Why I signed Jamie Oliver’s petition

I have signed Jamie Oliver’s petition calling for a tax on sugary drinks. It was simple enough to do, so why does it feel as though I am standing up at an AA meeting to declare that I have sinned?

After all, I have only recently been bemoaning the ridiculous situation we find ourselves in, where sugar turns up in sausages and savoury eggs, in packets of chicken wings and tortilla wraps. Trying to work out whether we are within our daily tolerance of ‘acceptable’ sugar (90g, don’t forget) is tricky, and is made doubly so by the extra complication of trying to identify how much added sugar we are eating (30g max per day is your limit).

And the reasons why we need to care about this are also clear, and something I have again written about recently. Over-consumption of sugar contributes to the number of people in this country being overweight and obese, and that is contributing to an increasing number of people having health problems; in particular, Type 2 diabetes. Sugar is not the only cause, but it is one of the causes.

All of this was reinforced in my mind when I watched Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush last week. On top of the facts and figures that I already knew about, he added some shocking new ones. The number of amputations being carried out every year as a result of diabetes is truly astonishing. If you didn’t watch it, then I recommend searching it out now on All4.

Yet still my hand wavered over the button. The problem is clear; for me, the solution less so. The petition is worded thus:

Introduce a tax on sugary drinks in the UK to improve our children’s health.

Experts believe a tax of just 7p per regular-sized can of soft drink with added sugar could generate £1 billion per year. We believe this crucial revenue should be ring-fenced to support much needed preventative strategies in the NHS and schools around childhood obesity and diet-related disease.

Applying a tax on sugary drinks is a heavy-handed solution to the problem. It cuts to the heart of many a political divide, bringing with it associations of over regulation, of “nanny state”-ism and the thought that someone, somewhere out there is telling us what to do. “They” want to tax our drinks do they?

Won’t taxing sugary drinks penalise those who drink them responsibly? Yes it will. If you have a can of fizzy drink every now and again, then you will have to pay a little more for that can if this petition is successful. Why should you have to pay extra because other people are not as responsible as you?

Well, I would have sympathy for that position, if you were not already paying for them. As the problem grows larger and as more people require treatment, operations, testing kits and all of the other services that are required to care for those with Type 2 diabetes, then the cost to the country – the cost to all of us – only grows larger. We are already subsidising this, and it is not an improving picture. It may not be the solution that I would choose, given a perfect choice, but we are far too far gone down the road for there to be any perfect choices left.

I worry that we are too late to do much for many people already affected by this. I hope I am being pessimistic. But there is hope through education, through ensuring that school children learn how to cook and that they understand the implications of what they eat. The petition also calls on the government to ring-fence the income from this tax to be used to support schools in improving the dietary education that children receive. That is something that I can do nothing but fully support.

There are too many things that I am only just finding out about now, through this year’s Right Thing strand of this blog, and I know how to cook. I had a good culinary education and good examples set for me when I was growing up, yet I still find myself in the dark about so many things to do with our food and drink environment. Ensuring that future generations all have a sound understanding of food and diet seems less like a luxury and more like an essential aim.

That is why I signed the petition.