Not even Jeremy Corbyn could have dreamed this to be possible: a state sponsored lunch for the people. All the people.
But we won’t be heading to Soviet-style canteens for black bread and borscht. We’ll be heading to Burger King for Whoppers at a 50 per cent discount. Or, if we’re feeling really healthy, perhaps a branch of Subway or KFC.
All the above chains, plus many, many more, are participating in Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme to get us all investing in the economy again by eating as much fat, starch and sugar as we can possibly fit into our already lockdown-distended bellies.
Huge queues formed today outside Nando's and McDonald's. Though there have been efforts by the government to insist that healthy eating restaurants are taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, a quick look around my own postcode in Brixton, South London, reveals my options for lunch today include such diet-crushing establishments as Black Bear Burger, Halo Burger, Other Side Fried and somewhere called Studmuffin.
This moment is our chance to take a meal break out from lockdown. It may well prove to be a temporary opportunity. Yet our options for using it seem largely limited to sitting in a seat welded to the floor eating poor quality chips on a plastic table to a soundtrack of Maroon 5.
Because all the Eat Out To Help Out scheme is essentially doing is promoting unhealthy food. This is the state-sponsored equivalent of a 'two for one' burger chain offer on cheeseburgers, most often found in a tabloid at the weekend.
This does little more than perpetuate the myth, long held beyond our borders, that the British relationship to food is akin to a starving dog being let loose in a butcher's bin. We don't discriminate, we value price above quality and we don't care who knows it.
It's a catastrophe that will only make our already obese country even fatter, while doing little to solve the economic and psychological issues that lie behind the UK’s calamitous relationship with food.
Speaking as chair of the National Obesity Forum, Tam Fry (unfortunate surname) showed why his quango is as ineffectual as a dietician at a hot dog eating contest when he stated last week in relation to junk food offers in the Eat Out To Help Out scheme that, “with obesity rates ever increasing and now firmly linked to Covid-19, who wants more of the same?”
The answer: pretty much all of us do. Why? Because we’ve been encouraged to; not just by this ridiculous scheme but by generations of dieticians too terrified to call out bad diets and obesity for what they really are: conscious choices made by people who hate being told what to eat and when to eat it.
I blame the war. The Second World War that is. Rationing destroyed our indigenous culinary cuisine and created a generation of shoppers who prized economy over quality.
All that’s happened since is we’ve exchanged Woolton pie for Whoppers. It’s why we spend less on our weekly shop than any other country in Europe, it’s why British men spend more on takeaways than any other group in Europe and it’s why we’re the only country on the continent that still has carveries.
My friend’s dad went to one in Lancashire shortly before lockdown. His verdict, according to my mate, was that it was a ‘great meal’. When ventured to enquire why, there was no talk of the quality of the beef or veg. ‘No’, he responded. ‘It was great because I managed to eat 13 roast potatoes.’
We are all this man’s children. And Rishi’s scheme is the final nail in our oversized, winch-assisted coffin.