Tuesday 24 April 2018

Et tu, Fearnley-Whittingstall?

I don't watch any cookery programmes because they are boring, but I know that all the celebrity chefs have a gimmick. Hestor Blumenthal uses a blowtorch, Gordon Ramsay swears, Jamie Oliver was your granny's idea of a 'lad' and then became an obesity campaigner, Keith Floyd drank a lot and Delia Smith makes food that normal people can cook. I'm not quite sure what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's calling card is but I think it's that he kills his own lifestock.

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that Fearnley-Whittingstall has moved his tanks onto Oliver's lawn. A decade after the mockney chef started making pisspoor documentaries about food policy for Channel 4, the BBC has produced a copycat series with Hugh taking the lead role. He will be campaigning for more legislation so it will probably be indistinguishable from the BBC's news output.

Specifically, he will be campaigning for a ban on TV advertisements for tasty food before 9pm which, by a remarkable coincidence, is what the UK's 'public health' establishment, including Jamie Oliver, has set its sights on now that the sugar tax is in effect. It will also have the happy effect, from the BBC's perspective, of crippling its commercial rivals.

I won't be watching 'Britain's Fat Fight' but I have read the article that Fearnley-Whittingstall has written to promote it.

Everywhere we go these days, we are urged to buy food and eat it - and it's never good, not vegetables or fruit or well-balanced meals, but crisps, chocolate, burgers, fizzy drinks and sugary breakfast cereals.

Every time I turn on my television there is a baking contest, a cookery competition or a programme about restaurants. Let's start by banning those, eh?

They're cleverly designed, tempting and honed by the fierce competition of the food industry. It's like an arms race for our appetites.

Because what we really want is food that is badly designed, revolting and made by a state monopoly?

And it's causing a health crisis like we've never seen before. In the UK, obesity is already the leading cause of premature death after smoking. 

If it's behind smoking, it's hardly 'a health crisis like we've never seen before', is it? What Hugh means is that it's a 'health crisis' that has the potential to be comparable to smoking. That is highly debatable but I would still sooner live in a world in which obesity is the 'health crisis' du jour rather than the supposedly lesser crises of the Black Death, Spanish Flu, TB, cholera etc.

Today, 25% of us are obese. If things don't change, by 2050 that will be 50%.

Wanna bet? Just kidding, nobody wants to bet on these ridiculous forecasts. Every obesity prediction has been laughably wrong and this one is unlikely to be any different. These people rely on fantasy predictions because the cold, hard facts do not support their hysteria.

In the past, I might have argued the responsibility for change is essentially a personal one.

But then you realised that your television career was slowing slipping away?

Only you can decide what you put in your mouth, right? But after 16 months working on these films, I'm completely convinced that a culture of blaming and shaming individuals helps no-one - and completely misses the point.

We shouldn't shame anybody. If people choose to eat too much and exercise too little, they will become fat. That is entirely a decision for them, but it is their decision.

We haven't turned into a nation of lazy, greedy people in a single generation. Biological evolution doesn't work like that.

Given the choice, people will be lazy and greedy (so will animals, for that matter). No one claims that the rise in obesity is the result of biological evolution. The claim is that over several generations, office work has replaced physical labour, domestic appliances and car ownership have facilitated sedentary lifestyles and increasing affluence has allowed over-consumption of food across the class spectrum. This is an entirely plausible explanation. It is, in fact, what has happened.

Business, on the other hand, can evolve at a terrifying rate. And the business of designing and selling mass-produced food has rapidly outstripped our ability to defend ourselves against it.

Businesses have been mass-producing high calorie food for well over a century. There were more calories in a World War I food ration than there are in the government's recommended diet today.

The fact that two-thirds of us are now overweight proves this is not a problem of the unlucky or weak-willed few. It's a problem we all face.

Something experienced by two-thirds of the population (actually 60 per cent), is not something 'we all face'. Moreover, we should not assume that everybody who is overweight sees it as a 'problem' that they are desperately trying to overcome. The health implications of being overweight are negligible, if not positive. While being overweight may be aesthetically sub-optimal, it is perfectly reasonable to see it as a price worth paying for the freedom to eat and drink whatever you want. Not everybody is a health fanatic.

Obese people may feel the same way, of course, but three-quarters of us are not obese and the number of obese people is rising very gradually, if at all, so it is difficult to claim that there is anything inevitable or unavoidable about obesity.

Early in the first film my GP warns me that my 36in (93cm) waist and BMI of 26.2 puts me firmly in the overweight stats - and at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

This is despite the fact that I'm quite useful in the kitchen, I don't eat a lot of takeaways, and I love my veg.

So how has big business and 'mass-designed food' inflicted this on poor old Hugh?

I thought I knew my weaknesses: cheese (and biscuits), chocolate (and puddings generally) and wine with my dinner.

If I'm not mistaken, all these products have been around for centuries.

But it is still a shock when I work out that, in terms of calories, my weekly wine intake is roughly equivalent to 22 cans of coke.

So it's the wine that's the problem? A product that is rarely advertised and which is taxed at ludicrously high levels has made Fearnley-Whittingshall slightly overweight. Tell me again how a big government programme of sin taxes and advertising restrictions can beat obesity.

In the end, me asking big companies to change their ways, and our government what it is doing about obesity and healthier eating, will only ever have a limited effect.

Let's hope so. It's none of the government's business and politicians have capitulated to enough gullible, attention-seeking TV chefs already.  

But you telling them, with your shopping trolley or your vote, what changes you want to see - now that, I'm absolutely certain, can make a massive difference.

No one voted for Public Health England. No one voted for the sugar tax. No one voted for Victory Lucozade. No one voted for Jamie Oliver and no one voted for Hugh bloody Fearnley bloody Whittingshall.

People voting with their shopping trolleys is precisely what the nanny statists' loathe and fear. We vote with our shopping trolleys every day and make it clear that we like a wide range of food products. Snobs like Fearnley-Whittingshall disagree with some of our choices and want to see choice constrained. A pox on him and the BBC for pushing this illiberal agenda.

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