I Prefer My Cod in Batter, Thanks Very Much

August 15, 2015

Whenever I find myself choosing my next meal I always like to look out for the sign that says “healthy option.” In this age of variety and abundance it can often be hugely difficult making up your mind as to what to eat next. “Healthy option” makes things so much easier. It tells me: “Avoid like the plague.”

Good news, then, for takeaway customers in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. No fewer than six local fish and chip shops have taken on board the advice of their local council’s Healthier Choices Manager and introduced special, non-greasy, low-fat menu options. So now when customers find themselves torn between the battered sausage, the chicken nuggets and the “rock salmon” at least they can be sure of what they don’t want: that insipid-looking fillet of steamed cod on a bed of salad, with so few chips they barely even qualify as a garnish.

“It’s too early to say if steamed fish will be a hit,” says an article on the council’s website. And I’ll bet when they know the answer they won’t tell us. That’s because this well-meaning scheme is doomed to flop like a wet kipper. Of course it is. No one in their right mind goes to a takeaway as part of a calorie controlled diet. You do it when you fancy a treat.

And the reason it’s a treat is precisely because that food is so deliciously greasy. As the late Clarissa Dickson-Wright, the generously girthed cook from TV’s Two Fat Ladies, once explained to me, fry-ups, sizzling bacon, battered fish, and so on will always taste nicer than the “healthy option” because fat is a great carrier of flavour.

Clarissa (who was as big an expert on the science of food as she was on cooking and eating it) remained, to the end, a great defender of butter, cream and full-fat milk. She claimed they were much better for you than most of the supposedly healthy, low-fat alternatives. And it turns out she was right. Recent studies have shown that it’s the “trans-fats” in artificial health products like margarine that are the killer, not natural animal fats you find in butter.

What’s more, the evidence increasingly suggests, that it’s sugar not fat which is most responsible for our supposed obesity epidemic. So by trying to stop customers eating fried fish in Rochdale, the council is barking up the wrong tree. It’s the cafes pushing sweet cakes and doughnuts they should be investigating.

If, that is, you believe it’s a council’s job to be lecturing takeaways shops, cafes and the like what should and shouldn’t be on the menu. Which personally, I don’t. Surely, if you’re forking out hundreds of pounds every year for your council tax, it ought to be things you actually want and need like regular dustbin collection, not for the services of some nannyish, finger-wagging lecturer treating you like a small child who refuses to eat his Brussels sprouts.

When I read that Rochdale Council employed a Healthier Choices Manager, I assumed at first it was a joke. But no: the job exists and it’s currently held by someone called Clare McNicol. Well I’m sure she’s a nice, caring, well-meaning person and she’s clearly very persuasive to have got all those chippies to participate in this ludicrous scheme. Really, though. Oughtn’t the council to have more urgent priorities than creating such busybodying non-jobs?

For example, three years ago, Rochdale was at the centre of an ugly, grooming gang scandal when a group of Pakistanis were jailed for 30 ‘horrific’ counts of child rape. With its limited budget, wouldn’t the council be better off beefing its apparently lacklustre Children’s Services Department, rather than trying to decide the local fish and chip shop menu? Isn’t the safety of vulnerable girls maybe a bit more important than the danger that someone, somewhere might put on a few more inches as a result of too many ill-advised takeaways?

Councils are always telling us how underfunded they are, how they’re expected to do more and more with less and less money. But I suspect that this is at least partly a problem of their own making. If they stuck to the basics – schools, street-cleaning, lighting and so on – and cut out all the dispensable luxuries like recycling awareness, sustainability, lesbian outreach, diet fascism, and so on, then I’m sure they’d find it much easier to live within their means. I expect most council taxpayers would be a lot happier too.

My fear, though, is that councils, especially those in inner-city Labour strongholds like Rochdale, really aren’t so interested in the dull but essential bread-and-butter stuff. (Let alone in confronting issues like the growth of intolerant Islamism). Rather they see it as their holy mission to mould the whole world in their progressive image. Hence, that multitude of different coloured bags you’re expected to sort your rubbish into, each week: they want to teach you that recycling as an act of religious devotion.

Hence too those healthy eating menus. They don’t want you to see food as a source of fun or sensual pleasure. They want you to see it as they do – worthy, tofu-eating, vegan types as most of them probably are – as a source of guilt, self-hatred and neurosis.

Never mind the fact that cod – or haddock, come to that – is really quite disgusting when steamed and that it desperately needs the improving influence of a nice, crispy layer of beer batter, a side order of thick chips swimming in vinegar, and a squeeze each of tomato ketchup and tartare sauce to make it palatable. Enjoying the stuff was never the point. These people don’t just want you to be healthy and thin. They want you, above all, to be miserable.

From the Express

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