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United Kingdom

Health nannies want to ban sweets of old but ROSE PRINCE insists it's today's junk that's worse

Some of us adored bonbons, others hankered after fizzy sherbet-filled sweets or fruity chews, but all sweets were proper treats. They were our rewards and prizes, even peace accords with parents, sometimes with friends.

Often we were denied them, so when we got our small hands on such delights as sherbet lemons, chocolate limes, gobstoppers or Fruit Salads, we relished every sticky drop of sweetness they delivered.

A toffee bonbon, a simple ball of dusty sugar enclosing a chewy nugget of sublime sweet butteriness, was my purest form of pleasure as a child. Little was better than having one slowly dissolve in my mouth, tucked between teeth and cheek — that way they lasted longer.

No one talked back then about a 'war on sugar'. And though my mother muttered that too much confectionery meant fillings while she was squirting the Gibbs SR onto my toothbrush at night, no one considered us a generation of sugar addicts for whom sweets should be banned.

That, however, is the view now held by those in charge of the nation's health.

No one talked back then about a 'war on sugar'. And though my mother muttered that too much confectionery meant fillings while she was squirting the Gibbs SR onto my toothbrush at night, no one considered us a generation of sugar addicts for whom sweets should be banned (picture from 'Mary's' sweet shop, Anniesland, Glasgow, in 1954)

Public Health England, on the order of ministers, has told manufacturers of confectionery that, in future, sweets should contain less than 50 per cent sugar.

This means some of our traditional favourites will cease to exist. Boiled sweets, for example, could never survive such draconian regulation because they are, unsurprisingly, made of nearly 100 per cent sugar.

So those sherbet lemons, humbugs, bulls eyes, Parma Violets, pear drops, cola cubes, Sherbet Fountains and good old bonbons are all consigned to extinction.

Even less sugary sweets like jelly babies, liquorice allsorts and chews, being two-thirds sugar, will fall short of these puritanical standards and will disappear.

The Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, no less, has labelled the new rules 'the largest extension of state control over the British diet since rationing'.

The radical legislation, to me, is utterly wrong-headed and doomed to fail. By targeting sweets in this arbitrary manner, it ignores where the real problems lie.

Banning them takes the spotlight off so-called healthy foods in which the sugar is hidden. Foods such as smoothies and juices, breakfast cereals and baked goods. 

The obesity crisis is not down to over-eating sherbert lemons (pictured), but excess of these sweet staples and cheap fast foods

Smoothies are especially pernicious, promising to help deliver your five-a-day fruits or vegetables while at the same time containing, in some cases, more sugar than Coca Cola. Earlier this month the School of Dentistry in Queensland, Australia, produced research that showed fruit juices are as bad for teeth as fizzy drinks.

But smoothies and fruit juice have escaped the 'sugar tax' introduced last year on fizzy drinks to deter consumption — and which we know has persuaded manufacturers to reduce sugar content. And judging by the giant cartons and containers sold in supermarkets, they are never rationed; indeed parents often encourage their children to help themselves at will from the fridge in the misguided belief that they are healthy.

Families are also consuming enormous amounts of sugar in breakfast cereals and cereal bars.

The obesity crisis is not down to over-eating sherbert lemons, but excess of these sweet staples and cheap fast foods: home-delivered, savoury, additive-packed snacks; deals on buckets of fried chicken and bumper packs of frozen oven chips; cakes and biscuits available for all-day grazing.

Also, when I was growing up there were no smartphones or iPads to demand our attention, and children's TV was limited: instead we played outdoors whenever we could — skipping, rounders, hide and seek and other active games — and we ate healthy homemade meals every day.

This is why it is so wrong to take it out on old-fashioned sweets. Few parents offer non-stop access to bags of toffees, as they do these other foodstuffs. So why not allow sweets to continue fulfilling their traditional role in our culture — as a little reward in recognition of good behaviour, something to mark a special occasion, or simply an expression of love?

The truth is that sweets have been around since medieval times without causing an obesity crisis.

Their first manifestation in Britain was as small pieces of root or seed coated in hard sugar brought from Eastern countries and presented at court. Aniseed balls — with the seed at the centre — were among the earliest.

Their first manifestation in Britain was as small pieces of root or seed coated in hard sugar brought from Eastern countries and presented at court. Aniseed balls — with the seed at the centre — were among the earliest (stock pictured)

As sugar was shipped in in ever -increasing quantities from the expanding Empire and became affordable, Victorians were able to mass-produce boiled sweets in fruit flavours, almost identical to those we love today.

Just a week ago, I had one of those moments of delicious deja vu. Second in the queue behind a little girl at a village shop, I waited while she counted out her few coins and the shopkeeper tipped old fashioned sweets from jars into a paper bag.

Oh how I remember being that very child, pennies burning a hole in my pockets, excitement building as the sweets landed clickety clack on the scales.

Then the best part of all.

Outside the shop — I never made it much further — I'd open the twisted corner of the paper bag and decide which of the assortment inside to sample first.

I loved those super sweet rhubarb and custards; nicer than the real thing, I decided, and so pretty with their pink and golden yellow stripes.

But then I discovered one of confectionery's greatest innovations: flying saucers, circular, pastel hued 'raviolis' made with edible rice paper, filled with sweet powder.

Oh how I remember being that very child, pennies burning a hole in my pockets, excitement building as the sweets landed clickety clack on the scales

Little could compare with the dual pleasures of slowly melting rice paper, followed by the sting of hidden sherbet! After Flying Saucers came a long and passionate love affair with anything to do with dipping. Dip Dabs, a pink lolly handlily packed in a sealed paper bag filled with sherbet fulfilled the most important requirements of the weekend sweet treat: long lasting for the price.

Roald Dahl had just written Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and the innovations of the sweet makers fascinated my friends and me. In the playground we pledged to work in a sweet factory when we were grown up.

Who, we wondered, came up with the brilliant method of putting stripes in humbugs or making shoelaces out of liquorice? Who was the genius behind chews in the shape of prawns, false teeth and fried eggs?

We loved all the names: Snowies — white chocolate drops dipped in hundreds and thousands; Rosie apples, drumsticks, black jacks, fizz balls and Pontefract cakes.

There were of course sweets we did not like, or were not allowed to have. I loathed liquorice allsorts and apple and cinnamon balls. Gobstoppers were not permitted at our home because they lasted too long, ie they were too much of a treat; and my mother thought both chewing gum and bubblegum vulgar.

Stockpiling or hiding sweets was not permitted under family bylaws, nor was eating sweets without permission.

Knowing this and in order not to get caught, we'd sometimes hastily stuff a half-sucked sweet into a pocket or school bag, only to find it many moons later, irrevocably glued to the fabric.

Our weekly visit to the sweetshop was not just a pleasure — we firmly believed it was a right.

Our parents were of the same mind. Being treasurers of the necessary funds — pocket money — the benefit of bargaining homework, housework or babysitting a little brother for sweets was not lost on them.

These were our rituals and rules with sweets; homemade and self-imposed. We did not need Public Health England to preach to us, or to our parents, on the perils of sugar. It was so damn good, it had to be bad for you, didn't it?

Now where is that sticky toffee bonbon?

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