The two pandemics
There are two pandemics that world leaders must currently deal with and yes, they are linked. Reports suggest that almost two-thirds of those who have died in the UK from COVID-19 have been overweight or obese.
This condition does not make their deaths any less tragic. If anything, it is more distressing that society has allowed so many of its population to become vulnerable to other diseases through the rise of obesity: including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and now this coronavirus.
And it is a systemic societal challenge, far more than it is personal responsibility. People are consistently blamed for being unhealthy and overweight but what choice do they have when, for many of the poorest in society, the only options they have to eat affordably are the junk food offered by supermarkets and fast food restaurants?
My own moment of realisation came some years ago visiting a hospital, when I went into the hospital cafeteria to eat. What I saw shocked me; doctors and nurses purchasing sugary drinks and processed food to give them sustenance to get through their long shifts.
How could it be that the very people who treat our most severely ill citizens, are not themselves afforded the option to eat well? In saving their patients, they are killing themselves with the only food on offer to them. It showed me that society itself is deeply unwell.
Help Out to Eat Out
It is why it is baffling to me and so many others, that the government has chosen to launch a new anti-obesity campaign in the same month it has brought in the ‘Help Out to Eat Out’ scheme, to encourage more people to eat at restaurants and get the hospitality industry moving again post-lockdown.
In theory, the scheme is a positive and it is one that around 75% of Mercato Metropolitano’s independent traders are taking advantage of. A £5 lunch has been available for the three years we have been operating with all of our trading partners and during the Help Out to Eat Out scheme, this will now be available for just £2.50.
But we do this knowing that the food we offer is healthy and sustainable, using only simple ingredients. Our food is full of nutritional value, with no additives and it is sourced from independent and organic producers.
However, this is not the case for many of those who are a part of this scheme, with some of the largest and most unhealthy corporations driving customers in to eat their cheap, processed, awful excuse for food.
Sadly, what could have been a positive initiative to not only get the economy moving, but encourage people to eat healthily and at a fair price, is nothing more than a marketing tool for the very companies whose food has caused the pandemic of obesity and worsened the pandemic of COVID-19.
The dangers of discount culture
What we are seeing now is tantamount to government implementing the indoor smoking ban in the UK in 2007, and immediately halving the price of cigarettes.
And yet more people now die of food-related conditions than from smoking. The reason being the increased regulations and health awareness around smoking have meant fewer people are taking up the habit than ever before. Surely, if our government is serious about tackling obesity, it would not allow any company that sells junk food to offer its discount.
The culture of discounts has caused untold damage on our citizens’ health, most rampantly in our supermarkets. How often have you seen a ‘2 for 1’ discount on fresh fruit and vegetables? On organic meat? Most likely, never. These ‘deals’ are saved for chocolate, crisps, factory-farmed processed meats and packaged, stale sandwiches.
But they are not deals at all, because they are always kept at these low prices. It is a cycle where the promotions move from one line of unhealthy products to another. It is industrially-made, aggregated junk food that is so cheap to make that prices can be manipulated constantly, and the manufacturers in many cases pay the supermarkets to do so.
Creating value for the shareholder and not the customer is the number one priority for supermarket CEOs, and by doing this, they make consumer selection about price rather than health, and wreak havoc on our food cycle: from independent suppliers who cannot compete, to the citizens sold an illusion of affordable food — when the price of purchase does not account for the real cost to their health.
You only need to look at the labels of these products to see how damaging they are. My ethos is that no product should contain more than five ingredients and if you do not understand one single ingredient, you must leave it alone.
A loaf of Tesco own-brand plain white bread for example, contains 13 ingredients, including one emulsifier called ‘Mono- and Di-Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids’. Put it down, move away.
Flour when produced naturally is a prime source of vitamin B. In the era of mass production however companies are far more interested in producing a long-lasting 0–0 flour that never goes off, contains no nutritional value and is filled with pesticides that kill off not only bad germs, but good ones too.
What we have forgotten as a society is that food in its natural form is medicine — good olive oil direct from source is the best anti-oxidant you can find. The cheap stuff you buy on a supermarket shelf is basically grease.
As a society we must offer our customers the best possible choice of food in terms of value and accessibility — taken from source with none of the nutrients removed, or any other supplements artificially added.
Until consumers are encouraged to eat well because it is only the stores and restaurants who offer truly nutritious food that have access to discount initiatives, we cannot blame individuals for their obesity. Until the offering of these cut-prices becomes illegal, healthy-eating initiatives will be nothing more than virtue signalling.
I wrote last year about this culture of virtue signalling, which permeates our entire food industry. Whether it is supermarkets committing to cutting down on food waste, McDonald’s introducing paper straws or Coca-Cola promoting their ‘Diet’ and ‘Zero’ products over their ‘full-fat’ version — to all intents and purposes it is gaslighting.
What these companies sell and promote is fundamentally evil, and the damage they cause to society will always outweigh their sustainable investments until they completely change their business models.
There is a better way and Mercato Metropolitano is showing how this can be achieved, using responsibly-sourced, natural food, made with simple ingredients that we can all understand.
We care about the communities we serve and provide natural, delicious and affordable food with nutritional value, while supporting local small businesses and independent artisanal producers.
This all helps us to deliver the simplicity and passion that is lacking in the majority of the food industry. No tricks, no virtue-signalling, but a true commitment to making a positive impact and selling good food.
Small is mighty
What we are also doing is providing the small trader experience on a large scale. Unfortunately, citizens cannot rely exclusively on small shops because they do not have the resources to remain open seven-days-a-week while sourcing the best food possible. With Mercato Metropolitano, we are aggregating many small traders in one community, with each providing the service of a small business but backed by the resources and mission of something much bigger.
Our commitment to this ethos is what makes us more than just a market; it is a movement and one that we hope inspires a change throughout food culture in this country and around the word. If the government want the public to help out by eating out, we want to help out by ensuring that people eat well.