What a charmed life companies like Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, KFC, Mars, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been leading here in the UK.
For months they have kept their corporate heads down while all around them there has been a growing clamour for the UK government to introduce a sugar tax on unhealthy products, many of them produced by these self same companies.
The government, however, seems more concerned with protecting its food industry friends, and has so far sidestepped all calls for it to tackle these corporations head on over the sugar content of the food they produce.
Just how close and unhealthy the relationship between the government and the food industry big hitters is revealed by the fact that McDonald’s, KFC, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s and Mars – amongst others – have all helped write government policy on obesity and diet related diseases. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the idea of a tax on sugar has not emerged from that highly dubious partnership.
But perhaps, just perhaps, the seemingly charmed existence of the food giants is coming to an end, because the pressure for firm action refuses to die down.
In January, the chief executive of the National Health Service (NHS), Simon Stephens, said that he would be introducing a “sugar tax” within NHS hospitals, which will mean that unhealthy sugary products on sale in hospital canteens will be subject to a surcharge.
More recently some of the worst offending companies have said they intend to “voluntarily” take action to reduce sugar levels in their products. Kellogg’s, for example, has announced that it will reduce the amount of sugar in Coco Pops and Frosties (both of which currently contain around 35% sugar), as well as in its other cereal products. It has been estimated that this move, alone, will amount to a cut of over 700 tons of sugar per year.
The bigger soft drinks manufacturers have also said they will cut the sugar content of their drinks by 20% before 2020 (a very modest target). PepsiCo has also volunteered to stop its TV advertising campaigns aimed at children.
These developments are all positive, but they are nowhere near enough to start to stem the obesity epidemic which is threatening to overwhelm our NHS. These “voluntary” actions merely reflect the fact that these corporations are rattled by the campaign spearheaded so brilliantly by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Now it the time for the UK government to stop squirming, to stop talking up these “voluntary” measures and to take decisive action in the form of a sugar tax.
Without it, the food industry will continue to poison and bloat us with excess cheap sugar and we will continue to pay the price, both in terms of our individual health and through the taxes we pay towards the NHS as it continues to struggle with the consequences.
I made a decision to give up processed sugars just over a year ago. It is not as easy to do so as you might imagine. Processed sugar worms its way into so many things we eat and drink.
When it comes to any of my recipes which require sweetening (such as this one) I use either maple syrup or coconut sugar, or sometimes both. Although they are high in natural sugar content, maple syrup and coconut sugar are produced naturally and retain antioxidants and beneficial minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, manganese and potassium.
Rhubarb is at its best right now, with early forced rhubarb available from farm shops, some supermarkets and – I’m delighted to report – on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. Forced rhubarb has a more delicate, sweeter flavour than later rhubarb, although it still requires some sweetening. Here it pairs perfectly with the subtle flavour of rose petals in an elegant, beautifully scented vegan ice cream.
rose petal and rhubarb ice cream
400 ml organic coconut milk
160 ml organic coconut cream
80 ml maple syrup
5 g ground arrowroot
10 g fragrant dried rose petals or 1 tsp rose extract
for the rhubarb
400 g forced rhubarb stalks, washed and cut into 5 cm chunks
50 g coconut sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). Place the rhubarb on a shallow baking tray and sprinkle with the coconut sugar. Toss to combine. Cover the tray with foil and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, giving the tray a few gentle shakes half way through the cooking time to prevent sticking. Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature. Once cool, push the rhubarb and any juices through a fine sieve or muslin cloth and retain the strained liquid.
2. Meanwhile, if using dried rose petals, pour the coconut milk, coconut cream and maple syrup into a saucepan. Add the dried rose petals and place the pan over a gentle heat and slowly bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. As soon as the mixture reaches a simmer, remove from the heat and set to one side to cool to room temperature. Once cool, strain the liquid through a fine sieve or a muslin cloth and discard the rose petals. If using rose extract, simply whisk together the coconut milk, coconut cream, maple syrup and rose extract.
3. Combine a couple of tablespoons of the rose infused liquid with the arrowroot and stir into a smooth paste. Whisk this paste back into the mixture. Add the strained rhubarb liquid and whisk to combine. Refrigerate this mixture for at least 30 minutes.
4. Pour the chilled ice cream mixture into an ice cream maker, and churn. Once it has set, tip the ice cream out into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.