Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gnocchi, Obesity, a Cure and Horse Burgers.


Gastronomically speaking, last week was not a good one for me. It just so happened that on 2 separate occasions in 2 different countries of the UK I got to eat dinner at a Marriot hotel. Well eating dinner is possibly an exaggeration; it was more like pushing food around a plate until I could respectfully say I had eaten enough. The problem was that the Marriot menu in both places only had gnocchi as the vegetarian main dish. To be honest, life is way too short to be eating gnocchi.

The jury seems to be out on whether gnocchi is fattening or not - the majority view seems to think it is. Gnocchi aside, our old friend Anna Soubry (Conservative Minster for Health) had no hesitation last week in determining what she thought was the cause of the UK obesity problem. She declared that is was possible to pick out children from poor families because they tended to be fat. 'a third of our children leave primary school overweight or obese' she said and that the culture of 'TV dinner' had eroded traditional structures of family life and led some homes to dispense with the dining table entirely. Miss Soubry recalled that when she was at school, pupils from deprived backgrounds tended to be 'skinny runts'. she blamed the easy availability of processed and fast foods as the culprit. 

And Mary Creagh, Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, has recently noted that being able to feed oneself properly is fundamental to everyone, but the evidence suggests that people on lower incomes are buying and consuming less than 5 years ago. Additionally, despite the '5 a day' campaign, fruit and vegetable consumption is falling. The lowest 10% of households by income reduced purchases of fruit and vegetables by 20% between 2007 and 2010 and the real price of fruit, milk, cheese and egg prices have risen by 30% during the same period. The consumption of processed foods however, has also risen 36% since 2007.

It’s estimated that by 2040 50% of adults living in the UK will be obese. Thankfully, as usual the NHS has the answer - Weight Watchers! Over the past 5 years the NHS paid some £4m sending obese people to Weight Watchers. GPs now routinely refer patients to the classes, which cost 'private' visitors around £45 for 3 months. It is estimated that 30,000 are sent on courses paid for by the NHS each year, in an attempt to overcome the UKs obesity crisis.

Research undertaken by the Medical Research Council in 2010 found that patients on a Weight Watchers course lost twice as much weight as those who merely sought advice from their GP. Researchers have also said the courses give patients good habits for life. However, it should also be noted that this and many similar studies have been funded by the company itself, so one may ask if the outcomes may be a little biased. But of course I am sure that is not the case here.

Guaranteed unbiased research outcomes from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggests that affordability is now the key factor in determining what food and drink we buy. Food prices have risen 12% in real terms over the last five years, taking us back to 1997 in terms of the cost of food relative to other goods. Food prices rose by 32% in the UK between 2007 and 2012 compared to 13% in France and Germany.

Helpfully the food manufacturers and supermarkets have being doing their bit to keep costs down. Unbeknown to consumers (well they didn't tell anyone) they appear to have been selling beef burgers and other processed food that contained horse meat  It was the ‘value’ range of food that was most affected. And yesterday, one of the major fast food chains had to confess to their whopper of claim that their burgers didn't contain horse meat when it was revealed that some burgers did contain horse meet. Maybe gnocchi is not so bad after all.