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.