Being crushed beneath the ballet shoe of healthy food

One in nine British caffs have shut down in the past five years, but there is hope for the fry-up in the US, where sales of bacon are soaring, writes Iain Murray

So another thread is to be torn from our island tapestry and discarded on the litter-strewn floor of history where it will lie in the dust alongside imperial weights and measures, red telephone boxes built like bathyspheres in which a tramp could safely urinate, and the mother-in-law joke. According to Euromonitor, the greasy spoon transport caff is doomed.

It claims that more than one in nine traditional British cafés, famed for their “heart attack on a plate” menus, have shut down since 1997, the year that New Labour came to power. “Cafés suffer from an old-fashioned and unhealthy image and, together with a generally low level of innovation and a reputation for a lower quality of service, are witnessing a dwindling customer base,” the report says.

If true, this is a worrying sign of a growing effeteness in the once stoical British character, another example of the enfeebling Diana effect. The twentieth century saw the rise of the English lorry driver – later to adopt the American term “trucker”. A descendant in spirit – and no doubt in some cases in direct lineage – of the archers of Agincourt, the trucker was feared by his enemies, who were legion since they were all other road users. He would bear down on them from behind, horn blaring, lights flashing, until all they could see in their rear view mirrors was a giant radiator grille, bars bared and glinting like steel teeth. The ditches of Old England were full of bent and twisted Morris Minors and Austin Sevens that had dared to defy the truckers on the roads.

And what gave the lorry drivers their strength, their aggression, their iron determination to mow down all in their path? English grub, that’s what. Glistening rashers of bacon, fried eggs, baked beans, sausages, chips, tomatoes and fried bread, all served with thick slices of bread and butter and washed down with tea the colour of teak. With that inside him a man with no neck to speak of and the sort of body that David Attenborough might admire in the wild could take on the world and punch it in the eye.

Can it be possible that this fearsome creature, this ball of fat-fuelled aggression, is to be crushed beneath the ballet shoe of healthy eating? I have no doubt there is a conspiracy at work. Look at the facts. The left-wing think tank Demos has called for a tax on “unhealthy foods”, a clear sign of New Labour’s hostility towards truckers, borne no doubt out of the petrol protests of two years ago.

The EU is at it too. Brussels has warned that British lorry drivers will have to give up their traditional breakfast fry-up if they want to drive on the Continent under EU laws. They will have to attend regular health checks, including cholesterol and blood pressure tests, before being allowed abroad. They will also have to undertake a course giving practical advice about their vehicle, the rules of the road in different countries as well as healthy eating.

A spokesman for the Road Haulage Association said: “Lorry drivers and greasy spoons go hand in hand. I can’t imagine too many cafés selling muesli and salad to truckers who have been on the road all day.” But that of course is the aim of the scheme. To deny a trucker his plateful of bacon and eggs is like cutting Samson’s hair. It instantly unmans him, leaving him prey to bony two-fingered salutes from passing 2CVs driven by muesli-eating new men.

Are we really to see these proud knights of the road before whose giant thundering wheels the world quakes and moves aside, rendered impotent by the diktat of Brussels and New Labour? Do not despair. There is hope. In the US, sales of bacon are soaring. An advertising campaign from the National Pork Board with the slogan “bacon makes it better” has caught the public mood. Restaurants are using almost &£1.5bn of bacon a year, well up from below &£1bn in 1996. Ceci Snyder of the National Pork Board says people are rediscovering the simple joys of a bacon sandwich. “There has been a bit of a backlash against trying to overdo the healthy diet,” she says.

Hallelujah! Let us fervently hope that the good sense of Americans will be repeated here. That from greasy spoon, holes-in-the-wall cafés and tumbledown roadside shacks the length and breadth of the land, the alluring, incomparable aroma of bacon butties smothered with HP sauce will call our men to arms, just as the drumbeat of old summoned the fighting spirit on the fields of victory.

The time is long overdue to drive the health fanatics back into their bleak vegetarian restaurants, back into the shadows and recesses where they hunch over food labels in search of proscribed fats and sugars, back onto the wilder shores of eccentricity. And who better to lead the charge that will set us free of the tyranny of purse-lipped bureaucrats, nannying legislators, and undernourished dieticians than those behemoths of the highways, the truckers?

With men like these – shaven-headed (hairy elsewhere), square-built, thick-limbed, beetle-browed and dogged as hell – their bellies full of fire and pork rashers, we could conquer the world. Failing that, we could irritate an awful lot of people, and that’s almost as good.


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