Every economic cloud has a silver lining apparently, though not perhaps if you’re a chicken. Last week, KFC, which dumps more intensively reared birds in the deep-fat fryer than almost anybody else, announced it was responding to vastly increased demand by creating 9,000 new jobs in this country and opening up to 300 new outlets. Money might be too tight to mention, but not if you want to fill up on a killer combination of cheap protein, even cheaper carbs and tongue-coating fats. Last month, a new KFC drive-thru took £100,000 in just one week, a record.
The story is repeated across the high street. Subway, whose sandwiches are to gastronomy what Kim Jong-il is to democracy – sweet onion chicken teriyaki sub anyone? – said it would be creating 7,000 jobs and opening 600 new outlets. Sales of Domino’s Pizzas are up 10%. High street pasty seller Greggs is booming. Even McDonald’s, which just a couple of years ago was written off as being in terminal decline, is adding another 4,000 people to its workforce. The economy might be tanking, fancy restaurants might be closing, but in the junk food business it’s trebles all round.
For those trying to get us to eat more healthily, it’s head in hands time. Although let’s be absolutely clear. What we are witnessing is not proof of something new; rather, it’s symptomatic of an age-old and deeply chronic divide in this country between those who give a toss about what they eat and those who, frankly, do not; who see the lectures about what they have for dinner as little more than that, a hectoring irrelevance for lives lived at the bottom of the economic heap.
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The announcement last week that the government is to introduce fiercely enforced targets across public sector catering for things such as pastry bulk in pies, the quantity of salad in sandwiches and general salt levels will be regarded as just so much more paternalistic finger wagging.
Rightly or wrongly, those who are actually paying for the bargain buckets and the sweet onion chicken teriyaki subs believe their lives are bounded by far greater concerns than the nutritional balance of what they are putting in their mouths. Indeed, it goes further. For those helping to bulk out the bank balances of KFC, Subway and the rest, their products are not simply a convenience. They are a reward, a form of cheap comfort, when everything else is a hideous, cramping struggle.