Until last week, I was unaware that gender apartheid had extended to processed meat. Until last week, I’d never even heard of Fairy Hearts – “delicious slices of cooked sausage made from reformed turkey and pork” – but now it seems that even my supermarket deli aisle is not immune from pinkification.
My four-year-old daughter spotted the packet, positioned at perfect eye level from the trolley’s toddler seat. When I asked why she wanted it, her eyes twinkled at the wand-toting, bug-eyed meat-fairy on the label and she announced: “Because it’s pretty”.
Her words support the recent comments of Sue Palmer, education writer and broadcaster and author of Toxic Childhood, who warned: “What bothers me about the pink plague infecting three to eight-year-old girls is that they aren’t old enough to make rational choices.” What also bothers me is the fact that, of all the pernicious marketing evils you expect to fend off as a parent, sliced ham is not one of them. I know that a trip to a toy shop or clothes store might result in us being segregated to the pink corner, but I don’t envisage this happening while shopping for a sandwich filler.
Food marketing to children is nothing new, supermarket shelves heave with branded and television character foods. But the pinkification of ham is utterly ridiculous – not least because the meat is pink anyway (I imagine this ironic little gem wasn’t on the minutes of the board meeting at Fairy Heart HQ).
Ed Mayo of Co-operatives UK, former head of the National Consumer Council and co-author of Consumer Kids: How Big Business Is Grooming Our Children for Profit, recently has said: “Today’s marketing assigns simple and very separate roles to boys and girls, and whips up peer pressure to police the difference.” Just picture the packed lunch scene as one child proudly reveals the Fairy Hearts bursting out of her roll, while her embarrassed and envious dining companion has to make do with plain old cheese and pickle.
The flip side of the debate is that novelty foods can encourage fussy children to eat. Given the choice between your child not eating or going against both your ethical instincts and your taste buds by offering a branded product, many a desperate parent would grab at the Fairy Hearts. But read the ingredients and you realize this is something of a Hobson’s Choice – the meat is 31% turkey, 28% pork with the remaining 41% consisting of water, potato starch, pork fat, salt, pea protein, carrot fibre, pea fibre, pea starch, potassium chloride, vegetable extract, stabiliser spices, anti-oxidant, yeast extract, preservative.
It is almost three years ago that television regulator Ofcom clamped down on the television advertising of junk food to children. At the time, 80% of food advertising spend within children’s airtime was on food high in fat, salt and sugar, like sweets, soft drinks, crisps, snacks, fast food and sugary breakfast cereals.
The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe and one in three children is overweight or obese. Obesity in children under 11 has risen by over 40% in ten years. Should this trend continue, half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020. It is well documented that junk food deprives children of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids and children with such diets tend to perform worse at school, lack concentration and are more aggressive.
So the heart-shaped ham is just a wolf in fairy’s clothing. Taken to the extreme, the pinkification of food products risks creating a generation of pink-loving, princessy, angry, obese under-achievers. But at least they’ll eat their tea.