Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Another chance to examine the modern

Landscape of the Moon's Last Phase, Paul Nash
In between work commitments in Liverpool at the weekend, there was enough time to pop into two of the city’s galleries for an injection of art.

First up was the Walker Gallery, which is currently hosting a small exhibition of early work by David Hockney alongside its permanent collections.

Those collections include some real gems – my own highlights were a vast portrait of Henry VIII from the studio of Hans Holbein, The Viaduct at Arcueil (1898-1900), which is a very early Matisse, and Interior at Paddington (1950-51) by Lucian Freud.

Then there was Landscape of the Moon’s Last Phase (1944) by Paul Nash, which has a really haunting quality, Rembrandt’s Self-portrait as a young man (1629-31) and St John the Evangelist (about 1610-1614) by El Greco.

St John the Evangelist, El Greco
The latter is, I think, the first El Greco I’ve really looked at, and what strikes you so strongly is the modernity of it.

Cézanne’s The Murder (1867-68) was fascinating – like the Matisse, it was an early work and offers you a fresh perspective on the later, more famous paintings.

We’ll skate over the Pre-Raphelites as rapidly as I scooted past them: technically brilliant, but mawkish and overly fond of pictures of dying or dead women.

On the other hand, the gallery has a particularly large collection of modern art – partly because of links with the John Moores art prize.

On the train up north, I’d finished reading Will Gompertz’s What Are You Looking At?, a history of modern art from the 19th century right up to Banksy.

It’s an excellent read – chatty and witty, and making some complex ideas seem really simple.

Interior at Paddington, Lucian Freud
And the Walker offered the opportunity to look at some modern works against the background of what I’d learned from that book.

A fair amount of modern art is, in essence, patterns, geometric or otherwise. Generally, I find these quite easy to view – what was interesting was later noting the piece on the wall in my hotel room: simple stripes, but pleasing and soothing sea greens, with just two pencil thin stripes of a gentle pink.

In using stripes, it reminded me of a Bridget Riley I’d seen in the Walker, which used apparently simple stripes to convey something quite different – in that case, a sense of optical illusion.

Gompertz says, 'no, modern art is not art that your five-year-old could do. And that is a pretty good illustration of just why.

Some of the exhibits still left me rather cold and/or bemused – a collection of step ladders from Yoko Ono is just one example.

But there are other works that I liked very much.

Mirage, Michael Raedecker
Mirage by Michael Raedecker, for instance, won the John Moores in 1999. Raedecker incorporates different materials in his works, such as thread where you might otherwise expect paint.

This is a piece that draws you into to a fascinating landscape that seems to hark back slightly to Dalí, but without the figures.

Emin's Bed, The Little Artists
I really liked Automobilia (1972-73) by Peter Phillips, which is a collage of super-real details of various classic cars – and I have long been a sucker for the gloss and superb technique of super realism.

And then there was the Lego version of Emin’s Bed by The Little Artists, John Cake and Darren Neave, which isn’t simply amusing, but begs questions about just what constitutes art.

The Hockney exhibition was interesting – a series of etchings provide a fascinating insight not only into the artist’s early work, but also into a world before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Automobilia, Peter Phillips
And it’s also interesting to see early examples of Hockney’s famous swimming pool paintings, including Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool from 1966, which won the John Moores competition the following year.

The following day, after work, I had a small window of opportunity in which to nip into the Tate Liverpool to see the Art Looking Left exhibition.

Given time and a certain tiredness, it was very much a dive around, but if nothing else, I was determined to see David’s The Death of Marat (although it’s one of the copies he had his studio staff make).

Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool, David Hockney
It’s not an exhibition to run around, but demands the time to read some extensive exhibit notes and even do a spot of participation. It does, however, seem to be dominated by block-printed posters and there are only so many I can take.

On the other hand, there’s some Rodchenko’s Constructivist works and some Bauhaus exhibits, which were all worth seeing.

After that, I toddled off back to the hotel to slump.

But these had been two interesting gallery visits – albeit brief.

I would note that, if you're in Liverpool, the Walker Gallery is well wroth a visit – there's something for everyone.

And in combination with Gompertz’s excellent book – and I really recommend it, especially with Christmas on the horizon (but even without) – these two visits had offered a chance to improve my understanding of modern and contemporary art.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Put some squeak in your bubble

Bubble & squeak balls, with sausages & mustard. Yummy
Bubble and squeak may not be a dish of great visual beauty, but by gum, it’s a treat for the taste buds.

And it should, by rights, be an absolute doddle to make.

After all, what could possibly be difficult about some leftover spuds, some leftover veg and a pan with some melted fat?

Well, that’s the stage at which mine gets problematic – the bit where, after heating the fat, you squish the squeak into the pan.

Okay – that’s not the problem: the problem is turning it over or out. It won’t. It simply collapses. I don’t know why – I have followed the recipe in my Two Fat Ladies cookbook to the letter, but it never turns out properly.

Now I have no idea whether this is a universal culinary enigma, but I have found a solution – and it’s every bit as tasty as any other.

But before we get to that, let’s discuss a related issue: sprouts.

What is it with the British? We eat loads of these delicate, gem-green cabbages – not least at Christmas – yet so many people detest them.

Is it a condition of national masochism? ‘Oh, I don’t like them but you have to have them at Christmas.’ Why – not least at that time of year – would you eat something that you don’t like?

That aside, they may get a bad rap for causing flatulence, but that doesn’t seem to have put huge swathes of the population off beans.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing, where early memories are of so many vegetables boiled to a grey pulp that lacked in texture or taste?

Indeed, it’s worth noting that peculiarly British obsession with cooking vegetables ‘al dente’ – or as it often means on these shores, barely bloody cooked at all.

On the latest series of Masterchef: The Professionals, Michel and Monica have already faced undercooked vegetables at least once – and presumably they have a clue what they’re on about.

But maybe it’s a reaction to that overcooked cabbage.

Personally, I’ve long loved sprouts, but in the last couple of years I’ve found a cooking method that seems to make such a radical difference that The Other Half enjoys them more now too.

So, thanks to Joël Robuchon – another French gastronomic giant who can be assumed to know what he’s on about – here’s a wonderful method.

Take your sprouts, trim the stalk and remove the outer leaves. You don’t need to make an incision at the top though; it makes no difference.

For four people, as an accompaniment, use 400g sprouts and put a litre of water on to boil with a teaspoon of course salt.

Pop them in a bowl of cold water with some malt vinegar – two tablespoons to the litre – and leave for two minutes.

Rinse and drain.

Once your water has reached a boil, pop them in and cook briskly for a minute.

Remove into a prepared bowl of iced water, leave for a minute and then drain.

Bring another litre of water to the boil with the same amount of salt and, when that’s just bubbling, pop in the sprouts.

Simmer for 20 minutes – but don’t let the water bubble vigorously this time: gently does it.

Fill another bowl with iced water and pop the cooked sprouts straight in that, drain and then lie out on paper towels or a clean cloth.

When you’re nearing serving your meal, melt around 15g of butter in a pan, add the sprouts, turn the heat to low, add two pinches of salt and one of pepper, and cook, turning gently, for five minutes.

Now you’re probably going to roll your eyes and say: ‘what a fuss’. But one of the advantages of this rather cheffy way of doing them is that you can prepare them well in advance and then just finish them off quickly – which is particularly perfect if you’re a sprouts-on-Christmas-Day kind of person and are juggling loads of thing in the kitchen for the year’s biggest meal.

It goes without saying that, on that occasion, you can also add some diced bacon or some chestnuts to the final cooking in order to ratchet up the festive taste.

But back to good old bubble and squeak, when all of this will already have been done and the vegetables are sitting rather mournfully in a dish feeling not simply left over, but forgotten (it’s worth making extra in the first place just so you have enough for such a ‘left-over’ dish).

Take your sprouts and your spuds and mash them together, with a little extra seasoning if needed.

Heat a generous amount of lard in a frying pan. Yes – lard. This is no time to think about anything as dreadful as marg or even oil, which wouldn’t give you those wonderful crispy bits. And butter can burn too easily. Lard it must be. Or dripping, obviously, and if you have a surfeit and feel posh, then you could probably get away with duck fat.

So heat whatever lovely fat you choose.

And in the meantime, roll your mashed mixture into balls – around the size of a large plum: make them as smooth and as compact as you can. If the mixture is a little dry, add some melted butter, and you may wish to add further seasoning – plenty of pepper anyway.

If you have time, pop them in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up a little.

Then roll them in plain flour and into the hot fat they go. Don’t roll them around too much or too quickly – you want those crispy bits, after all.

Okay, they’ll still leave a little behind in the pan, but nowhere near as much.

And if that doesn’t really make your bubble squeak, then nothing will.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The offal truth

Lambs' kidneys, cored
With winter coming on, warm, comforting food is a must, and with everyone watching the pennies, anything that helps to keep the bills down is also a bonus.

In which case, it’s well worth considering – or reconsidering – offal.

Cheap, tasty and healthy – what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, offal is one of those things that’s got a bad rap in the last couple of decades or so.

People shrink from the idea of organ meat or don’t know what to do with it.

Well, it’s not that difficult – and it’s not all the stringy liver you might remember from school.

Kidney has a lovely, firm, velvet texture and is wonderful for enriching gravies and sauces. It’s also quite easy to serve dishes whereby you can give the kidney lovers some, bit not anyone who doesn’t like it.

That’s how we do it at Voluptuous Villa, where The Other Half won’t eat offal (unless it’s in haggis), but appreciates the richness that it can add.

And it should go without saying that, in terms of a sustainable philosophy toward farming and eating meat, this is an essential part of the nose-to-tail approach.

So just in time for the weekend, here are a couple of dishes that use kidneys and are prefect for the darkening, cooling days.

First, a couple of notes:

Generally – and particularly if you’re not used to kidney – I’d suggest using lamb’s kidneys, as they’re milder. But it’s up to you.

You’ll possibly need to source them from a proper butcher – supermarkets cannot be relied on to supply them. Some will, some of the time. But in general, they want to sell you prime cuts – not cheap ones.

Now, how it’s done.

You’ll rarely get kidneys covered in fat, but if you do, just peel it off carefully – if you have the time or inclination, you can render that. Waste not and so forth.

Check that the fine membrane covering the kidney is gone – it’s easy to peel off if not.

Then cut the kidney lengthways through the centre – see the picture – with the hole at the top.

From here – providing you’ve got a decent pair of sharp kitchen scissors – it’s plain sailing. With the scissor blades at an angle, gently snip out the ‘core’.

And that’s all there is to it.

Now, the recipes.


Take some lamb’s kidneys and some straightforward pork sausages. I do this for two, with four sausages for The Other Half and two for me, plus four kidneys for me.

Gently melt some butter in a large sauté pan and brown both meats. You don’t want to burn the butter, but don’t worry about the juices coming out of the kidneys. They’re precious.

When the meats are browned, remove to a plate.

If there’s not much butter left, you may need to add some.

Then you want to add some baby onions (peeled) and brown them too.

When they’re brown, add some button mushrooms or, if you can’t get button ones, just halve or quarter some white mushrooms.

Continue the gentle cooking with these.

In the meantime, spoon about a dessertspoon of plain flour into a jug and whisk it into approximately the same amount of sherry.

This is the sort of moment that cheap, sweet sherry was made for.

Add a really generous squeeze of tomato purée and then some stock – beef is probably best, but don’t panic if you only have chicken or vegetable available.

When the vegetables have browned – the butter needs to still be unburnt – pour in the flour-purée-sherry-stock mixture and deglaze.

It will thicken quickly. If it thickens too much, add a little boiling water, but you do not want it watery.

Now season – black pepper only.

At this point, it’s worth tasting, simply to illustrate how bland and boring it is. What’s going to happen is pure culinary alchemy alchemy. The kidney changes everything.

Pop the meats back in – and every last drop of liquid that’s on the plate they’ve been resting on – make sure it’s bubbling, lid and turn down the heat to a gentle simmer.

Now, leave for a good 50 minutes.

After that, smell and then taste. What a difference! Rich and velvety now. You may need to add a pinch of salt – this is the moment.

And when you’ve done that, pop a pan of rice on to boil – it’s the perfect compliment to mop up every last bit of the juices.

Lancashire hot pot

Veg ready for the pot
I’ve been told off including kidneys in this elsewhere, but there are probably as many versions of this classic as there are people who ever cooked it – and while historically it sometimes contained oysters, mine includes kidneys.

Like the turbigo, they add a great deal of richness to a dish that could otherwise be quite bland.

Pre-heat your oven to 160˚C (150˚C for a fan oven).

I tend to use three almost boneless ‘chops’ for two of us, trimming most of the back fat off, but you can also use some neck of lamb (another cheap cut) if you have a friendly butcher who’ll bone it for you.

Take a couple of medium onions, peel and slice. Peel and thickly slice a large carrot.

Melt some lard in a casserole and brown the meats. Remove to a plate.

Add the onion and carrot and soften for a few minutes.

Pop in a bouquet garni (made or the ‘tea bag’ variety), plus the meats and a little seasoning, and gently mix everything together.

Add a small amount of chicken stock – it only needs to come up about a third of the contents.

Peel and thinly slice enough potatoes to cover the dish. Season and dot with butter.

Put in the oven and leave for two hours. Take the lid off and pop it back into the oven for a further 20 minutes or until the potatoes have browned and crisped up.

Serve – with pickled red cabbage, if you want to be really traditional.

The smell as it cooks is divine. The contrasts in textures and the combination of flavours is wonderful. And as with the turbigo, the kidney turns what would otherwise be a fairly generic and light jus to something a lot more special.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Art in the banksy?

Bansky rat, Hoxton; sadly now gone
Banksy was on the charge in New York last month, with the aim of creating a new art work every day – although it didn’t start well, with the first one painted over within 24 hours.

But it provoked the usual sort of outbursts from some on news websites, calling for that city’s “finest” to arrest and deport Banksy (if they could find him) and then have him scrub any of his works off walls in the UK.

Goodness: how tedious some people can be.

You might not like street art, but it’s not the same as daubing ‘I woz ere’ on the local bus shelter. And neither are we talking about people stenciling something on the outside of St Paul’s.

In some areas, it brightens up rather drab and tatty surroundings. And it has the added economic advantage of being an increasing draw for visitors who want both to look and photograph.

Not that the objectors are just daft individuals trying to out conservative each other on a website.

ROA rabbit, Hackney Road
Two years ago, Hackney council decided that it would tell the owners of a building on Hackney Road to get rid of a piece of artwork from the side.

This was a rabbit by Belgian street artist ROA, who creates almost Düreresque pieces, and it was done with permission. He’s done a rat further down what is, in essence, a not very picturesque street, so such works help to give the area a welcome lift.

I actually emailed the council telling them to sort their priorities out – I like to think that that effort was influential, because the rabbit is still there, lighting up a street that is otherwise pretty dire on the eye.

In an interesting contrast to this particularly democratic art form, I’ve noticed in the last day or so that my Facebook timeline now getting spammed by Saatchi, which wants me to “invest in art”.

It amounts to them having decided what artists to promote, telling you that there’s a chance that these artists’ work might sell for lots of cash sometime in the future and wouldn’t that be a good investment?

Peeblitz; Blair – war criminal. Now painted over
It’s possibly a fairly good career move for the artists concerned, but it’s also difficult to budge the feeling that the prime motive of Saatchi isn’t one of promoting good art or actually convincing people to enjoy art more.

This is far more about Saatchi making money.

Of course, in the past, artists were at the mercy of patrons.

The 19th can 20th centuries saw the growth in importance of galleries and agents, and also of individual collectors who wielded influence – for instance, Leo and Gertrude Stein in Paris in the early 20th century.

But if we then return to street art, we can see that people can enjoy it and share it (it’s easy enough to buy Banksy prints for instance, or to print up your own photos), without some vast outlay.

Art sometimes seems to suffer from an idea of stuffiness and, of course, cost.

It’s worth noting that many of the UK’s major galleries are generally free, except for specific and temporary exhibitions.

This applies at such national institutions as the National Gallery and the Tate Modern, both in London, but also at plenty of regional galleries too.

But appreciating street art is not incompatible with admiring Rembrandt or van Gogh – and it could be argued that, as fine art has appeared to become more abstracted and, therefore, more difficult to read, the likes of Bansky fill a vacuum of artistic expression in a modern way.

Christ; crown of thorns. Brighton beach, artist unknown
Banksy isn’t alone in using street art to make political points – and street art as a whole hardly invented political and satirical art: think Hoggarth for starters (several of his works are on display in the National Gallery), but that probably upsets some of the naysayers, since the politics generally displayed in street art are hardly conservative or pastoral in nature – see the picture of Peeblitz’s Tony Blair stencil, taken on Hackney Road in 2007 and sadly painted over fairly soon after.

Although there are moments when those who are conservative about street art in general change their tune if it suits them.

My parents, for instance, thought that the Peeblitz/Blair piece was wonderful – and there was a companion piece featuring his fellow war-monger, George W Bush.

The inventiveness and quality of some street art is excellent. And to pretend otherwise is frankly churlish.

Mind, the entire New York outing included a stall set up in Central park selling original Bansky canvases for under £40.

Now that, Saatchis, is an investment. And so too are my Barry Blends – except that I have bought them for no other reason than pleasure and to lift my life on a daily basis.

And I would suggest that Banksy has far more in common, in terms of a philosophy of art as for everyone, with the likes of Matisse, who very much believed in art being for everyone, than do the Saatchis.

And that, my friends, is art.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Farewell Steve Prescott – a real hero

When anyone dies at 39, the first thought is that it so young; far too young.

But for Steve Prescott, who passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning, it was almost a miracle of longevity.

Steve had played Rugby League as a fullback for St Helens, Hull FC and Wakefield, winning trophies at Saints, playing for Lancashire in the Origin games, and England, Ireland and GB at international level.

I didn’t personally get to meet him, but I saw him play – not least in that momentous 1996 Challenge Cup Final victory against Bradford, when he scored two tries for Saints, and I have a very fond memory of standing behind the sticks at the old, undeveloped Stoop, on a freezing night, as he bantered with the crowd while the action was at the other end of the field.

But his career was ended by injury in 2004, after a broken knee cap the year before.

As if that were not enough of a blow, in September 2006, he was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer and given just weeks to live.

But instead of feeling sorry for himself or hiding away, he took on a series of challenges to raise money and awareness – challenges that would have tested the healthiest person, never mind someone facing what he was.

He set up a foundation, which has raised more than half a million pounds so far, and personally ran marathons and walked many more miles, up and down hill and dale.

In April 2012, along with former GB captain Paul Sculthorpe, he ran the Paris Marathon – and then cycled from the French capital to the coast, rowed the English Channel in atrocious conditions and then ran the London Marathon a day later, finishing in four hours and 23 minutes.

In doing so, Steve inspired many others to get involved as well as to donate.

And in 2010, he was made an MBE for services to the sport he loved and to charity.

When he passed away on Saturday, he hadn’t so much ‘succumbed’ to cancer, as spent seven years giving it a bloody nose.

He was able to see his two daughters grow, and left them a remarkable legacy.

And his fight will outlast his physical body – from the medical knowledge gained from his own fight, to the benefits for medical care and science that his fundraising achieved.

With that in mind, it was entirely apt on Saturday that the crowds at both the England v Fiji and the Ireland v Australia World Cup games applauded.

Words like ‘heroic’ and ‘legend’ are overused, but not in this case.

We should, then, celebrate the quite extraordinary achievements of Steve Prescott, and take inspiration from his attitude toward life – and death.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Marketing at its brightest – the charity edition

It's charidee!
I have a brand new idea for a really ace marketing campaign. How about: ‘buy our product – or the poor black child in Africa gets it’?

You like it? No?

Well it’s already happening, in essence, because it’s the subliminal message that could be taken from a number of advertising campaigns by a number of companies, which attempt to persuade you to buy their products by promising to make a small donation to charity for every unit sold.

At present in the UK, we have Kelloggs promoting itself by promising that if you promote the company, they’ll ensure that a child somewhere in the UK will get a breakfast.

@KelloggsUK has been tweeting: “RT to #GiveAChildABreakfast. Breakfast clubs are fun and help kids get their breakfast so they can focus in class”.

Now to be fair, I tweeted back at them, rather snidely suggesting that that breakfast would be sugar-laden and salt-packed breakfast cereals. They responded, saying that they give money to school breakfast clubs, with no conditions on how it is spent.

However, the core issue remains: it’s an act of marketing disguised as charity.

Only this lunchtime in a corner shop, I noticed boxes of Whiskas cat food proclaiming that if you buy those, it’ll help to “protect the tiger”.

Pampers Nappies seem to regularly advertise by saying that if you buy their nappies they’ll donate something or other – for instance, one tetanus jab to UNICEF for each packet front returned to them.

And right now, Innocent Drinks is selling bottles of their smoothies with miniature hats on top that have been knitted and sent in by members of the public, and from the sales of which the company will donate to Age UK to keep old people from freezing to death this winter.

You can see below the Twitter conversation I had with them about this yesterday.

This is a company, remember, that is 90% owned by Coca-Cola, which itself hardly has a sparkling record, facing longstanding criticisms on a range of issues from its environmental record to the abduction and murder of trade unionists at its bottling plants in Guatemala and Colombia.

So what happens if you don’t buy the product that promises to make a donation?

Remember the social media meme: ‘If God sees you masturbating, a kitten will die’? That’s a joke about blackmail.

These are rather less jokey.

What it certainly does is to philosophically change the nature of charity.

If charitable giving is about increasing sales/profits or being able to get a tax break, it alters the essential nature of the act.

If you doubt me on the tax-break point, ask yourself how you'd feel if you discovered that someone had claimed tax back on the cost of a poppy for this season of remembrance.

And if that is not the exploitation of those in need for the sake of profit, then what is it?

If nothing else, there’s a corporate cynicism here that is not in keeping with what one would hope charity would mean.

It’s even got a name – ‘cause marketing’, and in the US at least, there’s a web page from the New York State Office of the Attorney General about it, advising both companies and customers on the issue.

According to WikipediaCause-related marketing is a powerful marketing tool that business and nonprofit organizations are increasingly leveraging. According to the Cone Millennial Cause Study in 2006, 89% of Americans (aged 13 to 25) would switch from one brand to another brand of a comparable product (and price) if the latter brand was associated with good cause ... Earlier studies by Cone indicate an upward trend in the number of Americans who associate their own buying habits with cause marketing as well as an expectation that those companies to be good corporate citizens.

So it works to increase sales.

It works in a different way too.

The American Heart Foundation gives out a stamp of approval via its food certification programme, which permits the use of its ‘heart check’ logo on products that meet its low-fat, low-cholesterol standards, such as Cheerios, the breakfast cereal.

We have something similar in the UK, where the British Heart Foundation has links with Flora, a brand that is owned by Unilever, which is also involved in the UK government’s public health policy-making process.

Innocent Drinks get antsy
But let’s hop back to those Cheerios for a moment. Ingredients – “Whole Cereal Grains (77.8%) (Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Barley, Whole Grain Rice, Whole Grain Maize), Sugar, Partially Inverted Brown Sugar Syrup, Wheat Starch, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Colours: Carotene, Annatto And Caramel, Antioxidant: Tocopherols, Vitamins And Minerals: Vitamin C, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (B2), Thiamin (B1), Folic Acid (Folacin), Vitamin B12, Calcium Carbonate And Iron, To produce 100g Of This Product 77.8g Of Whole Grain Was Included In This Recipe”.

Yay! Low fat! Yay! Actually, 3.2g of fat per 45g serving, of which 1.5g saturates. However, the same serving also includes 28.7g of carbohydrate, 12.4g of which sugars.

Now take a look at Flora Original Spread (they’ve stopped calling it margarine after that became box office poison), which is part of a brand that is sometimes marketed as linked to the British Heart Foundation.

Ingredients: “Vegetable Oils (Seed Oils 85%), Water, Salt (1.4%), Buttermilk, Emulsifier: Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids, Preservative: Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, Flavouring, Colour: Beta-Carotene, Folic Acid, Vitamins A, D and B12.”

Now, what do you think the ingredients list looks like on a pack of unsalted butter?

You won’t easily find any such list – because there’s only one ingredient in unsalted butter, and that’s cream.

Then ask yourself why butter doesn’t need added “flavouring” and why Flora Original ‘Spread’ does. And why it needs colour added too. Could it be because you wouldn’t want to spread it on anything if these things were not added? And if it would taste dire of or nothing, and if it looked awful without added colour, why would anyone think it a ‘natural’ and healthy food to consume and why would anyone buy and consume – it?

Of course, conventional advice is that fat is bad for you – so buy those foods that call themselves low-fat, even if they’re stuffed with sugars to compensate for the lack of taste and ‘mouth feel’ that occurs when fat is stripped out.

This orthodoxy is, however, being challenged.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London, recently made the headlines after penning a shocking (to many) article in the British Medical Journal, which said, briefly, that saturated fat is not the problem – and may actually be good for your health. And that the real problems are caused by sugars.
To emphasise: that’s a non-technical summary, so please do read the original article, which you can access here.
Dr Malhotra is not the first to point this out, but he has enough of a profile to ensure that the story was picked up widely.
The British Heart Foundation continues to reject such conclusions, but its relationship with Flora/Unilever means that, at best, it has a conflict of interest. The same is the case in the States with the American Heart Foundation.

And this is at a time when there is an increasingly loud voice saying that sugars – many of them hidden – are the major dietary health problem in the West, and that this is what needs to be tackled.

As has been said by others, the attitude of Big Food to this is reminiscent of the behavior of tobacco companies – and its difficult to see cause marketing as not being an entirely deliberate and calculated tactic in creating an image of corporate responsibility and moral behavior that enables to multinational companies to continue behaving just as they please, while customers, trying to do the right thing, make choices based on that cynical marketing.

As Jim Royle might so eloquently put it:  ‘Charity my arse’ .

• You can follow @DrAseemMalhotra on Twitter for more information on diet.