Many of our eating pleasures have become a secret shame, writes Stephen Jardine

Food and guilt seem to come hand-in-hand nowadays. There was a time when we ate what we wanted without a second thought.

Nowadays nutritionists, clean eaters and Government health advisors conspire to ensure very little escapes the attention of the food police.

My granny used to sprinkle sugar onto lettuce to encourage me to eat it. She thought she was doing the right thing but now she’d probably be locked up for child endangerment.

Where we once piled an extra spoonful of Creamola Foam into the glass for extra fizz, now we worry if carbonated spring water is bad for our teeth or apple juice contains too much fructose. So are we a healthier nation as a result? The statistics would suggest otherwise.

It’s often said we would be healthier if we ate meals our grandmothers would recognise. What the experts mean is that earlier generations didn’t have access to the mountains of processed foods we enjoy today. Yes there was home baking but it contained butter, flour and sugar not stabiliser, emulsifier and corn syrup. Alongside that the snacking market was barely developed and main meals were cooked from scratch with no added chemistry set ingredients.

We consumed all of that with a clear conscience.

In contrast, every meal now seems to be a struggle over how you best cope with what the label says. Nagged and cajoled most of us try to do our best but we do it supported by something private, our guilty pleasures.

Last week I popped into a local healthy food shop. Like all the visits I can remember to this particular store, it was to get change to allow me to do something else.

In the queue in front of me was a proper customer, namely a woman buying a falafel wrap. As a lunch, it oozed restraint. However when it came time for her to pay, she ducked out of the queue and grabbed a cling-filmed slice of caramel shortcake.

Stepping back into line our eyes met briefly and I saw a look I recognised, food shame. She’d gone in with the best of intentions but at the vital moment had given in to the desire for a sugar hit. I felt her need.

Over 90 per cent of the pork pies sold in this country are bought my men and the majority are consumed in the car park of the supermarket where they were purchased. I don’t actually know if that’s true but it sounds like it should be.

I admit to being partial to the occasional supermarket pork pie with it’s grey flaccid meat and unctuous jelly. When I do succumb the actual pie is the least of my worries as I also have to dispose of the wrapper and any crumbs to ensure it remains a private matter.

It is the judgement of others we fear. With unhealthy food under attack nowadays, eating a Pepperami or drinking a double chocolate chip milkshake feels like letting the side down. So when the urge overtakes restraint, our punishment is guilt.
True guilt needs to involve food as far away from natural ingredients as possible. Think Angel Delight, kebabs from a takeaway with no hygiene certificates or a Scotch Pie on a soft white roll.

Guilty food is shameful and awful and clearly not good for us, Which is exactly why sometimes it’s just what we want.

About The Author

Stephen Jardine

Stephen Jardine is a journalist and presenter and has previously worked for Scottish Television, GMTV and Radio Tay. He now writes a weekly food column for the Scotsman.

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