Can you have your cake and eat it? Fat chance

The government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme poses a dilemma

August 16, 2020 11:37

Spare a thought for the Government, the poor little lambkins. When faced with conflicting priorities, clearly they suffer the same dilemmas we do as individuals. Let’s take an example from everyday life: Mr Fegenbaum has enough money for either Option A: buying a new sofa, or Option B: getting his car fixed. What should he do? The car is essential, so Mr Fegenbaum has the car fixed and has a little left over for a couple of new cushions to cheer up his old sofa. These are the kind of decisions most people make all the time. We may not relish them but we accept the either/or principle.

But now the Government is leading the way in an exciting new approach, which will allow everyone to be happy, forsaking that old-fashioned, tedious one-or-the-other kind of decision-making in favour of choosing both Option A and Option B, even if they were previously mutually exclusive. Remember what Boris said regarding Brexit: “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.” The point about the original phrase: “You can’t have your cake and eat it” is — it’s not advisory; it’s a fact: you cannot both retain something and use it up.

Which brings us to the current “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign, the Chancellor’s plan to encourage us to do our duty by stuffing our faces at a discount, Monday to Wednesday. So far, it seems to be successful. Last night, my husband and son went to a Greek restaurant and it was so packed, the waiters were run ragged and it took over an hour for the main course to come. How, you may well wonder, does this initiative dovetail with the Government’s much-trumpeted obesity strategy? Surely fast-food outlets offering unhealthy food are excluded? Nope. Perhaps the discount is attached only to healthy choices: “Would Madam like the full-price cheeseburger and chips or the discounted option: grilled salmon with steamed kale?” Apparently not.

To quote from, “The urgency of tackling the obesity time bomb has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from Covid- 19.” Yes, if you’re overweight, you’re more at risk of dying — it’s that simple. They list a raft of anti-obesity measures but they don’t seem to include: making it cheaper for us all to go out and get fat. And that’s without packing into restaurants with, of necessity, no masks. Bring on the second wave!

But don’t worry because the Government must know what it’s doing; it has plenty of previous form on the “choose two opposing options at once” approach. In London, we were urged to avoid public transport so it could be safely used by key workers. However, the congestion charge has been increased to £15 a day (up from £11.50) and operates seven days a week instead of weekdays only and for an extra four hours a day. So, if you have small children or heavy shopping or thought you’d Eat Out to Help Out in the centre of town but don’t want to walk all the way home late at night, too bad. But their crowning glory is this:

Option A: Slash greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050!

Option B: Expand Heathrow and add a third runway!

The slump in the aviation industry caused by the pandemic has at least shifted Heathrow expansion on to the back burner, but it hasn’t been completely ditched. Of course, the reasons behind those lobbying hard in favour of it are complex. Reports suggesting it’s just because we don’t want all the other grown-up nations to laugh at us because we can’t manage major infrastructure projects are no doubt greatly exaggerated.

Following the having cake and eating it approach, the answer is simple. Build the runway but save it for best. It’s like having two extra flaps for your dining-table but hefting them out from beneath the sofa only for Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. You like to know the flaps are there, but you don’t use them most of the time. Same with the extra runway. Cover it with a big dust-sheet, then — when we have a state visit from a leader we need to impress — give the runway a bit of a wipe-down and there you go.

And if you think you’d never make such contrary choices yourself, just think back to when you’ve ever been on a diet. Ordered chips but also a diet Coke? Your brain, deprived of the lovely, lovely sugar and carbs it craves, just can’t process the lack of logic so thinks that’s perfectly sensible. Perhaps, you think, the diet drink will cancel out the calories of the chips?

No idea what the Government’s excuse is though.

Claire Calman’s fifth novel, Growing Up for Beginners, is out now. @clairecalman

August 16, 2020 11:37

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