Christmas baking is a joy we should not consider ending Kaboompics / Karolina

A month ago, we saw dancer-turned-soldier Sophie add a baker feather to her hat as she won the sugar-fuelled Bake Off final. I may have shed a tear or two waving goodbye to ten mouth-watering weeks of butter, sugar, eggs, and the occasional dollop of lard. But what made me cry full-on was celebrity chef Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s pitch for a better Bake Off: he wants more healthy challenges in the tent to battle the obesity crisis. As Christmas and all of its delights approaches, that has left a sour taste in my mouth that even Sophie’s honeybee entrement can’t sweeten.

"It is no news that aspects of so-called healthy eating are reaching levels where they are becoming anything but healthy"

I’m not going to dispute the facts: yes, there is an obesity problem, and yes, something needs to be done about it before the UK, along with the Western world – quite literally – eats itself to death. I also agree that we need to find new ways of getting the information across and changing the view of healthy from boring to actually quite nice. Decades of bombarding people with nutritional info doesn’t seem to be doing the trick as the waistlines keep expanding and the arteries clogging up.

Nor will I dispute that chefs and bakers with a big following will, and should, have a key role to play here: I was always a fan of Jamie Oliver’s mission to revolutionise school meals one turkey twizzler at a time. Sadly, the chef had to later admit that he didn’t succeed in his mission, largely because healthy eating is still viewed as a privilege of the middle classes. So, in principle, the Bake Off could be the perfect cure: it unites bakers and viewers alike from all walks of life, offering the perfect platform for a Great British Health Off.

Maybe so, but there are things that should be left untouched by health goals – and the Bake Off tent is no-go territory for me. It’s all about soggy bottoms, bouncy buns and firm tarts; it’s about sugar and butter; it’s about good bakes, innuendo, and an overall feel of comfort and homeliness. Do I want to watch architect Steven get his fingers sticky with apple sauce as a sugar replacement or Paul and Prue making a point about using wholemeal instead of white flour? Nope.

I’m not saying healthy desserts cannot be scrumptious – believe me, they can, just check out Chocolate Covered Katie for some very healthy food porn – but I don’t think desserts are where a health revolution should start. Bake Off isn’t telling us to go and eat the bakes as a highway to type two diabetes, or encouraging us to tuck into the signature challenge for breakfast, technical for lunch, and showstopper for dinner. It’s all about baking being something special, and healthy eating doesn’t start with special things. It starts with everyday choices.


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Admitted, a healthier cake is hardly going to do any harm as such, but our obsession with healthy lifestyle choices and nutrition has come to the point where there has to be a safe space for food where it isn’t branded as ‘clean’, ‘dirty’, or a ‘guilty pleasure’. It is no news that aspects of so-called healthy eating are reaching levels where they are becoming anything but healthy. The #eatclean trend is rife with dirty secrets, from self-appointed nutritionists and an irrational fear of gluten to unrealistic #cleaneating Instagrams and diets spiraling into disordered eating. If you can’t enjoy your cake without thinking of its nutritional information, health effects, or overall Instagrammability on the Bake Off, then where can you?

Healthy living is about the balance, something that is often forgotten in our obsession with healthier choices. And sometimes that balance is a soggy bottom, all-sugar tart

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