But this report seems to have fallen prey to the same cultural cringe that has beleaguered all such efforts in the past – an overpowering reluctance to tell people that it is possible to eat healthily for not too much money, for fear of it being dismissed as yet more overprivileged, middle-class lecturing. When, in 2013, Jamie Oliver expressed bewilderment that poorer Britons might choose to eat cheap fast food “while sitting in a room with a massive f—— TV”, and that we could learn a lot from places like Spain when it came to eating well and cheaply, he was dismissed by the chattering classes as just another TV celeb, ignorant of how poor people live. Far be it for the likes of Oliver to point out that a bag of carrots, an onion and a stock cube, at a collective cost of about £1, might be a good way of providing dinner, or for the Lords and Ladies to acknowledge – as even NHS analysis does – that direct calorie comparison may not be the best way to approach the final cost of food.
Of course there are lots of reasons why people are unlikely to eat healthily in this country, and there’s no silver bullet that will magically deal with the problem. Processed food is aggressively marketed (and the companies involved pay too much tax for the Government to really take them on); sugary snacks and drinks are ubiquitous. Two working parents means there’s less time to plan and prepare meals. We don’t learn to cook properly at school any more, which means we don’t learn basic home economics – how much a bag of porridge oats costs in comparison with a box of cereal. Tackling all these barriers takes effort and, more importantly, money – all schoolchildren learn that they should be eating five a day, but showing them practically how to turn those five into healthy meals is a lot pricier.
Yet openly discussing this is seemingly taboo. When, a few years ago, Baroness Jenkin said that poorer people were going hungry because they didn’t know how to cook, she was monstered for it.
She shouldn’t have been. If we really want to tackle the issue of bad eating in this country, we need to stop being so embarrassed about discussing the reasons why – whether we’re peers of the realm or not.