First he took our turkey twizzlers, then he took our irn bru, now he’s trying to take our pizza.
TV chef Jamie Oliver recently met with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she announced plans to axe 2 for 1 pizza deals as part of a Scottish Government plan to tackle childhood obesity. Although the intentions are admirable, the plan is not. If people are too poor to afford healthy food, removing cheaper unhealthy alternatives is not going to solve the problem. Raising prices will only push people deeper into poverty.
It only takes a very basic knowledge of economics to see the huge flaws in this plan. Even if it was successful in achieving its aim of preventing people buying unhealthy food, consumers would all make the switch to healthier alternatives, which would lead to a sudden increase in demand for these products. When demand increases, prices are driven up. Regulating cheap unhealthy food not only leaves people unable to afford what used to be a staple of their diet, but would likely also render healthy food just as unaffordable.
But what stands out above all else is Jamie Oliver’s sheer hypocrisy.
The celebrity chef is the owner of a high-end Italian chain selling burgers that contain more than the NHS daily reference intake of fats and saturates, and deserts with more than half the daily recommended sugar intake. Not only that, but his restaurant offers a special deal of £10 off purchases of £30 or more. With a pepperoni pizza priced at £13, if you throw in £4 worth of drinks, your second pizza costs a measly £3. What makes it acceptable for his middle class customers to indulge in these unhealthy foods, while simultaneously making it unacceptable for people on low incomes to have a cheap pizza? If this bizarre proposal was genuinely meant to make a positive impact, leaves so many questions unanswered. Who would it help? Would we see real positive change? If we didn’t, would the ban be lifted? How would corporate loopholes be avoided?
But possibly the most pressing question of all: what is pizza?
To legally ban something, you have to be able to legally define it. So Hypothetically, if the Scottish Government did decide to regulate the pizza market, the first hurdle would be creating an objective and accurate way to define pizza. Unfortunately for them, ‘pizza’ is a loose enough term that it would be incredibly difficult to legislate against, as it has no single defining feature. If it was defined by the bread base, flatbreads would have to be included. If it was defined by the tomato sauce, BBQ pizza and pizzas with cream-based sauces would be excluded. If it was defined by the cheese, one of the most iconic Italian pizzas, Pizza Marinara, would be left out. For every possible solution there is an exception.
Alas, even if a suitable definition was somehow created by sifting through and categorising individual examples, it remains incredibly difficult to avoid exploitable loopholes. A great example of this problem is the sale of juice. Although there are strict regulations of what can and can’t be labelled ‘orange juice’, products that don’t have high enough fruit contents or otherwise don’t comply with regulations are simply labelled “orange flavoured juice drink” and thus avoid any regulation. If anything sold as ‘pizza’ was more strictly regulated, companies could adopt other names such as ‘cheese and tomato topped flatbread’ or ‘pizza flavoured tart’. If selling 2 pizzas for the price of 1 was outlawed, what’s stopping bigger pizzas being sold cheaply to satisfy customers who want more dough for their dough?
Not only is this proposal damaging to the poorest in our society, it is also impractical and badly thought out. There are very few things in life as satisfying as a big hot greasy slice of pizza, so rather than advocating for a ban on the 241 deals we all know and love, I would stand by the age old advice: “all things in moderation”.