What could be more joyless than a caloriecontrolled slice of pizza?
The best pizza of my life? A margherita in a grubby, neon-lit joint on a stormy night in Naples. The base was tangy and crisp, the bubbling mozzarella sweet and salty; not for the first time, I bowed my head and gave a silent prayer of thanks to the culinary heroes who invented this dish – then devoured the lot.
Few foods offer such simple, universal pleasure. So the Government’s proposed new “calorie cap”, which will force restaurants and supermarkets to shrink pizzas or remove their toppings to make them less fattening, seems miserably symbolic. First came the sugar tax and the latte levy; now they are coming for our pepperoni – according to the proposed limits on hundreds of savoury snacks, a pizza should contain no more than 928 calories. I seem to have woken up in a world where I can listen to every Beatles track at the touch of a button and have my groceries delivered straight into my fridge, yet can’t buy myself a diavola. I wonder, when did the Government decide that their legacy would be the slow dismantling of every joy we had left in life?
Aside from the grim paternalism, the assault on choice and the potential cost to businesses, such a blanket approach is also cringeworthy as a public health measure. Any dietitian will tell you that our calorific needs (and wants) vary significantly from person to person, and that what matters most is your intake over a day or a week. A 928-calorie pizza is a lot if you’ve already scoffed a Full English and had a kebab at lunch, but perfectly within your recommended intake if it’s your main meal of the day.
I dread to think, meanwhile, of the weird concoctions some manufacturers might resort to serving up in order to adhere to a calorie cap. I’m already suspicious of low sugar cola and low fat yogurt, but what on Earth might be hiding inside a low calorie pizza?
Britain’s obesity rates are undoubtedly scandalous, and I’m all for encouraging people to make better lifestyle choices. The “five a day” campaign, for example, is to be applauded. Calorie counts on menus also seem a good idea – they certainly jog me to choose a salad over a toastie from time to time. This new return to rationing, however, is patronising beyond belief.
Far simpler and far more effective to improve people’s understanding of foods’ nutritional values and help them make their own informed choices. The proven results of weight loss plans like Weight Watchers – where no foods are off limits, and people can save up “points” to allow themselves to indulge from time to time – show that’s the way to do it.
When the peasants of 18th-century Naples discovered the heavenly marriage of dough, tomato and cheese, they weren’t thinking about their waistlines. Pizza is an indulgence that makes people smile, and we should defend to the death our right to eat it.