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If we're going to ban food on trains, target the smelly stuff

PUBLISHED: 20:17 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 20:17 23 October 2019

It's up to us to decide what food choices we make on public transport, says Andy Newman, not the 'Nanny State'

It's up to us to decide what food choices we make on public transport, says Andy Newman, not the 'Nanny State'

Archant

Food loving Andy Newman says forget banning unhealthy food on buses and trains, stop people eating the stuff that stinks!

I'm not a huge fan of the phrase 'Nanny State'.

In my experience, people who use this tired old cliché are the same types who will talk about 'political correctness gone mad', and spout sentences which start with the words 'I'm not racist, but…' and which finish with a shameful, intolerant diatribe which proves the first part of their pronouncement to be totally false.

However, those who hold responsibility for our public health and wellbeing do sometimes present such green-ink-pen-bearing, bottom-half-of-the-internet-residing reactionaries with an open goal. And the recent idea that snacking should be banned on public transport is one such occasion.

The suggestion came from the outgoing chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who called for the prohibition on eating on all forms of public transport as one measure which she felt would help tackle the UK's growing obesity problem.

She seriously suggested that the only things that bus and train passengers should be able to consume during their journeys were water and breast milk. Which would presumably have a drastic impact on the at-seat trolley service provided on the Norwich to London rail service ('would you like sparkling or still?').

For one thing, that would mean that early-morning commuters would no longer be able to kick-start their days with coffee. And removing coffee from my morning routine would cause my blood pressure to rise far more than the weight gain caused by the odd pain au chocolat I might choose to eat alongside it.

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The idea that it would even be possible to stop people eating or drinking on public transport, let alone desirable, is laughable. And to think that it would at a stroke solve our growing obesity problem is fanciful.

Tinkering measures like this simply don't work; we have to teach people how to eat healthily, and make quality food more affordable, if we are to stand a chance of reversing the trend towards lardiness.

The assumption behind Professor Davies' idea is that everything that is consumed on a bus or train is unhealthy, which is nonsense. That snack might just as well be an apple or a low-sugar muesli bar as a packet of crisps or a bag of chips.

And anyway, if someone is winding down after a stressful day with a gin and tonic and a packet of nuts from the buffet car, who is to say that when they get home they won't be eating a healthy, balanced meal? It's nobody's business but their own. There is a grain of merit in the idea, however, although it's nothing to do with healthy eating. How often have you settled down for your journey only for some selfish oaf to come and sit next to you with their stinking carton of takeaway food, which they then proceed to eat messily and noisily in front of you, while you try to hold your breath and stop yourself gagging?

The truth is, it's not unhealthy eaters who should be banned from public transport, but selfish eaters, who have no concept of the disgust their habits are causing amongst their fellow travellers.

I'm not sure how you do it, but the food which needs to be prohibited isn't the fat-laden or the high-sugar, but the smelly. That takeaway pot of noodles which you can smell three carriages down the train, the miasma from which remains many stops after the culprit has alighted (and they never take their empties with them, do they?).

Whilst I think my proposal is likely to garner rather more support than the one to stop all commuters eating and drinking at all, it's probably still somewhat optimistic. My sympathy lies with the staff on public transport as it is - can you imagine how hard it must be even doing the basics like dealing with fare dodgers and stopping people putting their feet on the seats?

Are we now going to ask train guards and bus drivers to frisk their passengers in order to confiscate contraband KitKats and packets of Wotsits?

So fat kids (and adults) will continue to scoff chocolate bars and crisps on the bus and train. Selfish oafs will continue to inflict the aromas of their menu choices on everybody else. Let's hope the new chief medical officer has some rather more sensible suggestions when it comes to tackling obesity.

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