Stephen Jardine: Fast food can be healthy food too

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
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WE ALL know the worst words that can be written on any school report card are “must try harder”. Trying harder is simply not that easy, so when it happens, it deserves to be applauded.

Last year, I was at the Sustainable Restaurant Awards in London when the organisation’s president Raymond Blanc handed out his sustainability hero award. It went to McDonald’s.

Blanc said the award was based on 15 years of sustainability improvements. And he told the audience he hoped it would encourage the company “to go further still”.

Not everyone present was so enthusiastic. Afterwards one person told me it was “sending out the wrong message”. And there is a section of opinion in the foodie world that sees some brands as being simply beyond the pale. But surely that is missing something.

Earlier this week NHS Scotland delivered their annual Healthy Living Awards at a ceremony at Hampden Park in Glasgow. The scheme rewards commercial caterers who meet strict food standards aimed at improving the health of the nation.

This year 55 Scottish branches of Subway achieved the award. It might not be the first brand that springs to mind when you think of healthy living but the reality is, they are making a difference. The day after the Healthy Living Awards, another major brand put their head above the parapet. On Wednesday pub chain Wetherspoons launched a new morning menu with the aim of cornering the breakfast market in the UK. With the price of a traditional breakfast cut by 40p and coffee reduced to 99p with free refills, it’s a competitively priced offering but surely it’s also based on junk and rubbish. Not at all.

The coffee is Lavazza, the eggs are free range, the sausages contain only British pork and the eggs Benedict come with British Wiltshire ham.

Over and above that, everything on the menu comes with a full calorie count and the brand’s website lists fat and additive levels. In fact the information available would put many supposedly healthy brands to shame.

None of this is perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction.

Brands that in the past might have said “take us or leave us” are now looking at their health credentials and trying to do better.

On that journey it’s important they get the support they require. Demonising brands is easy. Working with them to improve what they do is much more of a challenge yet absolutely essential.

Good food evangelists far too often end up preaching to the well fed converted. To make Scotland a good food nation involves reaching out to all and sundry and working with those who reach back.