Why do we con­tinue to swal­low these lies?

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

THERE are far too many peo­ple around who think they know best about what we should eat. They’re not con­tent to press the well-founded nu­tri­tional un­der­stand­ing that we need a bal­anced diet, should avoid fads, watch our weight and take proper ex­er­cise. That’s all too com­plex for the sim­plis­tic cam­paign­ers who, hav­ing blamed ill-health on but­ter and cel­e­brated ‘healthy’ mar­garine in­stead, now ask us to for­get their faulty ad­vice and join them in a dif­fer­ent all-out at­tack, on sugar.

What’s more, the food fas­cists de­mand that, as we’re not likely to obey vol­un­tar­ily, we should be whipped into com­pli­ance by a pu­ni­tive tax, start­ing with soft drinks and then spread­ing to all other sug­ars. The real en­thu­si­asts are even com­par­ing sugar with hard drugs and pre­tend­ing that it’s ad­dic­tive in the same way that co­caine is ad­dic­tive.

Agromenes is, of course, bi­ased. He likes choco­lates and en­joys fruit and old-fash­ioned lemon­ade as well as sugar on his ce­real. He makes mar­malade, chut­ney and tra­di­tional jel­lies, none of which can be sugar-free; he de­fends the farm­ers who grow sugar beet and sup­ports the food in­dus­try that they serve.

It’s a mat­ter of bal­ance: a lit­tle of what you fancy and mod­er­a­tion in all things. It’s also about choos­ing for one­self and not be­ing told by wellmean­ing busy­bod­ies what and when to eat. Ed­u­cate me, yes; force me, no.

That’s why food la­belling is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant. If we don’t want a nanny state telling us what we can and can’t eat, we should in­sist on be­ing given the in­for­ma­tion nec­es­sary to make sen­si­ble choices—if we don’t know, we can’t choose and the cus­tomer be­comes a slave to the pro­ducer and the con­sumer is no longer king.

La­bels should come with a health warn­ing, how­ever. Faced with grow­ing de­mands from Gov­ern­ment and the wider public to know the ori­gin and con­tent of food, ad­ver­tis­ers are at pains to turn our con­cerns to their ad­van­tage. In their hands, la­bels of­ten re­place in­for­ma­tion with a mar­ket­ing mes­sage.

It’s in­creas­ingly com­mon to play on ‘free from’ con­cerns. At its ex­treme, this is laugh­able. ‘Gluten-free wa­ter’ is an ob­vi­ous con, but it’s only the worst ex­am­ple of the kind of mis­in­for­ma­tion that sug­gests a prod­uct has qual­i­ties that jus­tify a pre­mium price. It’s our propen­sity for food fads that makes us vul­ner­a­ble to this kind of mis-la­belling. We are eas­ily mis­led and eter­nally gullible and busi­nesses have made max­i­mum use of that.

Fruc­tose, su­crose, and glu­cose are all names for sugar; aqua is only wa­ter; low fat may well mean high sugar; less sugar may well mean more fat. The use of the word ‘nat­u­ral’ is legally restricted, but phrases such as ‘from the farm gate’, or ‘up from Eng­land’s West Coun­try’, give the im­pres­sion of tra­di­tional ru­ral fare when the re­al­ity could be large-scale in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion.

Some food-in­dus­try lead­ers have recog­nised their re­spon­si­bil­ity to make la­belling work. There are clear, easy-to-read calo­rie counts on Nestlé’s small choco­late bars; sig­nif­i­cant, but not over-hyped, re­duc­tions in sugar and salt in Heinz’s baked beans; more mar­ket­ing em­pha­sis on no-sugar bev­er­ages by Co­ca­cola and, this month, its mil­lion-dol­lar prize for any­one dis­cov­er­ing a bet­ter substitute for sugar.

What the best com­pa­nies are do­ing must be­come the norm if we’re to avoid fur­ther in­ter­fer­ing leg­is­la­tion. If food com­pa­nies tell us what we need to know in a way that doesn’t mis­lead, there will be no need for Nanny.

It’s about choos­ing for one­self and not be­ing told by busy­bod­ies what to eat’

Fol­low @agromenes on Twitter

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