With the sugar tax debate heating up and Jamie Oliver calling for the tax to be extended to milkshakes, it might not be long before that ominous candy-floss cloud comes sailing over our bakery and rains all over our cakes. It also got me thinking of my childhood and my own introduction to the world of refined sugar, and in particular, chocolate. What follows is a precautionary tale of sweet parental revenge bordering on psychological torture, but the nurturing kind.
Being children of health food store owners, my older sister and I were surrounded by wholesome products 24/7. We would hang out in the store room and munch on coltsfoot rock, stem ginger, aniseed balls, carob buttons and halva. Even sneaking a bottle of Purdey’s or Whole Earth Cola when no one was looking. All normal stuff as far as we were concerned.
At school, when I opened my Ed the Duck lunchbox, friends would recoil at the sight of my Mum’s lovingly compiled snack packs. To me, soya roasted pumpkin seeds, a clump of alfalfa sprouts wrapped in cling film and a Satan pie seemed like a reasonably tasty lunch. I mean, for breakfast I’d already gorged on a delicious bowl of floated rice cakes* in unsweetened soya milk, so I was pretty content without any carob to round off the lunch. As I write about my childhood I’m reminded of the scene in About a Boy where he sings for his mum. I wasn’t quite there, but lets just say, it wouldn’t have been a great leap.
Anyway, as you’d imagine, my friends turned me to the dark side with surprising ease. Pretty soon after discovering the delights of mainstream confectionary, it became a regular occurrence for my sister and I to buy a chocolate bar from the local shop on our walk to school. The walk was short but we soon managed to fit in two chocolate bars, then three, and all before 9am. Things were getting out of hand, I don’t remember how long it went on, but three or more chocolate bars a day for anyone over an extended period is going to hit hard at some point, wild highs followed by violent lows. Our parents were confused, they started asking questions, but addicts are adept liars and we deflected their probes with alarming ease. Still they came, pressing us for answers, we held firm. Then one day, when we were deep in the shit, hitting four bars a day, two on the way there and two on the way back, our Mum must have needed to pop into the shop we frequented and the owner commented on what lovely children she had. They got to talking, and then it came out, the owner just figured we’d been buying in bulk to sell on at school or getting the rounds for an extended friendship group. Needless to say, my parents cooked up a cunning plan to teach us a lesson about chocolate, they could have just sat us down, told us why we were ruining our health but no, they had other ideas.
That evening, when we got home from school it was like the ambassadors reception table had metarialised in our kitchen, mountains of chocolate bars, Double Deckers, Wispas, Kit Kats, Twix, Marathons (Snickers), Mars, Kinder Eggs, Lion bars, Picnics, Bounty bars. You name it, they had got it, some still in the wrappers, others chopped daintily into bite sized chunks, presented on rustic chopping boards, slate and even a cake dome. You have to hand it to them, they must have put a lot of work in. They made a sweeping gesture with their arms as if to say, look what we have done for you, here’s a special treat for no particular reason, gorge yourselves and be merry. At this point we were already quite chocolate-d out and my sister being a bit more clued up than me, instantly saw the game was afoot. She sat at the table and gingerly took a bite sized piece, her eyes trained on my parents to gauge a reaction, she took a little nibble then put it back, biding her time, playing the long game. Being a tad more naïve, I got stuck straight in, I didn’t stop to consider the consequences, I just figured that this was a nice gesture for being such good kids. I wasn’t the sharpest tool it’s fair to say, a nice kid, but easily led and especially by my stomach.
Things were going well, I was chatting about my day, scoffing down chocolate and generally enjoying myself when all of a sudden it clicked, I now understood my sisters glaring across the table and my parents strange smile / fascination at what was happening. I’d peaked; I’d hit my chocolate wall. I had to make a stand against this generosity based punishment. I stood up, kicked my chair out, flung a chopping board of chocolate across the kitchen, grabbed another piece and stamped it into the floor. ‘NO MORE!’ I said, ‘why?’ my parents said ‘I thought you loved chocolate?’ - I cracked, tears welled in my eyes, my confession was absolute and my apology heartfelt. We’d learned our lesson, albeit in very different ways. While I came away from it with absolutely no dignity or pride, chocolate and tears smeared around my face, my sister maintained an air of decorum and I guess I learned from that too. It’s fair to say, I could have handled things better.
I recently realised that this event has anchored itself to my memory, like a chocolaty cruise ship floating in the back of my mind. Every time I hit the brown stuff, I see the ship of shame bobbing around and try to rein it in, just a little bit.
I think we can all agree that sugar is fun in moderation and children are easily led astray, so educating their tastes rather than punishing customers and small businesses with a levy is a possible solution. If not, then you may as well start taxing every different food type that is bad for you, like having a fat tax. A bigger issue could be why we’re attracted to these marketing nuggets made of sugar. Luckily Jamie & Hugh are now sinking their teeth into the issue of blubber in the playground.
*Floated Rice cakes were a breakfast delicacy served up by my Mum, basically a homemade version of Rice Krispies, but not crispy, or delicious, just kind of soggy and bland, but most importantly, healthy!