A recent report by the UK’s House of Lords Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee has looked, amongst other things, at the disproportionate rates of obesity amongst poorer families. The report has concluded that our current food production and pricing systems conspire to make unhealthy food much cheaper than it should be.
Obesity is one of the so-called underlying health conditions that increases vulnerability to Covid-19, as well as a range of other life-limiting health conditions.
The UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe. It is no coincidence that we also consume more highly processed food than any other nation in Europe.
Artificially low prices mean it is the poor in society who consume most of these unhealthy foodstuffs. The poor also have shorter lives on average, and spend more of their shorter lives in ill health than those in better-off areas. Ultimately, this is a cost to us all.
In its evidence to the House of Lord’s Committee, the Sustainable Food Trust estimates that the £120 billion we spend on food annually in the UK generates a further £120 billion in what it calls “external costs” – ill health, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and subsidies to farmers.
These external costs are not picked up by the processed food manufacturers and retailers. Nor are they reflected in the price of the products they create and sell. Instead, they are passed on indirectly to the public in the form of taxation, income lost to ill health and the cost of clearing up pollution and other forms of environmental damage.
Looking at it another way, each time we buy these processed foods we are contributing to the long-term health and environmental damage they cause. In the long run we then end up paying for that damage, so the price of this food does not reflect its true cost to us.
Covid-19 should be a wakeup call on many levels, not least to the need to improve the standard of our nation’s health by improving the quality of our diet.
Recent reports suggest that the British government is finally waking up to this major problem, but it has to go much further than the tame suggestions that have come forward so far.
Our food pricing infrastructure needs a complete overhaul. Food which damages us and the world around us should be taxed so that it has a price which incorporates the cost of putting right that damage.
And food which is good for us – unadulterated, fresh, local, organic food – should receive the subsidies which currently go to those responsible for the unhealthy and unsustainable practices underpinning the bad food in our diet.
This side dish is a delicious way to cook and serve courgettes. It would work well as part of a tapas spread.
When left to marinate, the courgettes become imbued with a lovely combination of rich flavours.
If you cannot source fresh oregano, add half a teaspoonful of dried oregano to the pan while cooking the courgettes.
courgettes with paprika, saffron and oregano
8 small or medium sized courgettes, halved lengthways
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp saffron
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp maple syrup
1 tsp sea salt
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1. Crush the saffron in a pestle and mortar and add 10 ml of the olive oil. Stir to combine and leave for ten minutes to infuse.
2. Add half (i.e. 35 ml) of the remaining olive oil to the saffron and oil mixture, along with the paprika, maple syrup, salt and dried oregano and whisk together.
3. Pour the remaining 35 ml of the olive oil into a large frying pan or griddle and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, stir and then reduce the heat to low to prevent the garlic burning. Carefully place the courgettes in the pan, cut side down. Cook gently for 6-7 minutes over the low heat, or until the courgettes are starting to go a light golden brown colour. Turn them over. Cook for a further five minutes, by which time the courgettes should be just tender whilst retaining their structure. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to cook the courgettes in two batches. Add more oil if necessary.
4. Carefully remove the courgette pieces from the pan, and place them in a dish. Add the oil from the pan to the saffron and paprika infused oil. Whisk together then pour over the cooked courgettes. Leave for at least half an hour at room temperature, preferably longer, to allow the lovely flavours to infuse. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh oregano a few minutes before serving.