I want to transport you to a market town anywhere in the UK or Ireland. It could be Somerset, Kent, Suffolk, Ayrshire, Pembrokeshire, Fermanagh, Kerry or somewhere closer to your heart. Looking around, I want you to find the post office, the bank, the newsagent, the pub, the florist , the café, the butcher and the sweet shop. If you're lucky, you might even locate the fishmonger, the small independent grocer and the fruit and veg shop.
Now stop a moment and let's feast our eyes on the butcher's shop window. What do you see? Pig's head, pig's trotters, a rabbit or two? What about chickens and ox tongue? What could connect a customer to real food more than the efforts of the butcher boys?
Now the sweet shop! What do you see? Jars and jars of toffee, candy, gobstoppers, chocolate and soft drinks. The raw ingredients, a lethal concoction of sugar, artificial colouring, artificial flavouring and preservatives, all hidden, disconnecting us with the source of food
One of these shops recently had to remove the contents of their shop window. Was it the butchers whose honesty draws our attention to the quality raw ingredients that they stock or was it the sweet shop full of hidden dangers? What's your guess?
Just in case you hadn't read the compelling story over the last couple of weeks, here's a quick summary. JBS Family Butchers in Sudbury, Suffolk have decided to stop displaying animal carcasses after people threatened to refuse to go into the shopping centre where the butchers have been displaying their wares for years. The head butcher said that some of the shoppers walking past the shop called it 'disgusting'. With the concern for the other shop owners, JBS Family Butchers decided to remove the animals and in its place, put a large sign stating the reason why there is no display.
The letters written in the Suffolk Free Press over the last few weeks and days have attracted huge attention from both sides of the divide. There are vegetarians who are genuinely concerned for the plight of animals and also many carnivores who are in favour of being able to view the source of their food. There are even those like me who have no strong feelings either way and also parents who feel the need to protect their children. It now appears that the butcher has reinstated the display, yet again bowing to public pressure.
As I say, I don't mind either way. On one hand, I firmly believe that we have a duty to bond children with the complete food chain. A butcher's shop window does this very easily, as does a visit to a farm or growing and picking fruit for jam making or freezing. Involving children in the complete meal making process is vital if we are to improve standards of eating and food processing ethics. I certainly wouldn't complain if a passionate butcher demonstrates quality and source of product in his shop window. Better that, than not knowing what goes into your burgers, hams and pies.
However what piqued my interest in this story, is that it lures us into the frenzied argument of hiding the truth about food. Food comes ready made for far too many. Look at the dad who wrote into the same paper about the 'offensive' window display. He has been reported as saying he would rather not look at a bloody severed head when buying sweets with his daughter. I ask would he actually buy sweets for his daughter if he knew that the ingredients could include such things as shellec, (confectioners glaze) a sticky substance drawn from secretions of the female insect Kerria lacca found in Thailand? Why not display all the ingredients often included in sweets in the shop window: sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup, castoreum (beaver secretions), phosphoric acid which gives a sour taste in fizzy drinks and is also commonly used in fertilizer, artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives . Then we might see who is more offended about what goes into their food?
Sometime we need to conscientiously open our eyes to protect our children from something far more dangerous than real food.