The mixed messages of The Eat Out To Help Out Scheme…

Obesity is hitting the headlines again and we’re all being encouraged to be a bit more fit and a lot less fat. Which reminds me of my favourite food stories. A couple of years ago I was out for lunch with my children in a bustling local café. Above the background noise, we couldn’t help but overhear a customer at the next table loudly proclaiming her request to have all fat removed from the bacon in her toastie that she was ordering. She was relentless in ensuring that the member of staff, and indeed the rest of us, understood her request. Then when he asked her if she’d like to order anything else she replied yes, a portion of chips please! All the oxygen left the café as we all wondered what planet she was on. My all-time favourite has to be the time I was chatting to a workmate about food and the old saying “you are what you eat” came into the conversation. Her reply was, “well if that’s the case, I’m a fried egg sandwich”

Obesity isn’t really news but this time it’s COVID-19 and the greater risk of death or serious illness for those who are overweight or obese. Boris himself has experienced the virus and has done hard sums and realised that he needed to shift a few pounds. Which he did, but not content with his own increased good health he’s like the reformed smoker and wants all his fellow lard arses to lose a bit of the bulk. So we are being assailed on all fronts by incentives including £50 bike repair vouchers to help us get moving, a ban on junk food adverts after 9pm and The Eat Out To Help Out Scheme. Wait, what?

It’s ok, you can breathe a collective middle-class sigh of relief as I can report that the food/joy police are already on the case. The Lib Dems aren’t keen on the hoi polloi enjoying a Mickey Ds What strikes me is that the outcry against fast food outlets being included in the scheme is yer basic snobbery. It’s almost as if fast food contains a lower class of calories, salt and saturated fat which is unworthy and the little people shouldn’t be encouraged to, ya know, enjoy themselves. They should, in fact, know their place and make their own chips. Although I must point out to Annunziata that she hasn’t factored in the cost of cooking said potatoes and transforming them into chips. I remember when lockdown started to ease and the food outlets opened again. People scoffed at the proletariat queuing around the block for miles for their fast food takeaway. They also got scoffed at for queuing outside Ikea. Now, queuing for fast food and coffee I get, queuing to get into the nine circles of hell I don’t. While we’re on the subject can I just check that we’re all up with the lingo?

Takeaway=food

Carry out=alcohol

So how does one find out if one is a bit too beefy and as they say in my part of the world, no stranger to a fish supper or can make a quare whole in a loaf? I’m glad you asked, you can discover your BMI and compare it to others in your area by using the snappily titled “Where are you on the fat scale.” I was amazed to discover that 66% of women in NI in my age range (45-54) are overweight or obese. Those stats are 2 years old so God alone knows what shape society is in nowadays. Using BMI to determine obesity has its critics, factoring in waist size is also important. This NHS calculator gives advice on that in addition to BMI You need to be honest and accurate with your numbers, so forget about your statistics on your online dating profile and get real.

It’s one thing to discover that you need to lose weight and it’s another thing entirely to choose an effective way to do it. As a consultant cardiologist pointed out on a tv interview lately, you can’t usually just exercise your way out of a bad diet. So where can we go for sensible advice? Is it true that eating a healthy diet is expensive? Certainly, it’s big business, you don’t have to look too far to find a wellness “expert” but as I have a chronic aversion to flakey people I’d rather take my chances with a properly qualified professional. A dietitian is your best option as it seems that any eejit can call themselves a nutritionist. As with every aspect of health and wellbeing if you stray off the NHS/HSC path then you’ll need deep pockets to pay to be told what to eat.

Something that’s been bothering me for some time has been the assertion that people on a low income have a higher rate of diet-related illnesses. This is a 2015 study but makes for some interesting reading.

This has been debated on tv and radio lately and I use the term “debate” very loosely, it’s more like the personification of clickbait. It usually comprises of some commentators stooping to fat-shaming and calling poor people dim. As if people who are poor don’t know that fresh fruit and vegetables are good for you. Maybe they should just come straight out with it and say they think that poor people are fat and stupid. I did a little bit of research online and it only took me a couple of minutes to find several studies which show that low-income households tend to eat less nutritious diets because they ARE POOR, NOT STUPID.

I feel strongly about this issue as I am firmly in the “poor” demographic as a disabled single parent on benefits. I’m fortunate in that I don’t face crippling housing costs and am not in a spiral of debt. My heart goes out to parents who go without meals so that their kids can eat. If you are struggling financially then you’re likely to chose foods that fill your family up. Healthy snacks like fruit are just too expensive and aren’t filling like a packet of crisps are. People are just trying to do their best with what they’ve got. So don’t be a buzzkill and say that people shouldn’t go out and enjoy a cut-price fast food takeaway. People on the margins of society shouldn’t be pilloried or further excluded. I won’t change my conviction that people are good and kind but I am tested by the unsupportive and abusive comments I’ve seen opposing the extension of free school meals to disadvantaged children over the summer period.

Exercise is free, you don’t need any special equipment. The bike repair scheme maybe a good idea, but that’s if you have a bike to start with. Bikes are expensive. I think we’re all getting it a bit tight with this whole coronavirus thing and motivation may be in short supply. Lockdown lard is definitely a thing and as people dusted off their baking tins back in March I’m sure they discovered that if you bake it then it follows that you are likely to eat it.

So go on, use the offer to support your local businesses and in turn our local economy. Just don’t expect me to join in by sitting in. Due to the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in my local area and my rather peculiar immune system, it’s takeaways only for us. But not even my money back with change would get me through the door of KFC or Mickey D’s.

Photo by RitaE is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA