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Friday, 21 November 2014

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If you don’t like it, Anna, sort it out

I don’t remember many quotable nuggets from my school Shakespeare days. Very few in fact.

“Let copulation thrive...” (King Lear); “Would not a rose by any other name smell as sweet...” (Romeo and Juliet); “Let me have about me men that are fat...” (Julius Caesar).

The copulation thing, though really rather tragic, made we girls giggle. Juliet’s pining for forbidden love made us cry and we believed, much like Julius, the company of fat friends would make us look thin and gorgeous.

Well, our body-image rule has just been rewritten – by Conservative health minister Anna Soubry, no less.

Fat friends can now not only make you look thinner and more beautiful than the rest – but richer too. How’s that for a bogof offer?

Ms Soubury reckons you can tell a person’s background by their size – not that she makes fatuous snap judgements (much).

“Obviously, not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds but that’s where the propensity lies,” she says, with the authority of a woman who invests time, money and pride in her appearance.

Hers was a snooty, ill-considered statement that stirred inevitable controversy. Hurtful and demeaning, not to make too fine a point of her theory.

It’s also worth mentioning that Eric Pickles – spectacularly portly Communities Secretary – has yet to make a comment on her superior position.

It said, in as many words, that it’s now not only shameful to be fat but it’s also shameful to be poor.

“When I go to my constituency, in fact when I walk around, you can almost now tell somebody’s background by their weight,” she said, giving the nose-turning impression of one who’d prefer the obese and less than perfectly trim to stay indoors until they’ve shed a stone or five.

But while loathing the way she delivered her inner prejudices, I have to say I don’t entirely disagree with her correlation of weight problems and poverty.

To eat healthily – lean meats, fish, fresh vegetables, salads and fruits – costs a lot. Gym membership is likely to be low on the budgetary priority list of the poor, jobless and deprived. The low-incomed have more to worry about than nutritious recipes for their next brace of pheasant.

It’s no secret that cheap food is unhealthy food. It is usually fast food, filled with fats and sugars for flavour, bulked out with hidden unmentionable ingredients for economy.

Food pricing, the kind of production methods that cram burgers with horse meat, slick marketing more concerned with profit than health and the struggling family’s efforts to make ends meet are way outside of the control of the poor – especially now.

They are not though beyond intervening remedy by health ministers in a government hell-bent on the kind of austerity which – if Ms Soubry’s philosophy is correct – is creating poorer and fatter people week by week.

So come on Anna, less of the sniffy carping at people fighting to put bad food on the table and a bit more attention to food standards regulation, eh?

As poor old Julius discovered to his cost, there’s more to fear than “lean and hungry” Cassius types. Even fat, poor, angry folk have an unfortunate way of turning, when they’ve been badly done to for too long.

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