Monday, September 22, 2008

, ,

The dark side of light

The cavalier attitude the food industry takes with regard to our health never ceases to amaze me.
I went shopping for sugar for the first time ever today - I know, rock 'n' roll baby! Until now my aim has been to eliminate as much of it as possible from my diet, but as I've been getting head-rushes recently I thought I'd try boosting my blood sugar level to see if that might settle the dizzy spells.
I spotted something called 'Silver Spoon Light' on the shelf of my local supermarket and wondered how sugar can be any lighter, unless of course you use less of it; the only ingredient in a bag of sugar after all is sugar.

Well not in this bag of special sugar. 'Light' is cut with the artificial sweeteners Aspartame and Acesulfame-K, E numbers customarily linked to a laundry list of minor to extremely severe health complaints. These and Maltodextrin, probably thrown in as a cheap bulking agent.

I just don't get it; surely if people want to cut the calories and don't care about the health repercussions (or aren't aware of them) they'll buy an artificial sweetener, and if they like sugar, but would rather not sprinkle poison on their Shreddies, they'll buy pure, uncontaminated sugar. Who is going to buy a hybrid of the two on the basis that it's likely to be only half or a third as toxic as the fake gunk?

Interesting that the packet of Silver Spoon's ordinary granulated sugar proudly exclaims that it is "pure and natural", "containing no additives or preservatives", while their 'Light' spin-off more meekly explains that it is "granulated sugar with sweetener", the "with sweetener" part printed in smaller, less prominent text, almost as an afterthought I should add.

The web site helpfully suggests that because "Silver Spoon Light looks and tastes just like regular sugar but has 30% fewer calories per spoonful" you should "put it in your sugar bowl, your family won’t notice the difference".

What, without pausing to mention that you've switched the contents with something that could potentially make them seriously ill? Maybe while you're at it - if you're that way inclined - you could rig the doors in your house with a precariously balanced bucket of boiling hot tar or lay a bear trap in the garden.

The thought is almost as unsavoury as the product.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

, ,

VATman Begins

Doing the tax return at work for the first time led me to begin researching which foodstuffs you can and can't reclaim the VAT on, which in turn led me to this riveting official HM Revenue and Customs document.

Until now I'd assumed the distinction was pretty much luxury items verses staple subsistence, but apparently that would be too straightforward for Her Majesty's esteemed pedants - this tome runs to 24 pages of exceptions, addendums and miscellaneous illogical quibbling!

For instance, biscuits which contain chocolate chips are zero-rated, but if the chocolate forms a partial or complete coating, tax is applicable. Ah, I see. Lots of chocolate = VATable. But wait, cornflake cakes which are drenched in chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate spread and even chocolate body paint are VAT free. Chocolate visibility is key too it seems - if the chocolate is wedged between the biscuit layers and hence out of sight as you'd find in a Bourbon, VAT shouldn't be levied. We should also note that you don't need to pay VAT if the chocolate is on the surface, but the manufacturers stick 'cake' on the packaging as in the case of Jaffa Cakes. These definitely aren't biscuits and anyone who dares to make such an absurd claim will be sued out of existence.

Likewise, if you sell sweetened dried fruit and claim it's for snacking and home baking you don't need to charge VAT on it. However, if you sell an identical product and neglect to mention to your befuddled customers - who would never have made the mental leap otherwise - that you could shove the stuff in a cake, you're obliged to charge VAT.

Speaking of cakes, they're tax-free while biscuits and crisps aren't, which explains why Pringles are no longer crisps... up is now down and black is white.

My favourite though is the case of marshmallow teacakes verses Snowballs. Marshmallow teacakes if they have "a crumb, biscuit or cake base topped with a dome of marshmallow coated in either chocolate, sugar strands or coconut" are zero-rated whereas "Snowballs without such a base are classed as confectionary" and so are sold plus VAT. Next time we order anything resembling the above as part of a client entertaining exercise I must remember to interrupt the meeting, clipboard at the ready donned in a lab coat poised to analyse the constituency of the foundations.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


The Unsackables

There's a common belief here in the UK that if you find yourself working for the council, you've got a cushy job for life. Apparently this is also the case in Japan where a 57 year old employee of the council of Kinokawa was rumbled for whiling away his days surfing pornographic web sites, and survived the expose with a mere slap on the wrists.

Claiming that he accidentally stumbled across the odd adult web site while researching urban floral decoration policy wouldn't really have flown considering he managed to clock up 780,000 visits in 9 months! His 'punishment'? Demotion and an £80 per month dock in his wages.

His "desk was set apart from the others" might explain why no-one spotted him enjoying his work far more than any right-minded office worker should, but shouldn't someone have asked why his to-do list never got any shorter? Did he not have to submit the fruits of his labour (no smutty jokes please) to his superiors, or were they too busy ogling internet porn as well to realise that one of their employees was turning up for work each day but not actually doing anything remotely useful?

The cynics amongst you might conclude that this is nothing new; just another example of our hard-earned taxes being frittered away on the inflated wage packets of council employees who talk the talk, but don't get as far as tying their shoe laces. Some might say that, though I'd never make such a scathing remark.