Norwich train passenger told to take crisps or pay more

A Norwich train passenger who was trying to eat healthily was told to take crisps or pay more.

It is often said that it's harder to be healthy.

Supermarket shelves are lined with junk food and an abundance of fast food chains mean there is temptation around every corner.

But for one Norwich man it went a step further when he was forced to take a packet of crisps or pay more for his meal.

Chris Lees, who is one of thousands trying to lead a healthier lifestyle this year, was on his way from Norwich to London by train when he went to buy food.


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He wanted to buy a cup of tea and a sandwich, but worked out it would be 25 pence less if he bought a meal deal with a packet of crisps.

When he asked if he could have the meal deal price without the crisps, he was told he would have to take the salty snack or pay more.

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The 42-year-old, from Avenue Road, described the policy as 'bizarre' and said there was very little choice of healthy food in National Express East Anglia restaurant car.

The businessman tried to pass on the crisps to others in the carriage, but no-one wanted them.

'There was nothing healthy on their entire selection apart from that bag of Snack a Jacks', he said. 'That wasn't part of the deal.'

'I trudged back to my seat with my sandwich, my cup of tea and my bag of crisps. I couldn't give them away on my return journey, everyone is either on a diet themselves or they would think I am mental and have poisoned the contents.'

He even asked if he could swap the crisps for a packet of Snack a Jacks as a more healthy option, but was told he could not.

NEXA said they would investigate Mr Lees' comments further but that special offers were retailed as such.

A spokesman said they would be exploring the options further to provide greater flexibility of combinations offered to customers.

Sue Fairweather-Tait, professor of nutrition at the University of East Anglia, said the National Express East Anglia were not the only organisation who had such deals.

'There is a case that they have to sell what people want to eat. It is about changing people's purchasing habits. They are not going to put on deals for things people don't want to buy.

'Wouldn't it be nice if they offered crisps or an apple. It is a shame they have to take the crisps.'

She added: 'There is a move in many places in the UK to make it healthier. I think people are catching on.'

She said that the confectionary industry were looking to make their portion sizes smaller.

'Not that long ago all the buy one get one free offers were on things like pizza. They are really trying hard to make people buy healthier and you can now get deals on things like vegetables.'

Mr Lees, who moved to Norwich two years ago, said he was trying to do more exercise and cut down on his carbohydrate intake.

'I am just trying to make a healthy reduction to around the equivalent of one small potato a day', he said.

'I have also cut out all the snacks and, now that I have cut them out, I realise just what a snack monster I was, particularly the salty variety. I have a real weakness for things like crisps, Bombay Mix, preserved meats.'

A National Express East Anglia spokesperson said: 'We offer a variety of meal deal special offers from the buffet which are popular with our customers and these are regularly reviewed to ensure we are providing choice and continued good value.

'We are always grateful for comments concerning ways in which we can improve the combination and choice of these offers.'

In Chris Lees' words

Seriously - what chance have you got of losing weight?

I am a 42-year-old married father of two running my own small business. I have limited ambition. I do not want to be rich, rather, I would like to be comfortable and keep my head below the parapet enjoying watching my children grow.

I moved to Norwich two years ago to do just that. Unfortunately the comfort that I seek has led to an increasing waistline. I may have been a little too happy!

So this year I have decided to sort out the body. I am already a member of a gym; I have been for a couple of years. I have now actually gone there to check out their facilities and do some sweating.

Exercise is just part of it, though; I have also started a diet. Nothing too regimented; I do not react well to instruction or routines, even if the instruction comes from me. Just stuff like reducing the amount of carbohydrates I consume, as I know this reduces the amount of calories you take in; and its calories in versus calories out, right people?

I haven't cut out carbs completely; I know that my body needs carbs to burn to give me energy, I am just trying to make a healthy reduction to around the equivalent of one small potato a day

I have also cut out all the snacks and, now that I have cut them out, I realise just what a snack monster I was, particularly the salty variety. I have a real weakness for things like crisps, Bombay Mix, preserved meats etc. Other than that, I eat pretty healthily anyway so there's not much else to change other than reducing the size of the portions at meal times.

This has been going well so far; it has only been a week or so but I am feeling good, if not a little inspired. That was, however, until this morning (January 6), when I boarded the 8am train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street. It is an annoying time to get a train as it takes me 35 minutes to get to the station - on foot by the way; exercise is good, remember - and I have to be at the station half an hour before the train goes because I need to pick up my pre-booked tickets and there is always a long queue at the ticket office and rarely more than two of the maddeningly few automatic ticket machines working.

This morning there was only one. I got my ticket just in time to board the train. All this means I have to leave the house just before 7am; sometimes I don't have time for breakfast before I leave and it is the most important meal of the day, right?

Now, National Express has all but killed any joy there once was in travelling by train, as we already know. The loss of the restaurant car was a particularly cynical move and now the trolley cart rarely seems to come up and down the train so you have to go and jostle for position at the food window in what is laughingly called the buffet carriage to purchase average food at ridiculous prices. Buffet implies a selection, does it not? Well, there is a selection if you agree that a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods is a selection. Apart from drinks, there are few items that are not carb-rich. Except for a bag of nuts, it's all sandwiches, pasties, pastries and crisps.

As I say, I am not a carb Nazi, so I decided to have a sandwich and a cup of tea. I then noticed that there was a deal available: buy a sandwich and get a drink and a bag of crisps for an extra �1.50. Now, considering that a cup of tea alone was �1.75, PG Tips by the way not the nice Twinings they used to have, and the crisps were probably at least a quid, this sounded like a good deal.

I did not, of course, want a bag of crisps, they are filthy, fatty, salty disgusting things! -- but the kiosk did have a puffed-up, shaped and flavoured rice snack, so I asked for those in my meal deal.

No. They are not part of the deal. I have to have crisps. I have to have crisps, okay. I guess the rice snacks are more expensive, so I said I'd take the meal deal and not have the crisps at all, thus saving 25p. I communicated this to the man behind the counter; this was his reply: 'You have to take the crisps or I have to charge you the full price.'

Yeah yeah, I know I know, it was a joke, right? No it wasn't. I had physically to take the crisps that I didn't want from the carbohydrate-delivery boutique, thus depriving National Express of the ability to sell them again for their standard inflated price. To take advantage of the deal, I have to have the crisps, I actually have to have the crisps. I trudged back to my seat with my sandwich, my cup of tea and my bag of crisps. I couldn't give them away on my return journey, everyone is either on a diet themselves or they would think I am mental and have poisoned the contents.

I sat and I ate my sandwich and I looked at my bag of crisps, a little bag of salty-flavoured heaven, begging me to tear it open and savour the crunchy, potatoey loveliness inside.

'It's not my fault that National Express has a bizarre policy of giving food away that nobody wants,' the little blue bag told me. 'Don't throw me in the bin; I am innocent in all this madness! Don't punish me.'

I wanted to be strict but the bag was right. It wasn't him trying to keep me fat, it was National Express. The bag of crisps and I shared the journey to Liverpool Street; some of it with him sitting next to me, some of it with his contents in my tummy.

Seriously, what chance have we got of losing weight in this world?

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