Wine & Food

    'There’s a big, fat difference between voluntary dieting and state-decreed controls' (iStock)

    State ‘calorie caps’? An idea that leaves a sour taste

    21 February 2018

    Rationing is back. The powers that be are once more decreeing what we, the little people — or the fat people, rather — should and shouldn’t eat.

    This time, though, their larder-raiding authoritarianism isn’t about helping to defeat a foreign tyrant. It’s about waging war on porky Brits. It’s an invasion of the shopping aisles to prise our blobby hands off all that fatty fare. They will fight us at the fridges, they will fight us in the Nando’s…

    This is the news that Public Health England wants to put a cap on calories. These policers of what we put in our mouths want to determine how many calories microwave meals and takeouts should contain.

    They reckon breakfast meals should have 400 calories (bye bye Sausage and Egg McMuffin with a hash brown) and lunches 600. And they plan to put pressure on supermarkets and fast-food joints to abide by buzz-killing strictures and stop providing the obese public with whoppers for lunch and muffins for brekkie. (‘Skinny muffins’ will be allowed, I’m sure. I hate that use of the word ‘skinny’. Skinny muffins, skinny lattes, skinny doughnuts. It’s like alcohol-free beer; as Freddy Gray points out on page 38, what’s the point?).

    ‘This is all about things like pizzas and ready-made sandwiches’, said PHE’s chief nutritionist Alison Tedstone. ‘We will need to set out guidelines and, I suspect, a series of calorie caps.’

    Calorie caps: that phrase should chill food- and liberty-lovers alike. Not because there’s anything bad about capping your calories. We all do it. We spend the weeks before a beach holiday in a state of light-headed half-starvation. We all quit everything gastro-pleasurable ahead of a wedding at which all our old schoolfriends will be in attendance. But there’s a big, fat difference between voluntary dieting and state-decreed dieting.

    For that’s what’s happening here: officialdom is putting us on a diet. It has looked at us, decided we’re pretty gross, and has taken away our chips.

    Our betters have such a messed-up attitude to food. One minute they’re tut-tutting at the fashion world for giving girls unrealistic body goals by shoving down the catwalk 6ft-tall glamazonians who barely take in 600 calories a week, never mind for lunch. And the next they themselves are telling girls — and boys, and mums, and dads — that they’re foul blimps.

    ‘Nearly a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese,’ say the government’s weird warriors against, effectively, puppy fat. I would wager that officials moaning endlessly about kids being too familiar with their local chicken shop are a far greater contributor to young people’s bodily bad-feeling than Cara Delevingne posting svelte pics on Instagram.

    But then, the PHE has never been good at foreseeing the dire consequences of its incessant sermonising on foodstuffs. Its tax on sugary drinks comes into force in April. Research by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggests hiking up the price of pop can lead to people buying more lager instead. D’oh!

    PHE has rowed back on the calorie caps comment, perhaps recognising that creating a diet dystopia, a world in which the government counts our calories for us, is a really bad idea. Instead it says it will simply encourage food manufacturers to trim calories.

    We know what this means: pressure will be heaped on the food industry. We can expect chocolate bars to shrink further, Digestive biscuits to have even more sugar extracted from them, McDonald’s to shove salads under our noses as soon as we walk in, possibly drunk, desperate for the biggest burger they have.

    This is the future. Not a jackboot stamping on a face forever but an official pulling a face every time we sit down to a pizza. Or two pizzas, rather; that’s how many we’ll need to get the cheesy kick we used to get from one.

    In this era of state-enforced skinniness, scoffing dirty burgers or ready-made sandwiches that have 601 calories is not only pleasurable: it’s an act of rebellion. That’s what I’ll be telling myself next time I circumvent the small-lunch diktat by having two lunches. I’ll be sticking it to the thin man who insanely thinks he knows better than me what I should be eating.