Arriving at Gatwick Airport late Friday evening, I was filled with one impression. We Brits have gotten fat. Everywhere I looked there were obese bodies blocking the way and waddling from MacDonalds to Häagen Grozs and back again. Maybe I'd happened to land at the same time as a flight from Chocohocoland, because it seemed to be even more noticeable that it had been a few months before. But I listened to the accents and they were not Chocoholic, but all very British in all its flavours. The whole population does seem to have broadened.
Of course I'd read the newspapers and seen the TV programmes that have been saying everyone was getting bigger around the middle (not to mention heard the rants of one Jamie Oliver, school nosh critic) but had not been convinced. After all, on TV, everyone was still as skinny as all hell. Even the fat ones on TV are really just slightly podgy and far from obese. But here was proof, larger than lithe. Still, I'm hardly as thin as I used to be. Although perhaps a while yet away from being called a porker.
My understanding is that in the UK the government is fully prepared to listen to nutritionists (and even more so to celebrity chefs) but none of these have their ear in quite the same way as the junk-food people. Plus the current government favours outside companies doing things like the cooking, the owning of the school buildings, selling of the school land and employing of the unvetted maintenance staff. This is mainly to help fiddle their Enron-style accounting but also to be further removed from the blame for anything that goes wrong.
What it also means is that where as in the old days you would have had "school dinner ladies" – grotesque, aging women who would serve up huge vats of slop, with most of the nutrition boiled away - you will now get some underpaid kid, who is probably playing truant from the next school, serving up pre-deep-fried shapes with the nutrition clearly and confusingly labelled on the box, and ensuring more than the recommended weekly intake of vitamin Cholesterol.
This is not the full picture, because it's not just the kids, as I'd been lead to expect, but their parents also whose hips seem to be reaching a size that in Italy they would call "Fiat." That I don't have a theory for. Yet. But am considering blaming Big Brother or Myspace.
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