Brian Monteith: Research is making a meal of glorious food

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Sometimes I wonder how I’m still alive. How on earth have I managed to reach the relatively young age of 53 when I drink alcohol at weekends, smoke the occasional cigar and have eaten fatty, salty and starchy foods all of my life?

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered how lucky I must be and I’m sure it won’t be the last, for every time another highly dubious piece of research is published claiming our children are doomed if they don’t stop eating burgers, crisps or chips, the thought crosses my mind again – how did I survive my childhood?

Let me take you back to the 60s, when lead was still in paint, you thought nothing of playing football in the streets, climbing trees or cycling without a helmet. In those formative years I lived next to St Margaret’s locomotive sheds belching out soot so my mother’s washing was regularly ruined. Across the road was Old Meadowbank Stadium where the terrific noise of the Edinburgh Monarchs used to permeate the Saturday evening sky. I’ll never forget the smell of the pungent fumes of the bikes – God knows what the soot, smoke and exhaust did to my lungs?

My dad brought home bags of broken biscuits from his work that I would devour sitting in front of the telly watching Blue Peter, Robinson Crusoe and Robin Hood. I would nibble the chocolate top off a Jaffa cake, then the orange jelly, before dunking the sponge in a mug of full-fat milk. The same for the custard creams, while shortbread I just devoured, it was so buttery and delicious.

I gorged on biscuits for most of my childhood and yet I always had a big appetite, regularly having a jam sandwich after my tea of mum’s fish and chips or mince and tatties – and before going to bed might have a paste spread over some toast, or even better, cheese on toast. Mmmmm!

I usually had school dinners and ate everything and would clean my plate – except for once when I didn’t like beef olives. At playtime I would often have a stick of rhubarb that I would munch on, dipping it in a poke of granulated sugar – or a bag of raisins, again with sugar. I drank the free full-fat milk – and would have another carton if there was any going spare.

Walking home from school on a Wednesday I’d visit Storrie’s the bakers and buy a bag of old buns for thruppence; mostly rock solid Paris Buns, sometimes there was a cream or coconut bun – but they all were eaten. There was Danny’s the Italian ice cream shop where I bought sweets, sliders, cones and bottles of Red Kola or American Cream Soda to make an ice cream shake with.

When I went to secondary school the dinners were even better and included roast potatoes – I was proud to hold the record for eating 24 at one sitting. When I became a prefect I would often have two lunches, paying for the first and getting the second free for doing dinner duty to let the teachers go and have a fag.

I ate crisps, nuts and sweets at playtime and we ran a tuck shop where the proceeds from the Mars bars and Polo mints bought billiard tables we could use at lunchtimes.

Although I always ate my veg it was fairly plain; cabbage, carrots and peas, but fruit was not so common – an apple, orange and an occasional banana. Most fruit came in tins and was smothered in sugary syrup. There was no fresh orange; that was given to people on prescription if they needed more vitamin C, instead we drank sweetened diluting orange, one of which was withdrawn for having nasty additives.

Now reading this litany of stodgy, fatty and sugary foods you might think I was a regular Billy Bunter – but I wasn’t – I was a normal size during my tender years as I was rarely in the house but up the park playing football, sliding down hills in cardboard boxes or playing dead man’s fall.

So, when I compare my life to that of my own kids and the kids I know and I see all the healthy food they eat I wonder how come I am still alive – if they are meant to be facing the threat of obesity, type 2 diabetes and resulting chronic disease.

Two things strike me – firstly a lot of the research is sensationalist junk designed to make a headline and draw attention to a charity on the make – secondly the moment I put weight on was when I sat down at a computer and got behind the wheel of a car.

I just don’t accept kids eating snacks is the problem, I believe the lack of exercise from not walking to school, not playing competitive sports and not playing with other kids in the streets is at the root of it – it all mounts up.

Parents should restrict computer games and ban telly from the bedroom – but ban snacks and treats? That’s part of the fun of growing up.