realistically can.

If the anti-salt brigade fears redundancy, though, I have a proposal. They should read an article in The New York Times Magazine, presenting the arguments of a certain Dr Robin Lustig, who specialises in children's hormone disorders. His 2009 lecture, "Sugar: The Bigger Truth", went viral on YouTube. The arguments took me back to my first months of living in the United States, where everything on the plate – unless you cooked it yourself and used only extortionately-priced organic fare – tasted as though it had sugar added. Which it mostly had.

This was also the time when the fat-free craze was at its height, and my deli order for a non-fat-free muffin amounted to a public act of dissent. Such was the preoccupation with the evils of fat, however, that few noticed the tonnes of extra sugar required to make fat-free cakes and biscuits hold together. This in turn helped to explain why even adherence to fat-free everything often failed to help those trying to lose weight.

"Fat-free" never took on quite the same prescriptive proportions in Britain as it did on the other side of the Atlantic. But that doesn't mean that sugar, given the renowned British sweet tooth and the hidden sweeteners in many processed foods and soft drinks, is much less of a problem. So here's a new cause for the food police – and it's one, as an anti-social chocophobe, I might even join. Better still, maybe I could be allowed to trade my national sugar allocation for the restoration of salt in my pizza?

A bitter tinge to an unhappy anniversary

Next week's 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster has gained resonance because of the failures at Fukushima following the tsunami in Japan. But the focus of commemoration will be in Ukraine, where the experience of Chernobyl exacerbated the centrifugal forces in the Soviet Union, helped inspire Ukraine's demands for independence, and now constitutes an intrinsic part of its post-Soviet national psyche.

This was a theme at an exhibition held at the Ukrainian Embassy in London, featuring the work of Odessa-based artist Vasily Sad. But the exhibition had an unexpected little coda. Sad had created a work, Revival of Japan, derived from his major 1986 metalwork, Aftermath – Dedication to Chernobyl, but in a more optimistic tone, and hoped to make a gift of it to Japan. After consideration, though, it was turned down. You can understand why Japan might not want too close a parallel to be drawn with Chernobyl, but it still seems a pity to decline a gift so well meant.

Sex wars over the central heating boiler

As a product of two of the group's schools, I know you don't mess around with the Girls' Day School Trust – though in my day it was called the GPDST (P, incidentally, for Public). But some research with which they have recently associated themselves – all right, it serves their cause, as it supports single-sex education – struck a particular chord. It found that girls, by and large, work better when the classroom temperature is 24C, while boys function better when it is three degrees lower.

Why I noted this was because the ideal daytime temperature in our flat is one of the most divisive issues in our two-person ménage. If the hall thermometer edges above 23C, husband complains about being compelled to live in the Tropics and switches off the boiler. If it dips below 22C, I'm the one complaining about Arctic conditions, reaching for my sheepskin and, yes, I confess, reactivating the heating. We can just about coexist at 23C – his perfect temperature outdoors, too – but don't trivialise the difference. Three degrees is much, much more than it sounds.

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