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  1. Wealth
April 7, 2020

Why I gave up sausage rolls for Lent

By Clive Aslet

I look forward to my first Impossible Burger, made from a plant-based substance . All the same, I’ll say no to the vegan sausage roll, writes Clive Aslet

My Lenten resolution will be to stop eating sausage rolls. To be fair, I’m going easy on myself. I don’t particularly like sausage rolls, though were I to be offered, around lunchtime, the choice between a sausage roll and an orange, I don’t know that I’d choose the healthy option.

This is one of the problems for people who want to reform our diet and make us leaner, fitter and less likely to be a burden on the NHS: human nature is what it is.

You might even make the sausage roll more expensive, but something inside me might demand the artery-clogging fat. After all, oranges can be rather difficult to peel. These reflections are prompted by Greggs, regarded as a much-loved high street brand in some parts of the country and a bit of a joke in the supercilious South. I heard its CEO, Roger Whiteside, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference in the New Year. Brave move on his part.

The OFC is where top farmers and agronomists meet to consider the future of the countryside. ‘I’ve seen that future and it is Greggs,’ is not a sentence I would have expected to hear.

Actually, Whiteside was, for me, the star turn. We’re all being encouraged to change our behaviour, and not just over food. It turns out that almost everything that we enjoy in the Western way of life is bad, either for us or the planet.

We’re nagged about flying, driving our cars, too much packaging, buying from tax-dodging Amazon, occupying too much space in our homes, having too much stuff – too much of everything. Maximum hair shirt is the prescription. But that sort of garment is easy to shrug off. Recently the government has started to weigh in, wanting to make us better persons through tax. And it can work.

I am always cross at myself for not arriving at the supermarket with at least one bag. I have bags galore at home; I can afford the 10p I am charged for a new one – but it irks me to pay. I have seen the David Attenborough films. I agree with the consensus: I don’t want to see sea creatures suffocated by my discarded shopping reticule.

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So I come home with a mountain of groceries – imagine the carbon footprint, the amount of methane issued by dairy and beef cattle – and yet a smugly self-righteous feeling inside. But the sugar tax – well, I can share with you the inside knowledge that it didn’t sway the habitués of Greggs. Most drinks makers adjusted the quantities of sugar in their drinks to avoid raising the price, which seemed like commercial death; two or three did not, accepting that they would become more expensive. What would you expect to happen?

Obviously, the cheap drinks will have soared, the expensive ones gone to the wall. Wrong. It was the sugary drinks whose sales held up; people like the taste and don’t want a substitute. Sales of the cheaper drinks, made to a changed recipe, bombed. In a way, this is a vindication for consumer choice, a demonstration of the bulldog-like tenacity of the British shopper, determined that nanny doesn’t know best.

Comparisons with Brexit? I’ll let that hang. The point is, you have to go with it if you want people to behave differently. Offer them a vegan sausage roll. Sounds revolting, but Greggs has just done exactly that. People have heard of the vegan cult, craze or informed lifestyle choice, call it what you will. They’re intrigued. They may buy even buy a piece of fruit.

Apparently, you could close down all the fatty food outlets you cared to, and it wouldn’t make healthy ones spring up in their place. Why? They just don’t exist outside London, the South East and the groovier cities.

They don’t want salads in the post-industrial towns; if they did, salads would be as cheap as sausage rolls, because retailers would drive down the price through efficiency. What’s the answer? Innovation. New recipes to make food that’s good for you more delicious.

I look forward to my first Impossible Burger, made from a plant-based substance which, friends tell me, is hard to tell from meat. All the same, I’ll say no to the vegan sausage roll. It’s Lent.

Image: Wikipedia/Leon Brooks

This was originally published in the March/April edition of Spear’s Magazine 

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