Last week the UK Conservative Party held its annual conference. Most of the British media’s coverage focused on the various tribulations which haunted the Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she attempted to deliver her keynote speech.
But a coughing fit, an interruption by a prankster and a collapsing set weren’t the only causes for embarrassment at that conference.
As one newspaper, spotted, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt managed to deliver a speech on childhood obesity to a fringe meeting at the conference whilst wearing a lanyard emblazoned with the name of Tate & Lyle, the multinational sugar corporation.
It transpires that all delegates to the conference were wearing these lanyards because Tate & Lyle was a major sponsor of the conference. In fact, Tate & Lyle has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative party over many years.
Interestingly, the same company has also donated to the Labour Party in the past.
Now, why would Tate & Lyle want to do that?
The answer is that the company is hedging its bets, just as the American sugar giants do. The US sugar industry has for decades been the biggest agricultural donor to both Republican and Democrat party coffers.
Refined sugar is big business, but it is also increasingly in the firing line. Evidence continues to mount up about the huge damage it is causing to our bodies – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer… the list goes on.
Rather like the tobacco companies did in the 1980s, the major sugar producers and companies producing sugary products are mounting a rear-guard action to protect and promote their businesses in the face of these mounting health concerns.
To do that, they have used a variety of strategies.
They have inveigled their way into government through sponsorship and lobbying. In the UK, for example, representatives from McDonald’s, KFC, Pepsico and Kelloggs managed to get seats on the Cameron government’s Policy Group on Obesity, Alcohol and Diet Related Diseases: an effective way to ensure that any recommendations from that committee cause minimum harm to those companies’ products and profits.
The sugar industry has also undermined and subverted research into the effects of its products. The appalling treatment of British scientist John Yudkin, who warned of the dangers of sugar in his book “Pure, White and Deadly”, is a case in point.
Companies like Coca Cola and McDonald’s sponsor major sporting events, such as the Olympics and the rugby world cup.
Arguably of most concern is the industry’s sponsorship of bodies whose role it is to promote health. A report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine published earlier this year found that Coca Cola and Pepsico had between them provided funding in the form of sponsorship to 95 national health organizations, “including many medical and public health institutions whose specific missions include fighting the obesity epidemic”.
These modern-day Augean stables need cleaning.
Tobacco companies were eventually banned from sponsoring sporting events and funding diversionary “research” into the effects of smoking. In the same way, corporations that manufacture sugary food products that make us ill should be banned from such bogus sponsorship and funding.
We all deserve healthy, clean food. To get there, however, we need clean politics, clean science and clean sport. Until these areas of life are free from the pollution of sugar industry influence there will always be pressure on those in power to avoid making the right decisions for our health, or to put off making those decisions until it is far too late.
On to the recipe, which is based on a Sicilian classic called pasta alla norma. I first came across this delicious pasta dish when on holiday in Sicily last year. Since then both I and my wife Sara have each occasionally cooked our versions of it at home. To be honest, Sara’s version is at least as good as mine.
The key is plenty of fresh basil, so err on the generous side when adding it to the dish.
Traditionally the dish is finished off with crumbled ricotta or grated Parmesan, but vegans can rest assured that it is really good just as it is.
aubergine, basil and tomato penne
2 aubergines, chopped into 1-2 cm chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 x 400 g tins organic chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sea salt
3 generous tbsp fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
300 g good quality penne, or pasta of your choice
to serve (optional)
ricotta cheese, crumbled, or
freshly grated vegetarian Parmesan
1. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and place over a medium, heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every so often, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and aubergine and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the aubergine has softened. Stir in the tomatoes and the sea salt, along with 150 ml fresh water. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for a further 30 minutes. Stir in most of the chopped basil, reserving some for garnish. Keep the sauce on a low heat, stirring every so often, while you cook the pasta.
2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook your pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. Drain the pasta and return it to its pan. Add the aubergine and tomato sauce and stir through the pasta. Serve in bowls. Scatter the reserved chopped basil leaves over the top.
4. If using, scatter over some crumbled ricotta and/or grated Parmesan to finish the dish off.