Monday, 21 February 2011

When the chips are down

Given what’s been going on in the Middle East of late, you can just about be excused if an event taking place somewhat closer to home and of equal seismic significance has, so far, escaped your attention. I am of course talking about National Chip Week, 2011.

Yep, sandwiched between World Day of Social Justice (Feb 20) and International Women’s Day (March 8), like a chip butty served between two pieces of United Nation’s endorsed bread, is our very own National Chip Week. Starting today, National Chip Week will run until Friday and is this year celebrating its 20th anniversary of raising awareness, consumption and sales of the humble chip.

Presumably, righting the wrongs of social and gender inequalities the world over only takes 24 hours; whereas making people aware of the merits of fried potato requires a whole working week. And whilst International Women’s Day and World Day of Social Justice rely on the backing of the lowly United Nations, National Chip Week receives its benefaction from the mysterious and powerful Potato Council! Because whilst all this may appear innocent enough, scratch beneath the golden-brown crispy surface and you’ll find something a bit more sinister going on.

In the boom years, if you can remember that far back, we were all told to eat healthily. In fact you couldn’t walk around Westminster without bumping into some celebrity chef, badgering ministers to serve less deep fried doner kebabs and more sous vide celery in schools. Chips were out in the cold and in their place the Government ruthlessly administered a strict policy of five portions of fruit and vegetables per person. For a time, instead of filling awkward silences with mundane chats about the weather, we’d enquire whether complete strangers were getting their five a day and how. 

But that was then and this is now; and now things are very different. For a start nobody’s got any money anymore, least of all the Government. Well that’s not entirely true; fish and chip shops have actually got more money nowadays. Lauded as a recession-buster, (or batterer, sorry); chip shops are actually doing better than ever and are currently worth £1.2bn a year to the UK economy. That means £1 of every £100 spent on food in this country is spent in a fish and chip shop. That kind of money carries a fair amount of clout. Rumours abound that it was the dark forces of the chip lobby that shipped Jamie Oliver off to America to unleash his unique style of mockney irritation on an entirely unsuspecting public.  
This should not come as much of a surprise. It is a characteristic of Big Business that it exerts its often undesirable influence on governments. Big Coal, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, they’ve all done it in the past and now it seems it’s the turn of Big Potatoes.

Look closely at the policies of the coalition and the influence is clear to see, hidden in plain sight. Take the Big Society, often dismissed as a meaningless phrase used to put a positive spin on the removal of state assistance and subsequent second-coming of Dickensian-esque inequality. But seen in the light of the government’s secret tie up with the bigwigs at the Potato Council, all that talk of salt of the earth types, chipping in to get us out of the frying pan of recession seems to suddenly make a bit of sense. Indeed the only interpretation of the Big Society that actually makes sense is a wholly literal one. Our society will indeed be bigger under the coalition: it’ll be positively obese if they get their way. 

It’s nothing short of brainwashing; neuro-linguistic programming to make us all eat as many chips as possible, but to what ends? To clog up the arteries of the trouble making youth with saturated fats, thus making them easier to kettle in future protests? I wouldn’t like to say…though I wouldn’t mind another kettle chip.

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