I’m not making this up. This came straight from a report issued by the Public Health Institute in the Netherlands and was reported in the press today. But then, am I surprised? No. Just a walk through the aisles of your average supermarket here in the Netherlands will show you why. Processed food can be found on almost every shelf, which all contain crazy amounts of sugars, salts and preservatives. And if you look at what’s eaten on an everyday basis here, you’d also understand. The diet is predominantly built on a bedrock of bread (refined grains), sugar and fat.
Herself and I were only talking about this the other day, and about how she uses very little in the way of tinned, jarred or pre-packaged meals. But then, herself is not Dutch, and she grew up making her own sauces, soups, bread, juices and the like from scratch, learning and perfecting “Grandma’s” recipes. Ask the average Northern European if they could do the same and I can guarantee you that 90% of the under forties would say no. They wouldn’t know where to begin. Why? Because unlike our cousins in Spain, Italy and France, who encourage the “Slow Food Movement”, the folks up North have become so dependent on pre-packaged food, which is just junk. It’s massed produced shite made by the likes of Nestle, Kraft Foods, Unilever, Kelloggs, Cargill and Heinz, to name but a few. The scary thing is that although it’s a handful of names, they control 70% of the SKU’s on the shelves of every single supermarket in the country.
So unless you’re making your own tomato sauce for your spaghetti, or homemade soup from last Sunday’s roast chicken, you’re increasingly beholden to the ingredients that go into these processed foods, which in turn affects your overall health and well-being. It was only due to pressure from the EU that Nestle and Unilever announced that they would reduce the levels of trans-fats that can be found in every tub of vegetable oil, margarine and pasta sauce.
Of course, some countries are fighting back. Hungary announced a “Fat Tax” a few months ago, aimed squarely at the growing fast food industry there. Hungary, like most other Eastern European countries, has had a long history of great, home-made rustic cooking. It’s rare to find a jar of anything (other than preserved veggies from the previous harvest) in anyone’s pantry. But the increase in cheap, convenient processed food is starting to take its toll on the population.
Denmark too, announced their intention to introduce a “Fat Tax”. The Danes are famous for their love of foods that are bad for you. The two food stuffs that spring to my mind when I think of Denmark are of course butter and bacon. But obesity levels are on the rise there, as they are across most of Northern Europe.
The costs of dealing with obesity are set to eclipse those of smoking. So governments across Europe are trying to dissuade consumers, by doing it the only way they know how….hitting them in their pockets. But is that necessarily the right approach? Personally, I think they should go after the food companies.
If a food company is adding additives and addictives to their foods, surely part of the responsibility should rest with them. Or, whilst they would slap a tax on foods deemed “unhealthy” they could use those monies to offset the costs of more healthy foods like fruit and veggies, thus encouraging people to eat more healthily. It’s a sad day when it costs more to buy veggies in the supermarket than it does to buy a Happy Meal in McDonald’s. And at the end of the day, the vulnerable of society once again loses out. Those who cannot afford to eat healthily, end up costing the state more in terms of increased healthcare costs, lost working hours and premature deaths.
I don’t see it taken too long before the “Fat Tax” reaches these shores. But I’m not worried, given how little junk food ends up in our shopping trolley. Sure, maybe those nachos or tub of ice-cream will cost more, but they are luxuries only to be eaten rarely, so I won’t feel the dent in my wallet. But others will. Maybe we’ll see a return to home cooking? But something tells me that’s highly unlikely.
Or, alternatively, you could grow your own 🙂