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The sugar dilemma

"Australians consume the equivalent of 960 Olympic-sized swimming pools of sugary drinks every year, giving the country one of the highest obesity rates in the world." Tom McIlroy/AFR Weekend

At the weekend I read a rather alarming article by Tom McIlroy in the Weekend edition of the AFR (Australian Financial Review). Fundamentally it was asking why we did not have a sugar tax, when the figures quoted in the heading to this post are so alarming. And here are a few more:

36% of the Australian adult population are overweight

31% are obese

A quarter of children under the age of 7 are either overweight or obese.

There are 8-12 teaspoons of sugar in an average serve of soft drink.

The AMA is proposing a sugar tax of 40c per 100g sugar which is likely to add 16c to the cost of a can of soft drink. They calculate this would raise $2.8 billion over a four-year period. Which money could be used for various health-care initiatives.

Now you may know those particular figures - and I'm sure there are others who would disagree with them anyway, but my guess is that you all do not drink many soft drinks or consume a lot of sugar because you know it's bad for you and you all try to be healthy. I bet you don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol or smoke either.

No - as always it's the poor who do the consuming of the bad things and it's the poor who have to pay. Some would say all the pleasure is taken away from their lives. It's a real dilemma isn't it? And there is absolutely no doubt that a sugar tax - which I support by the way - is a punitive measure. And forget the Nationals' argument about the poor sugar farmers. Apparently 80% of the sugar we produce is exported.

And let's not forget that the big bad soft drink companies, have actually been decreasing the amount of sugar in their drinks - well for some of their products, and they have also gone big into bottled water. So I guess they see the writing on the wall.

Recently I read or heard the question asked - "what should we really be taught at school?" Now I'm not going to weigh into a debate about science over arts, Shakespeare over Aboriginal history and all that sort of thing, but I will say that there should be a magnitude of increase in teaching what could broadly be called life skills. Getting on with your fellow man, improving the world for everyone, and how to stay, healthy, wealthy, happy and wise. Yes wealthy - or at least earning enough to live a meaningful life. It's crucial.

I learnt a lot of wonderful academic kind of stuff at high school but I also had a few cooking lessons, a few sewing lessons and one small group of lessons with the domestic science teacher on various running a household kind of thing - like how to buy a washing machine. Plus one subject which fundamentally discussed what civilisation really meant. Not very clever stuff but these things stayed with me and have been of real practical use in later life. We also did an awful lot of sport which I hated because I was so bad at it but it must have kept me healthy at least.

But back to the poor. Uneducated parents who are struggling, lead to uneducated children - no matter what they learn in school. If learning is not encouraged at home, then the children will be less motivated.

Being poor is not necessarily the problem though. You can come from a poor home and still eat healthily, get lots of advice and guidance from your parents, be eager to learn stuff and eventually do well in life. There are many high achievers in the world who demonstrate this. No the real problem is with the poor who have not had that support in their own lives, and who don't give it to their children. They don't care or have such major problems - alcohol, unemployment, anger management ....

At school and even before that - at kinder and child care, we can teach the children all of the stuff they really need to learn, but teaching them how, for example, to cook healthy food on a tight budget, is not going to help them eat healthily at home if mum has no idea, or doesn't care. Mum is not going to listen to her child. And if she feeds her kids lots of unhealthy stuff who can blame the children. After all, sugary and fatty things are delicious. There's probably hardly anyone in the world who doesn't overdose on crispy chips given the chance - or some kind of delicious biscuit or cake. Or chocolate and ice-cream. Oh yes!

And, of course we should continue with the guidance at school, but we've also got to find a way to get hold of those parents and make them join in. Jamie Oliver tried it with his Ministry of Food campaign but those parents who need it are (a) not going to be interested; (b) can't afford to pay even the relatively small amount for a Ministry of Food course and (c) - in Australia they only exist in Cairns and Ipswich anyway and (d) they really aren't going to buy the cookbook although they might watch the videos - if they knew they existed. Maybe the schools can identify which parents need the help and work with appropriate organisations to run courses for them at the school? Maybe courses should be run in Housing Commission complexes. Stress the social part of it and maybe they would come.

It surely can't be that hard can it?

And what about us? Do we eat too much sugar? Possibly. There's the breakfast jam and marmalade - a sugar hit for the start of the day. But possibly not much more in this house. When we socialise there might be cake, and wine has sugar in it does it not? Well a little anyway. But on the whole I think we are quite good.

Today, however, I had a go at making rose sugar - inspired by Nigel Slater a while back who told us how to make Rose geranium and lavender sugars. I had a go because I remembered it as being rose sugar, not rose-geranium and as I was walking through the garden I saw our wild roses were in bloom, so I picked one to have a go. This is his method.

"For a medium-sized jar granulated or caster sugar 300g scented geranium leaves 12, small, or lavender buds 2 tbsp. Make sure there are no lumps in the sugar and that your storage jars and leaves or flowers are completely dry. Layer the sugar and leaves in a storage jar, seal and keep in a dry, dark place for several days before opening and using."

However, since I had just a rose I looked further and found several that said you just put your rose petals in a blender with twice the amount of sugar and whizzed them altogether. Which I did - professional version on the left, mine on the right.

I am, however, now worrying that my petals weren't dry enough. Will check it tomorrow to see. Honestly this was a stupid thing to do really because when on earth am I going to use it? The suggestion is to sprinkle it over things. Like what? We never have the right kind of thing to sprinkle it over. It was a moment's fun though. Now I'll just have to find something to do with it. If it takes on a rosy kind of taste anyway.


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