"Remember," my ruminative academic friend Michael asked the other day, "when it was OK to like things?" Stroking his beard, he added, on the money as ever: "Not knowing whether it's OK to like something has become the meddlesomeness of our age."
According to a University of Oxford study the price of bacon and sausages would double if it were to reflect the harm to people’s health of eating them. Credit:Shutterstock
And what a dreary problem it is, too. Half of it concerns whether we're allowed to like people and things that have violated the laws of political correctness – disgraced actors, comedians, writers, statues of white men from the past.
But the other half of this problem stems from a very different kind of culture war: what we are and aren't allowed to put in our gobs. Here it isn't the "woke" to blame, though they can be plenty preachy (see veganism, a joke about which cost William Sitwell his job as editor of Waitrose Food magazine last week, for details). Rather, leading this war is the state, which instead of seeing its success with lowering smoking rates as the virtuous one-off it was, has latched on to the idea that if people enjoy things that aren't good for them they must be stopped from ever enjoying those things again.
This, at any rate, is the implication of a new report on the health costs associated with consumption of processed meat, and its logic perfectly fits the meddling tastes of our age. According to a University of Oxford study the price of bacon and sausages would double if it were to reflect the harm to people's health of eating them. The researchers asserted that a global 20 per cent tax on unprocessed red meat such as steak, and a 110 per cent tax on bacon, sausages and its ilk (there would be a lower tax in poorer nations) would cut annual deaths by 220,000 and raise around $200 billion. I can see it now: the rise of special designated sausage-eating areas where those dedicated enough to pay the massively hiked prices for their porkers will be made to go and consume them. After all, the aromas from second-hand sausage sizzle could be dangerous to others.
I jest, but barely. It's not that I believe processed meats are great for health, but the compulsion to fixate on individual items as demonic killers, and to crusade to save the bacon-eating simpletons of the world from themselves, is just so… silly.
It doesn't take a genius to realise that misery – whether caused by depression, bad education, or an abusive family – is far worse for people, their health and the nation at large than bacon. Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the British Treasury, put it well on Twitter. "What claptrap," she said of the study. "Bacon is an important contributor to my well-being."
Not only do we not want to be prevented from enjoying the things we like, constantly raining on our pleasure parade is actually harmful in itself. Hiking prices and lecturing us endlessly is the best way to create a neurotic populace, shaking with fear that a biscuit will kill them off.
It's not just food, of course. Those who fall short on the state recommendation of exercise (150 minutes of aerobic exertion a week and weights twice a week) are in for an early death and dementia. And last week, the sleep bullies were at it again, their shrill scaremongering guaranteed to make those who struggle to sleep never get a wink again. We were reminded that people who don't get enough sleep die younger from a range of health problems: seven to eight hours a night is essential and apparently there's no such thing as "too much". Then the hideous news that those who prefer sleeping in in the morning have a 40 per cent higher risk of breast cancer than early risers. Lie-ins are now added to the pyre of simple pleasures that will kill us.
A healthy populace would be great. But a happy one would be even better. Outlawing lazy mornings featuring bacon and sausages is not the recipe for creating one.
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