Jamie Oliver and co don’t know what it’s like to rely on cheap food deals
Food and fuel prices are rising at their fastest rate for 40 years.
According to Citizens Advice, “the warning lights could not be flashing brighter”. People are already in desperation: skipping meals to feed their children, getting washed in their kitchen sink because they can’t afford a hot shower.
As ever, it is the poorest in society who are being hit the hardest by the astronomical rise in inflation. And it’s only going to get worse.
So why, in this dire situation, are public health campaigners in meltdown over the government’s decision to reverse a planned ban on buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOF) deals in supermarkets?
If food is almost unaffordable for poor families, why deny them the chance to get a cheaper deal?
Ministers said they were deferring the BOGOF ban — which would apply to food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar — so they could review the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on family budgets.
The ban was also due to apply to junk food TV adverts before 9pm.
I get it — campaigners are worried about growing rates of obesity, especially in children.
And these deals might not even be the excellent value they appear to be. A Whitehall assessment claimed that outlawing multi-buy promotions would actually save the public £14 a year.
But look at the people complaining about the government U-turn.
Have any of them ever been so poor they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from? I doubt it.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver turned up outside Downing Street, calling for mass protest if Prime Minister Boris Johnson didn’t change his mind within 36 hours.
He urged people to make their own “Eton mess” desserts and “hold them up in solidarity” outside Number 10.
Eton mess is a dessert of meringue, cream and fruit, invented at the wealthy public school attended by Johnson and many of his political cronies.
Now the Tories have made a mess of the childhood obesity strategy — well, you get it. A clever idea for a protest, perhaps not Jamie’s own.
Yet it says everything about the sense of do-gooding, morally superior, middle-class entitlement which dominates the world of public health.
Will any of those who are struggling to survive have the time, energy or inclination to rustle up an Eton mess, take it to Downing Street and hold it aloft?
Of course not. Only affluent people, like Jamie Oliver — owner of a £6 million country house with its own football pitch — can afford such luxury protest.
To me, the anti-obesity movement too often sounds like a covert war on the poor.
Well-intentioned as these campaigners may be, there’s frequently an unspoken sub-text.
“Why can’t poor families do what our cash-strapped grandparents did?
Why don’t they do a roast on Sunday and then use leftover meat for stews and casseroles throughout the week? Bake delicious homemade wheaten bread and scones for next to nothing?
Instead they guzzle themselves sick and fat on junk food which, penny for penny, costs them far more”.
You won’t catch any public health person saying any of this out loud, of course. But it’s there in the patronising message that impoverished people need to be educated about how to eat well for less.
People aren’t stupid. They don’t need to be told, by some worthy middle-class do-gooder, that eating too much junk food isn’t great for them or their kids. They know.
When life seems impossible, however, and you’re overwhelmed with debt, responsibilities and huge, unpayable bills, you might make choices that you wouldn’t have made if you had more time, money and head-space.
A two-for-one deal on frozen pizzas might seem like a relatively cheap, easy way to feed the family that night. Because the pizzas are loaded with fat, salt and sugar, they get the pleasure receptors in the brain firing, and perhaps for a while, life doesn’t seem so bad.
Unhealthy? Addictive? Fattening? Undoubtedly.
But who is the government to tell poorer people that it’s off the menu?
The well-off aren’t affected: they can go to a high-end supermarket and get their fat, salt and sugar kick from expensive handmade artisan pizzas. They can afford it. The poor can’t.
Look, I’m no fan of junk food or profit-driven supermarket promotions, and I’m certainly no fan of the Tory government — the very opposite in fact.
But you don’t get people to eat healthily and lose weight by treating them like wayward children, denied dessert if they don’t eat their greens.