Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Sugar tax to somtam in UK and Thailand

Khun Anchalee Kongrut raises some excellent and perceptive issues around the sugar tax for Thailand.


As in UK it seems to be delayed despite public support for action on obesity.

Few things can be worse than Government allowing food that makes us sick to be sold. Or succumbing, as happened with tobacco, to food industry groups and delaying reform.

And Thailand now has far more ultra-sugary drinks and desserts and US fastfood restaurants and ultra-caffeine drinks than in previous years and more than UK.

Sugary foods and drinks can be reformulated with low and zero calorie sweeteners for almost no difference in taste. Coca-Cola in UK has already achieved almost 50% of soda sales from low-sugar versions and pledged to increase that by 2020.

I can understand Thailand’s – and Cuba’s - sugar cane industry being concerned but that must be where Government takes an active role in refocusing crops, and in schools with healthy eating programmes as Khun Achalee wisely points out.

In UK the celebrity chefs have been active on such issues:

• Jamie Oliver has testified before parliament on the danger of sugar in soda drinks – Kent MP Helen Whateley holding a mockup can of the suggested new labelling. One of the points Khun Achalee makes is on better labelling: the UK has a traffic light system on food packs but confusion over whether it’s a standard 100g size or an eating portion.


• Gordon Ramsay effs and blinds his way through his cookery shows on the importance of kitchen cleanliness: keeping meat separate from vegetables etc.
• Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been prominent on the importance of natural and organic food, fisheries not returning caught quotas of dead fish (Ramsgate’s fishing fleet sailing in protest up the Thames to parliament with him), food waste in general especially wonky fruit and lack of coffee-shop recycling of cups and plastic.

Though most UK celebrity chefs tend to be models or minor TV celebs – or even worse made-for-TV personalities –rather than real cookery or food experts.
It’s a failing of the excellent Kitchen of the World and OTOP programmes of Thailand that more isn’t done to create Thai food experts or Thai food knowledge and promote regional foods.

A Thai, Delia Smith or Madhur Jaffrey or Ken Hom, and their programmes and books and merchandise, would do wonders for Thailand’s food culture and economy.
Paul Hollywood the celebrity baker of the BakeOff TV show – second only to Downton Abbey as a UK craze that gives Pokemon Go a run for its money - and East Kent resident, has recently launched a range of merchandise of baking trays and aprons that are a sure-fire hit.

And East Kent’s Gregg Wallace the celebrity greengrocer, is active on Masterchef desserts and a series of programmes on food factories.
I for one have no hesitation in claiming Thai cuisine to be the equal if not better than Italian or French or Chinese or Japanese cuisine as one of the great cuisines of the world.

Rather, as with a sugar tax, it could be more effectively promoted in Thailand and beyond.

Over 12,000 Thai restaurants in UK – almost one for every 4 Thai expats is proof of that. And the numerous Thai supermarkets eg Cardiff’s mega-importer of fresh fruit and veg from Thailand’s farms could help reset the sugarcane industry.

And here in Kent the huge Veetee port and factory is a mega-rice importer for the even more numerous Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants.
Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang – and hopefully the new UTapao airport - are the only airports in the world I’ve flown into where the smell of aviation fuel is drowned out by cooking odours as the plane doors open on landing.

And certainly there's Surin Thai restaurant in Ramsgate, one of the top 10 Thai restaurants in UK, and part of the Kent Cuisine Coast movement and KORA Kent Oriental Restaurant Association.

Perhaps “PokemonGo makes Somtam in Isaan” a viable Thailand Kitchen of the World show? Catch Pokemon points as you round up mango or tomato or chillies in Buriram or Surin or Sisaket? And a celebrity cookoff in Kalasin or RoiEt or Yasothon?

It’ll be a quiet night in Ubon or Udon when that’s on air.

And surely Thailand should steal a march on the rest of ASEAN and lead on a sugar tax and other obesity and diabetes measures. With my Thai-UK MP role I’d also be keen, given the success of UK Cycling from the Olympics that Thailand’s Tokyo2020 team has access to Manchester’s state-of-the-art velodrome and learnings, for example, and similar Ride London and Bike for Dad activities.

Manchester was after all the base of the Thai Olympic team in London2012.

While the new Chaopraya promenade and Yodpiman River Walk are crying out for RunBKK events, or in the cool of the night, the Moonlight Breast Cancer Walk event as dynamic UK cancer charities such as Macmillan reducing the 200 cancers (UK now surviving 50% of cancers for more than 5 years, up from 25% 40 years ago) that can result from obesity and junk food.

The table is set if Thailand wants to actively work with UK on healthier foods and obesity.

Tim Garbutt is a Director of Sincerity advertising and Surin School Charity and standing for UK parliament on Thailand and UK issues. He’ll walk miles for somtam. @timg33

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