Hot on the heels of the deprivation and poverty in Great Yarmouth league of crimes against the local people comes the food violence, a bombardment of high salt, high sugar, high fat, low nutrient ready made, mainly processed food wrapped up in expensive marketing packaging that is already causing a major health crisis.
I am back in the house where I stayed in Great Yarmouth from January 2020 until May 2021. Since I left there have been periodic visits to check on the place and clear the doorway of printed flyers. The photo above shows the fast food advertising that has come through the letterbox in less than a month.
Even before Covid, it was difficult to find healthy food in Great Yarmouth outside of supermarkets. There were, and still are some good restaurants serving quality meals, however on the casual dining side, even buying a fresh salad can prove an impossible task. The seafront is awash with stalls selling doughnuts, candy floss (cotton candy), cheap ice cream and an array of multicoloured sweets that can only be bought, it seems, in British seaside towns. None of these items as one off treats are particularly damaging, however when they become a staple part of the diet, serious consequences are likely. In Great Yarmouth, it is pretty clear that large numbers of people of all ages consume these treats as food.
The result of such poor food availability and consumption has been increasing the pressures on the health services of Norfolk. In 2015, Norfolk Public Health wrote;
The areas of Norfolk that have the highest levels of adult obesity (between 27.6% – 30.5% of the population are obese) are mostly centred around the urban areas of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn
Childhood overweight and obesity, similar to adult obesity, is centred around the urban areas of the most deprived areas Norwich, Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth.
Tackling Obesity – A Health Needs Assessment for Norfolk. Norfolk Public Health, 2015
Despite the warnings for a number of years, the rate of unhealthy eating continues to grow, with Norwich Evening News recently reporting;
Nationally there were a record 1,022,040 hospital admissions for obesity-related treatment in England in 2019/20, up 17pc from the year before.North Norfolk, Norwich and South Norfolk saw increases of less than 10pc, with Great Yarmouth reporting a 17pc increase in admissions
Norwich Evening News, Clarissa Place, 28 May 2021
Screenshot Obesity: Fat man paddling in the sea at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Postcard, early 20th century. Found on Lookandlearn.com 22 August 2021.
Britain in general has had a poor diet from at least World War Two up until the 1990s when a revolution began to take hold and a new generation of chefs, many trained in Europe, began to emerge, congregating around London and the south-east. With it came more experimental cooking and techniques, particularly using a wider range of vegetables leading to the present rapid growth in vegan restaurants and food options. Yet this has all but passed Great Yarmouth by.
My hopes that a new, pretty trendy looking space that has opened this summer would be the beginning of the end to the bad casual food offering were dashed on Friday evening when I was served the box pictured below, at a cost of £9.00. I will leave it to the reader to decide what it is.
Dish served as a wrap, Great Yarmouth seafront, 20 August 2021.
There is a second economic consequence for the town beyond the financial burden to the local health service. Without a strong food offer, attracting visitors with higher disposable income, particularly from the big cities, to not only visit but to part with their cash is almost impossible.
People have become more conscious of the relationship between what they eat and health. Parents are better educated about the effects of high sugar, salt and saturated fats on their young, and children themselves are becoming more aware of the downside to eating too many sweets, snacks and treats. For these kinds of families there is little choice in Great Yarmouth, so they either leave to head elsewhere for food or not visit at all. This is a loss not only to the town’s hospitality sector but also to retail and hotels as people tend not to shop for pleasure while hungry. Throughout my time in Great Yarmouth, there appeared to be a void between my talking about this and anyone locally understanding the connection.
Cutting across much of this discussion can come the accusation of free choice, people can eat what they like. it’s their body. As with the argument for Brexit, there is a deliberate obfuscating of different arguments to justify a reduction in choice and opportunity under a falsehood that it will offer more choice and opportunity! As with Brexit, the reason the food is generally so poor in the town is because of vested interests. There is little or no care for improving the offer because there is no pressure to. Veganism is scoffed at as some kind of niche, totally unaware that this is the fastest growing food sector in the Western world. Even vegetarian dishes are limited. It is in the businesses interest to all offer roughly the same quality. And as many of these businesses have been established in the town for years, often many decades, the connection to local politics and the council runs deep, ensuring that things cannot change, well at least at any pace.
As with housing, education and employment, the real losers of this onslaught of poor food by the food industry, both big and small, are those who are trapped locally. The housing conditions for many are overcrowded, with many bedsits not even having cooking facilities, maybe beyond a microwave. Children being fed by schoolteachers out of their own pocket is not uncommon in Great Yarmouth. One morning spent in the Market Square gives rise to the scale of the disaster that is unfolding as the queues for the dozen or more chip stalls make clear to see.
And yet, despite what is so evident the elected politicians and the local council ignore, instead focusing on constructing bling buildings that were white elephants before the first stone was turned. There is no incentive in Great Yarmouth for those in power to change the dynamics even if they wanted to because all are invested in keeping the town as it is, and this turns to another blog post, that of housing.