Christopher Snowdon

The problem with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s war on obesity

  • From Spectator Life
Image: Getty

With his little round spectacles and earnest expression, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is the Penfold to Jamie Oliver’s Dangermouse. Both men have been largely forced out of the restaurant business due to public indifference and now spend their time writing endless cook books and lobbying the government for tougher laws on food that is deemed high in salt, sugar and fat.

This is a dangerous game for chefs to play since they use a great deal of salt, sugar and fat at work, but Oliver’s been getting away with it for the last twenty years and neither he nor Fearnley-Whittingstall do much cheffing these days in any case. Jamie’s restaurant empire has been reduced to a few pizza and burger joints in Gatwick Airport and Fearnley-Whittingstall has closed his restaurants in Plymouth and Winchester, leaving him with just the River Cottage Canteen in Axminister.

As neither man has much food to advertise, they won’t be much affected by a government proposal – which they lobbied for – to ban all online advertising for HFSS food (high in fat, sugar or salt). They call this ‘junk food’, but you probably wouldn’t. It includes a vast range of everyday food products such as you would find in your local bakery or farmer’s market as well as the kind of treats that Jamie Oliver used to happily advertise for Sainsbury’s.

Fearnley-Whittingstall sees authoritarian measures carried out during a crisis and spots an opportunity

Fearnley-Whittingstall wants adverts for these products banned before 9pm on television and banned altogether online. Boris Johnson, in his post-Covid panic, initially expressed interest in this idea, but the government has since looked at the detail and decided that banning wedding cakes advertisements on Facebook might be a bit excessive. Penfold sees victory slipping from his fingers and he has hit back. In an interview

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