The War on Fat – Why Stop There?
News that the Danes have imposed a tax on food with a high level of saturated fat has rippled across the world. How come Nanny Britain missed that trick? After all, we Brits consume vast amounts of burgers, butter, chips and pizza (extra cheese please), and our obesity level is allegedly 5% higher than that of the Danes.
The Danish rationale is interesting. Nothing to do with raising money, apparently. The extra revenue will go towards anti-obesity campaigns. The Danes want to be fitter and live longer. Why people should want to live longer in that damp, boggy land is beyond me. As I recall, the Vikings couldn’t wait to emigrate. Fitter I can understand. You can’t win football tournaments and Olympic gold medals if you’re waddling about like an over-ripe pear.
Just kidding of course. I find the Danes to be a charming and civilised people, and I fully understand why they should wish to ease the burden on their health service of all those fat-induced heart attack victims. As we all would. But I’m not sure that a 10% increase on the price of a Big Mac or a slab of butter will make much of a difference.
Such a tax would definitely not fly in the US, where a move in that direction would guarantee the demise of any politician who voted for it. You could imagine the whippet-like Barack Obama having a sneaking sympathy for a fat tax, but surely not the proudly rotund Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who appears to be the undeclared white hope of Republicans who are struggling to find a credible candidate for next year’s presidential elections. After all, burgers and pizza are part of the American birthright, despite the ludicrous asceticism of size-zero actresses who force down no-yoke omlettes for breakfast.
I also dare say that out own dear Eric Pickles, the gargantuan Minister for Local Government, would choke on his bacon sandwich at a tax that would seem to target the riotous underclass whose dietary habits so diverge from his Prime Minister’s healthy salads.
And I could name a few of the great and good here in the Middle East who are not likely to run a three-minute mile.
As for me, I’m not quite in the Christie/Pickles class, but I am not exactly a paragon of healthy eating either. I’m a devotee of French cuisine – creamy sauces, foie gras and crème brulee. I have for many years engaged in – shall we say – an ongoing conversation about butter with my beloved mother-in- law, who is a staunch supporter of the Irish Heart Foundation and a devotee of Flora margarine. When studies revealed that Flora can be as bad for you as butter, my childish heart rejoiced. All those years of eating wall filler in your sandwiches, and you’re still no better off than if you had regularly spread a layer of butter the size of a shale deposit on your bread.
When I was a child, we four children competed for cream at Sunday lunch so fiercely that our mother resorted to pouring portions into four egg cups to keep the peace. All the while my father would adopt his usual strategy of “accidentally” pouring half the carton on to his apple pie to raucous protest from his offspring. And why not, as I say to my daughters? Droit de seigneur is an eroded privilege these days. Much to the disapproval of said daughters, wife and other concerned friends and relatives, I remain an incorrigable fat devourer.
So that will be it then. We’re bound to have a fat tax in the UK sooner or later. It won’t work of course, just as taxing tobacco and booze seems to make little difference to the national health.
But taxes do make money. So we Brits can cut the deficit by stuffing down the butter. Not to mention increasing our alcohol consumption, ramping up on the ciggies and making more 300 yard trips to the supermarket in our gas-guzzling SUVs. Yes, we will increase the burden on the health service, but most of us would sooner keel over rather than end up in the care of our new generation of nurses who are too busy interpreting heart monitors to hold your hand as you wheeze your last.
So once we get the fat tax under – or should I say, over – our belts, what else can we tax? Well, dangerous sports for starters. In that category I would not only include para-gliding, rock climbing and cycling on the streets of London – all pursuits that are just as likely to put you in hospital as a regular diet of Big Whoppers. How about supporting the England football team, which can seriously damage your mental health? Or competing in Pop Idol, which will send you crazy if you win or condemn you to a lifetime of depression and low self-esteem if you don’t? And being a banker, despised by all but other bankers and protested against if you happen to work on Wall Street? All the gated mansions and black-tinted Range Rovers in the world will not protect you from the contempt of your peers. Even if you can pay for the therapy, an extra slug of tax to compensate the victims of your greed and stupidity would certainly not go amiss.
Oh yes, there are plenty of health-damaging activities out there just waiting for an innovative Finance Minster to latch on to. George Osborne, I challenge you. Be bold. Take the risk, the joy and the stress out of our lives. As you gaze from your window at 11 Downing Street at the benighted cyclists, bullied civil servants and bloated motorists, utter the clarion call: “Let Them Eat Prozac.” And keep paying the tax.