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Friday November 28, 2014

Tempting fate in the supermarket?


Some supermarkets are more tempting than sirens

After some weeks in the UK, I returned to rural Majorca with a heavy case and several pounds of excess weight – mostly around the stomach and hips. Oh yes. Rare though it is for me to muster enough courage to step on the bathroom scales, I did so out of idle curiosity and immediately regretted it. I looked in astonishment, shook them and even sneakily tried to re-align the red marker so that it sat just below the zero mark but it made no difference. Absurdly and, inexplicably, I had gained 8lbs in a very short space of time which is probably why buttons and zips were beginning to thwart me and why the term Buddha belly had developed new meaning.

And what, pray, was the reason for this troubling discovery? In a word: supermarkets. While in the UK I found that just walking into a Waitrose or Marks & Spencer store created an insatiable desire to buy up everything in sight. Of course there is always novelty value in products that one simply would never see in supermarkets in Spain but it’s more than that – it’s all about the marketing. For starters, there is the store layout so often showcasing wide aisles, perfectly packed shelves, neat product displays and attractive packaging. In the case of Waitrose, friendly staff bend over backwards to help in the consumer’s crusade to clutter the trolley with a myriad of delicious looking items, which for the most part are probably surplus to requirement. The biggest danger of all is the ready meal section that on a dark and gloomy night seems so appealing. Why cook when one can just sling something nestling in foil straight into the oven? So it’s probably pulsating with calories but who cares? In Dorchester I even came across Cook, a shop which literally offered everything in frozen form from snacks and starters to main dishes and desserts, including a full Christmas lunch package.

In Majorca cakes and sweet pastries are robust and tasty but not exotically fashioned with icing, pretty edible baubles and fresh cream. Chocolate brands are also limited unless one makes the effort to drive into Palma to explore the more fashionable streets for artisan varieties but let’s face it, who really wants to gorge on chocolate and sweet treats in the heat anyway? In the UK on a cold and frosty day there is nothing better than toasting muffins and spreading them with lashings of butter or chomping on some mouthwatering biscuits, a cup cake or bar of chocolate over a hot coffee. For some reason too there’s greater temptation to indulge in crisps, tortilla chips and spreads when having a glass of wine before dinner.

In W H Smith and many high street stores siren-like counter staff at the tills tempt with discounted sweets and chocolates and in the café chains it’s hard not to feast one’s eyes on the fat chocolate muffins and cakes grinning from glass cabinets. Fast food stores pop up on every street corner and fish and chip shops are a common sight in rural zones.

By contrast in my rural town, the main supermarket is perfunctory and product packaging largely unalluring. There is simply nothing tempting to buy but the basics and perhaps the odd bottle of vino. The idea of ready meals is totally alien to the majority of Majorcans although if a UK supermarket opened up in our town, who knows whether the notion would catch on?

Within a week of being back in Soller I had, without really trying, shed more than the weight I’d gained by returning to a basic Mediterranean diet of fish, eggs, a little meat, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I enjoyed some copas of my beloved red wine and bought oodles of olives, fresh toasted almonds, Manchego cheese and jamon Serrano and as always the majority of meals were accompanied by garlic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. So when the British government talks gravely about how obesity has clutched the nation, it should look to the every day pitfalls on its streets. While in Majorca I’ll hopefully remain safe because as one of Oscar Wilde’s protagonists once opined, ‘I can resist everything except temptation’.





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