During the 1940s and early 50s, food was rationed. People ate a lot healthier. When rationing stopped, everyone binged. Then wages went up. Everyone binged. We joined the European Community, so more choice was available. Everyone binged. (Presumably, if Brexit goes ahead, we’ll all be leaner and fitter.)
Take the British favourite, fish and chips. I can just remember it in the 1950s. You got a piece of fried cod, about the size of a pack of cards and a bag of chips, the equivalent of a medium sized potato; just about the size of your fist. Coincidentally, the recommended amount of protein, (if you ask a dietician rather than one of those phoney ‘nutritionists’) is about the same size as a pack of cards. Or put another way, you got enough fish to rest on a fish slice and enough chips to fit in a scoop.
But then the kebab sellers arrived.
Back pedal just a little. You may remember the ‘cod wars’ in the 70s. Iceland extended its fishing limits because we English were overfishing their waters. The price of fish escalated. And people boycotted it. There was a similar problem in the 70s with the price of potatoes. I forget offhand the reason, but potatoes became very pricey, too. So people — ordinary people, not toffs — started eating more rice and pasta. Spag Bol and Chicken Tika Masala became the nation’s favourite food, and fish and chips went out of fashion. In fact, thousands of fish and chip shops — the lowly, old fashioned kind, with the white brick porcelain interiors, prices painted in whitewash on the window, and a cue reaching right down the street — well, they all closed down. It was unheard of. Fish and chip shops had been gold mines. Ordinary folk would open a fish and chip shop and six months later they’d be voting conservative. But the surviving fish and chip sellers fought back. And one of the ways they fought back was to massively increase the size of the helpings. Restaurants would serve up fish and chips on huge carving dishes, with the head and tail of the fish hanging over the sides. Buy them in a fish and chip shop, and the server would cram at least three scoops worth of chips into the little paper bag. Here’s the thing. When I was little, I would be sent to the local fishmonger, (remember them) to buy: “a piece of filleted cod”. It was huge. Mum would cut it up into four pieces. And they weren’t tiddly little fillets. But that all changed. Now people expected the whole fish. And the bigger the better. Soon, our waters were being overfished as well. And our people were being overfed.
Next look at what happened in the Indian restaurants. People order two or three popadoms each, just as an appetiser. These they lather with various pickles that look, if not taste as if they are full of sugar as well as vinegar. Then they have a starter, which probably has a frightening amount of calories in it, and the main course is obscene! Not only is there a mountain of rice under it, but they usually add nan bread. In some restaurants, the nan bread is glazed with sugar to crisp it up. The total calories in the meal are at least 2,000. That’s more calories in one meal than should be eaten in a whole day. Is there any, real mystery about the nation’s obesity problem?
I have often bought packet meals. These are a real boon, going back to the 70s at least. Do you remember the Vesta meals? These were the nation’s original introduction to exotic food. They were pretty terrible. But they were convenient. Hundreds of others followed in their wake. Now, you can buy a bag of microwaveable rice and a tub of curry for a couple of quid or so, if you shop around.
But here’s the thing. Do you ever read the labels? I did, and I noticed that it usually said something like: “Sufficient for two persons”. You won’t notice this unless you look. But pick up that bag of Uncle Ben’s pilau rice and read it. What does it say? “250 calories per serving, (125 grams)”; the contents being 250 grams. Translation: “You’ve been eating twice as much as you were supposed to, you pig!” And so it goes on. In the Indian restaurant, order rice with your curry, and they bring you a little tray that is probably about 400 grams. This is why we are all becoming obese. It is not our fault. We have been sold a lie. Those little nan breads in Asda are rated at about 150 calories — bad enough. But the ones in the Indian restaurant are four times the size.
Here’s what I do, and I’ve been doing it for over a year. If I have a meal in an Indian restaurant, I put half the rice, and half the curry on the plate and ask them to bag up the rest. I can’t bring myself to ask them to do the same with the onion barjis, so I wrap half in a paper table napkin and hide it in my bag. Same at home. I put out half the food and put the other half in the freezer. As I said, I’ve been doing this for over a year.
And the weight has fallen off me.