Wednesday 5 February 2014

The fat of the land

I recently watched a TV interview with a hungry man, ground down by the Tory benefits squeeze, who claimed he had to rely on food banks to keep body and soul together.

The odd thing about this supposedly starving individual was that he appeared to be, to put it kindly, rather stout.

I was tempted to make a supposedly witty post to that effect on Twitter, but then reflected that it would no doubt stir up a storm of abuse for being offensive about those less fortunate than myself. Added to which I am conscious of being on shaky ground in taking the mickey out of fatness. I am a statistical anomaly in being very well educated and reasonably well off, yet indisputably overweight.

In our topsy-turvy society, it seems that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese.

None of the arguments advanced by the left to blame this on food manufacturers and retailers for peddling high fat, high sugar junk to the masses strikes me as particularly convincing.

It is always possible to eat more cheaply by cooking for yourself than by slamming a ready meal in the microwave. All that is required is the common sense to appreciate that, and perhaps a little elementary education in shopping and cooking skills.

Since the lunatics in charge of the UK educational asylum are now punting the idea that children should be in school for ten hours a day, 45 weeks a year, perhaps they might just about find time for that.

They could also provide some useful guidance on the avoidance of waste. My own perspective is strongly influenced by having been born a month before food rationing finally ended in the UK in 1954, to parents who had lived through both World Wars and never had much money to spare. The Hanns, in consequence, do not chuck things away lightly.

Occasionally I try to persuade myself that it would be better for my health to scrape some food off my plate into the bin instead of shovelling it down my throat. Though better still, of course, to exercise tighter portion control in the first place.

But what of the bigger issue of food waste by the evil supermarkets, and those who would like to feed themselves from their bins?

I can tell you from direct experience that retailers loathe waste as much as I do. It is money down the drain.

However, a certain amount of it is inevitable. Picture yourself running a small bakery. You make everything fresh each day and you cannot sell it tomorrow because it will have gone stale.

The only way you can minimise waste is to start running down your stocks by the middle of the day. So in the afternoon you will have little in your window to tempt customers, and a diminishing range to offer those who do come into your shop.

As a result, you will lose sales. Keep stocks up and you will sell more, but will also have to throw more away each evening. It is a balancing act. You are in business to make a living, so you will adopt whichever course experience shows to be more profitable.

You’ll hate throwing your products away, and may arrange for them to be given to charity rather than dumped on a tip. But you are unlikely simply to give them away yourself just before the shop closes because you’d swiftly find that no one bought anything much during the afternoon, and a long queue began to build up as closing time approached.

Capitalism, like democracy, is a grossly imperfect system that has only one big thing going for it: it works better than anything else yet devised. Which is why I believe that market forces are much more likely to sort this out than any attempt at legislation, including the market force of consumers voting with their feet against shops that are needlessly profligate.

Then all we will need is for those in authority to apply a healthy dose of common sense in considering whether helping yourself to something that has been deliberately thrown away really constitutes a crime worth pursuing through the courts.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

No comments: