Unless you are a troglodyte and have been hiding in your cave for the past couple months you can not have escaped Jamie Oliver and his campaign for a tax on sugar. According to Oliver sugar is okay for an occasional treat and should be reserved for holidays, birthdays and cinema outings. His kids drink fruit water, and a weird kind of granola dust, but are permitted to have sweets at the weekend.
Well, Jamie my lover, I don’t want to burst your bubble or indeed ruin the sales of your new book, but here is my experience of being a sugar deprived child.
When sisterkin were young (way back in the annals of time) there were certain foods that our mum wouldn’t allow. Orange squash was banned (too much tartrazine), no crisps (too much salt), and white flour was outlawed (too processed, another slice of wholemeal birthday cake anyone?)
As a result our family were seen as a bunch of hedgehog munching hippies (this was rural Devon in the eighties remember). The one thing our mum didn’t ban was sugar (although we only ate unrefined brown sugar obvs). Okay, so we weren’t guzzling crates of coca-cola or scoffing whole boxes of Terry’s All Gold but we still enjoyed jelly and jam tarts, like any other leg-warmer wearing child in 1983.
All our pocket money went on gob-stoppers, candy cigarettes and those bubble gums that came with a tattoo. Like Charlie Bucket we enjoyed everything chocolate – even the now extinct, cocoa-free Caramac. The tuck shop at primary school readily served us Milky Ways (hey, it doesn’t fill you between meals, where’s the harm?) and Double Dips. School dinner “afters” were usually chocolate cake and mint custard, semolina and jam or fudge tart. I had a particularly accute sweet-tooth and enjoyed all these things more than anything else or anyone else.
Oh happy, care-free days of childhood, until BAM! A bout of severe ezcema meant that I was diagnosed with a sugar allergy. Can you comprehend what that means to a child who loves sugar so much she even enjoys Fry’s Turkish Delight? It was a blow – no more Walnut Whips, Curly-Wurlies or pink shrimps.
So, the sisterkin household went from enjoying wholemeal sponge decorated with chocolate buttons to a carob fuelled one. Dudes, have you tried carob? It tastes like something but that thing is not chocolate. No where near! I can only describe it as sweetened bovril with the texture of frozen butter.
Imagine those times as a kids when chocolate and sugary snacks are everywhere – Christmas, Easter and birthdays. Put yourself in the shoes of an eight year-old presented with a hideous, inedible carob Easter egg. So it maybe twenty-times the size of everyone elses teeny Cadbury eggs, but really that is just more savoury tasting non-chocolate to consume.
As a result of this sugar exclusion I became a tiny bit obsessed with the stuff. I would swop my healthfood packed-lunch for my friend’s sugar-laden one. Goddamn you itchy skin, I was still determined to eat cupcakes and penny chews. And, of course, because it was forbidden and illicit I wanted it all the more.
At night I would lie awake and scratch my dry crusty arms and dream of Wispas and Flakes. My siblings (who were not included in the ban and showed little solidarity) were not really bothered by the packets of polos and chocolate limes dished out by our grandad. I, on the other hand, would hide behind the sofa and devour the lot, like a skinnier, rash-ier Augustus Gloop.
So Mr Oliver, even though your heart is in the right place, making sugar a treat is teaching children a poor lesson. What they are learning is that sweet food is a reward and will spend the rest of their lives self-comforting with saccharin. Singling it out and making it an enemy only fuels the craving. Of course I’m not saying “Let them eat cake”, but from my experience as a child I believe children should be given everything in moderation. An apple on Tuesday and ice-cream on Wednesday. It’s about balance and not tipping the scale too far in any direction. Children should be encouraged to enjoy food and not be told ‘this is good’ or ‘this is bad’. I’m not going to deny that youngsters are naturally predisposed to love sweet things (how could I!) but to have a healthy relationship with food nothing shold be excluded and everything should be encouraged – perhaps with the exception of carob, no one should be forced to endure that!
by Hannah x