13th January

Five a Day

‘The implications of this are quite appalling,’ the Minister said.

It was clear that he spoke for everyone round the table. They sat in silence, contemplating the implications. Sunlight streamed in through the windows behind the Minister, half-blinding the Chief Food Safety Officer, the Chief Medical Research Officer and the Chief Agricultural Officer. The Minister’s Chief Political Adviser let them suffer for some minutes, then rose and lowered the blinds.

‘How can you people have got this so wrong?’ the Minister said.

‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say we got it wrong, exactly,’ said the Chief Food Safety Officer.

‘The science is very complex,’ said the Chief Medical Research Officer.

‘We can only base our recommendations as to what constitutes a healthy diet on the latest available evidence.’

‘There is nothing the matter with fresh fruit and vegetables per se,’ said the Chief Agricultural Officer. ‘It’s just that they’re not as good for us as was once thought.’

‘Not as good for us?’ the Minister said. ‘They’re really bad for us. We’ve been banging on about five portions a day for years and it turns out we’ve been advocating poisoning the entire population.’

‘That’s pitching it a bit strong,’ the Chief Food Safety Officer protested, but without conviction.

‘Well, what about these cancer-risk figures?’ said the Chief Political Adviser. ‘What about these heart-disease estimates?’

‘I don’t suppose the results could be inaccurate, could they?’ the Minister asked in a pleading tone.

‘Biggest survey of its kind ever undertaken,’ said the Chief Food Safety Officer.

‘Flawless methodology,’ said the Chief Medical Officer.

‘The proof’s in the potatoes,’ said the Chief Agricultural Officer.

There was silence again. Then the Minister turned to the Chief Political Adviser.

‘Clive,’ the Minister said, ‘this time tomorrow morning, when we reconvene, I want a full strategic action plan in place. Gentlemen, we must not sidestep this issue. We must face up to our responsibilities. Immediate, decisive and effective action is required. I take it we are all agreed? Very good. It is absolutely imperative, then, that not a word of this is permitted to enter the public domain for a period of at least – shall we say – thirty years?’

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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