A Fridge Too Far?

fatfighters1710_468x386            Dawn breaks. As the sun begins to rise to the east, a deathly silence grips the streets of this bleak Northern town. In the veiled shadows of redbrick alleyways lurks a predator, patiently waiting for its next victim to succumb to adolescent insecurity. In the panic-stricken terraces, mothers pray that their child be spared, that they may avert the alluring gaze of its gaunt face, staring persuasively through the sheen of glossy pages. Gok save us! The anorexic terror is upon us! And from Guardian to Mail, the fevered cries ring out: “Will no-one save us from this voracious beast!?”

            Some say it was mere coincidence. Some, an act of God. And some, a skilful move by the Whitbread group to capitalise on the nation’s burgeoning appetite for cheap, sub-standard food. Forsaking all that is wholesome and rejecting the false promises of the twizzler bashing Mr Oliver; I give you your messiah. I give you the Taybarns restaurant.

            Boasting a 34 metre long buffet counter and a vast array of food that could conquer the iron stomach of Michelle McManus, the Taybarns mission statement is conveniently summed up as you enter the door: “Grab a plate, help yourself, help yourself again.” For a meagre £5.99, or £7.99 in the evenings, the discerning Coventry restaurant goer is invited to “Enjoy as much as you like, as many times as you like. All for one fixed price!” While this concept may not sound horrifically unfamiliar to anyone who has sampled the culinary wonders of the Big Wok, there is something startling about the emergence of this “all you an eat” trough that sets it apart from its equally detestable peers. 

Not meaning to belittle those among you with extensive knowledge of the restaurant industry, I shall state that a successful restaurant may serve around 2000 people per week. In its most popular branches, Taybarns serves five times that amount, with total sales in the last six months topping £703,300,000. A further thirty branches will open in the next year, while in contrast; other restaurants are closing at a rate of 100 per month. Playing an interesting game of “Taybarns by numbers”, one notes that a typical branch will roast 6000kg of potatoes, cook 12,800 chickens and grill 122,200 sausages in a single month. “When I come here I pig out. I feel like I have to because there’s such a selection and I don’t want to miss out,” states one happy regular.

As a nation teetering on the brink of an “all American” problem, I believe that the emergence of such establishments should be viewed with both alarm and disgust in equal measure. By following the trans-Atlantic model of restaurants such as the “Golden Corral”, which now turns over more than £1bn annually, Taybarns has been able to capitalise on the changing shape of a nation. With ever-growing rates of obesity set to cripple the NHS in the coming decades, the UK’s burgeoning waistline transcends freedom of choice and becomes an issue of state. The growth of Taybarns is but the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface lies a frankly appalling attitude towards the way we eat. Amplified by the hardship of recession, we seem to have lost that brief and hopeful zeal that was so epitomised by Jamie and his school dinners. Perhaps it was naïve of me to expect it to last. However, it makes the problem no less real. Given the liberty of unlimited time and space, I could spend hours ranting atop my soap-box about the dangers of embracing the free market and accepting the inevitability of this situation. To hint at a nation of greedy, cultureless, obese and unhealthy individuals would do injustice to the blurb in an encyclopaedic catalogue of disaster…

We must act, and fast. A plethora of solutions have been suggested, with our typically limp-wristed government offering little more than the woefully ineffectual “five a day” campaign. A problem of elephantine proportions traditionally indicates the use of 12-bore assistance, and as we brace ourselves for a grim and debilitated future, I believe that no less extreme a measure should be prescribed. Imposing taxes upon unhealthy foods must undoubtedly form part of the solution. An effort to learn from our enlightened Mediterranean cousins may also play an important role. But how to truly sway the ever-clogged heart of the individual remains a matter for intense debate.

And so, as the newest branch of Taybarns prepares to open nearby, you too, carrying the heavy burden of Britannia’s shield, must think twice before counting out that £5.99.

You are what you eat.

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9 thoughts on “A Fridge Too Far?

  1. How much tax should be levied on which foods? Surely we would have to be talking about very high rates if we are to make establishments like Taybarns unappealing to its usual customers?

  2. The whole idea is poorly thought through anyway, Increasing the cost of an all you can eat buffet is only going to deter people who eat sensibly – and therefore won’t get ‘value for money’ if price increases – while the big beasts could cram enough into their vast maws without fear of surfeit that even at the new price point it will be cost effective.

    In broader terms if people want to get fat, really grossly fat and even if they revel in their engorged gargantuan state then I say let them. Just charge them more for health insurance. The problem with the free market in food is that the longterm costs – health etc, are too often covered by the state and therefore not suffered upfront.

    there we go lets have a fat tax, every pound over a certain weight adjusted by height will incur a special fat tax. think of the armies of state fat inspectors we could justify, wonderful.

  3. My approach would be through the education system. Get kids running and enforce standards on school meals. None of this bringing in ‘sandwiches’ from home.

    I’m conscious this sounds a bit post-war and austere. But probably the best way to shift culture.

  4. This is BIG topic however I am surprised by the post. Simply raising taxes on food seems a very labour approach and doesn’t do anything to solve the root causes of the problem. It is nothing more than dictating what people can and can’t eat. I am also surprised to learn that Taybarns will turnover £1.4billion in a 12month period given the Whitbread group that owns Taybarns plus 5 other franchises will only achieve this figure.

    You can eat nothing but healthy food but still get fat if you eat enough of it. Is unhealthy food cheap or healthy food expensive? Either way, people eat at such venues because of poverty, raising tax will only exacerbate the problem.

    The real cause of the problem is children no longer go out and play. Why? Well firstly parents are scared to let their children run free in the streets and down the parks because it is unsafe. Sports facilities are overly expensive to hire. Parks and open areas are being turned into housing and PE is being cut out of school.

    A new generation has been created without these opportunities to particiapte in active environments. It is easy to stay in and watch TV, browse the internet and play computer games.

    Combat the fat, give children the opportunity to play outside. If your insistant upon applying a tax then tax the restaurants you despise and use the proceeds to fund cheap safe sportd for children.

  5. Great post Joe
    i agree hugely with raising taxes on high fat, high sugar, and fast food if it allows us to drastically lower taxes on fruit, vegtables and lean meat. But I dont know how possible it is.

  6. I would have to agree with David Johnson, introducing taxes on high fat, sugar and fast foods does seem like a very labourish policy to suggest. Furthermore, it is proposing an extension to the nanny state which has pretty much infected every aspect of British Society. If people wish to eat these products surely is not their choice? As Conservatives don’t we stand for the freedom of the individual from an overcontrolling state?

  7. what about the indolent? You can get fat on fruit if you never leave your armchair.

    We should force people to do sport or take their cars away. Also take their children, state would do a better job anyway.

    People who drink alcohol need to be stopped too. I suggest we staple everyone’s mouth closed and feed the correct, government mandated, amount of nutrients through an IV feed. As long as we can get the staples tight enough would also ensure no non-pc words will ever again be expressed, joyous.

    Worse still are people dressed in climate inappropriate clothing, mandatory blue / grey boiler suits for all.

  8. David, you’ve cleverly unearthed a figure fudging that I’d previously overlooked. It is indeed the “mother company” Whitbread, which owns Taybarns, which has turned over that amount, not merely Taybarns itself.

    THAT SAID, I still believe that the growth of this chain stands, in its own microcosmic way, as a grim sign for Britain’s future. Our nation is getting fatter, and while I understand the importance of freedom to choose, I believe this freedom must be balanced against the degree to which it impinges on the rights of others. As Richard mentioned in his first response, the enormous cost burden of this problem will fall at the feet of the taxpayer. By increasing the cost of unhealthy foods and using the money, as Dan suggested,to a decrease costs associated with fruit and veg, I believe we could tackle the large economic element of this problem.

    Finally, I would like to acknowlegde that yes, in theory, enough cabbage will indeed birth a manatee. However, while I agree that increased exercise levels would be desirable, I believe that any effective means of achieving this would stand well over the acceptable line of state intrusion.

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