Last week, the latest in the current spate of “shocking exposés” of how badly Britain is eating appeared in the newspapers. We have all now heard that (gasp!) eating McDonalds every day is bad for you; that drinking to excess destroys brain cells (double gasp!); and that fatty, sugary snacks are not the solution to Britain’s obesity problem. So what could it be this time?
Well, this time the culprit was the humble sandwich. Britain is the country where the sandwich originated and estimates suggest that we still consume over 12 million sandwiches each year. Personally, I have probably eaten more sandwiches in my four years here than in the rest of my life – they are everywhere you look! And I remember being overawed by my first visit in 1989 to a Marks & Spencer sandwich section. There were separate areas for different breads (brown, white, wholewheat, gluten-free, tortilla wraps, bloomers), different basic fillings (cheese, ham, chicken, egg, beef, seafood), vegetarian, low fat etc etc. This was a far cry from home where your choices were cheese and chutney; cheese and tomato; ham and tomato and chicken mayo!! Suffice to say it was love at first bite for me and now that I live in London, I am still a regular consumer of sandwiches. In the City we have a vast array of sandwich suppliers to choose from – little independent sandwich bars; branded sandwich shops like Pret-a-Manger, EAT and Benjy’s; or behemoths like Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Boots. I have become quite a connoisseur of what to buy and what not to buy among the staggering array that these guys offer and of course I have my favourites.
So I was rather disgruntled to read about this report all about the fat content of sandwiches. My favourite everyday sandwich is some variation of cheese, spring onions and mayo – and guess what: it’s the one that comes in for the most flak as being high-fat and unhealthy! After outing my poor sandwich as a one-way ticket to obesity, the report goes on to suggest that such dangerous foods should be dropped in favour of healthy, low-fat alternatives (like egg and cress, bleeeeeurrrgh) in an effort to combat Britain’s growing obesity problem.
Now this annoys me for a number of reasons. Firstly, erm, it’s cheese and mayo combined – how on earth can people even be mildly surprised that it’s high fat?? Secondly, the label clearly states the nutritional values, including the fat content – so anyone who takes 10 seconds to read will be adequately warned that they are about to consume a high-fat food. Thirdly, the report goes on to compare the fat in a Mars Bar (11g) with the fat in a cheese & mayo sandwich (about 40g) – but misses the point that the sandwich is a whole meal whereas the Mars Bar is a snack. I mean, nobody seriously considers a Mars Bar and a cheese sandwich as alternatives (or am I completely off the mark here??). Fourthly, next door to the Dreaded Fatty Cheese Sandwich is a whole host of low-fat options so it’s not as if everyone is being forced to eat high-fat sandwiches. Of course, bear in mind that often low-fat/sugar-free options end up being stuffed full of nasty chemicals to try and replicate the taste of the full fat/salt version, to the point that you wonder whether it wasn’t better to take your chances with the salt and fat! (Slightly off-topic but also related, I have on occasion in a fit of virtue had a low-fat tuna sandwich from Tesco instead of my cheese & onion favourite, and it was dire. The tuna flaked like wet cardboard and fell out onto my lap (no mayo to keep things together) and the whole thing tasted dry and faintly bitter. Never again. Shudder. My point is that if they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a healthy option that actually tastes like something? I mean, come on – low fat cottage cheese instead of mayo – how much would that hurt?)
I can see the next step in this glorious nanny-state of ours where we are already planning a traffic-light system to warn customers about fatty and salty foods: sandwiches with more than a certain level of fat or salt will be pulled from the shelves by stores after pressure from Government. Don’t laugh – if McDonalds can be pressurised into withdrawing supersize meals and Cadbury’s persuaded to discontinue large versions of popular chocolate bars, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to foresee a day where you won’t be able to buy a fatty sandwich when you are craving one.
I am a great believer in free choice. I am not huge on censorship and I absolutely despise being told what to do, say, think. Or eat. I am not overweight, diabetic or a burden on the public health system in any other way. I absolutely demand the right to make an informed decision to buy fatty, salty, unhealthy food if I so choose. The way things are going around here, that will soon be tantamount to buying hard drugs. Will I have to mainline melted butter into my veins? Snort MSG?? And wait till these guys cotton onto the terrifying stuff being sold in “health” shops – a 100g packet of macadamia nuts contains almost 70g of fat!! I reckon their days of unrestricted availability are numbered…