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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005, 14:20 GMT
Deep-fried culture is 'no joke'
Thomas McLaughlin
In this week's reader's article, systems analyst Thomas McLaughlin, who was born and bred in Scotland but now lives in Brisbane, Australia, says Scotland's diet is no laughing matter.


On a Christmas shopping trip to Brisbane with my Australian wife, we bought an atlas for her daughter.

Mars bar about to be deep fried
Mars bars are battered and deep-fried in some chip shops

On the train home, I passed the time by reading the atlas. Each country had a narrative describing its culture, people and customs, as well as the occasional quaint fact.

I read the quaint fact about Scotland and nearly fell out of my seat.

"Scotland has the worst diet of any developed country in the western world, and the highest incidence of heart disease," it said.

"One delicacy is the deep-fried chocolate bar, covered in a protective layer of batter, and favoured by the nation's school children."

"Who writes this garbage?" I groaned.

My wife grabbed the volume, eager to read the text which had so upset me.

Favourite snack

"Yes I remember that on television," she said.

I sat in silence and allowed my outrage to subside. I recalled the TV reports on both Scotland Today and Reporting Scotland, when reporters visited Scottish towns to cover the phenomenon of the "deep-fried Mars bar".

The chip shop owner was interviewed in a humorous vein. School pupils were filmed on their lunch break as they devoured their favourite snack and announced that it tasted "pure dead brilliant".

Why, oh why, does the Scottish media feel compelled to report these types of stories with such a light-hearted and 'wha's like us' slant?

The reporter performed the obligatory tasting. "Mmmm," he gushed. "It's not bad. Not bad at all."

"This report you saw on TV," I asked my wife. "Was it filmed from Scotland?"

"Sure," she said. "They were inside a food shop talking to the owner and some school kids."

Why, oh why, does the Scottish media feel compelled to report these types of stories with such a light-hearted and 'wha's like us' slant?

Is it any wonder that Scotland has such an appalling worldwide reputation for poor health and diet when, instead of condemning such harmful fare being offered up to our children, our television companies treat it as a "fun item" to be broadcast at the end of the programme.

When Celtic's Japanese star Shunsuke Nakamura arrived in Scotland and was being interviewed by a posse of reporters, one hack asked, amid much merriment from his fellow scribes, "Have you sampled a deep-fried Mars bar yet?"

Some may think I should chill out and see the lighter side, but when you read this sort of stuff about your own country from the other side of the world, it just ain't funny.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not endorsed by the BBC.

Your views on Thomas McLaughlin's article.

Well said mate - very well written piece. I agree with every word. What annoys me though is that the impression given is that you can buy deep-fried mars bars on every street corner in Scotland. Actually there is only a certain number of chippies who will do them. You can hardly get them at all in the Highlands and I was in Edinburgh for a while and there's only one or two places that do them there.
Ross McLean, Alness

It's not deep fried Mars bars we should be worried about. The latest popular snack appears to be the fried tattie scone in a buttered roll. This makes a chip butty almost look healthy.
Ann, formerly Glasgow, now Herts.

For the benefit of the US readers we should make it clear that a "Mars Bar" UK style is known as a "Milky Way" in the US. And in 47 years living here in Scotland I've never actually found a shop selling deep-fried Mars Bars. I think they're a myth.
Jette Goldie, Edinburgh

I am an American, who lived in Scotland for 10 years, and I witnessed this terrible diet first hand. I am not surprised in the least that Scotland is the "sick man" of Europe. It has never ceased to amaze me how poor the Scottish imagination is when it comes to food...even after several centuries as close allies with the French, has taught them very little indeed about food.
Steve Meloche, England, ex Scotland

Years ago Sir Harry Lauder ,on tour in America, touted the conception of the Scots being tight with money and loving whisky, an idea that stuck and we are still branded in that light as being mean and perpetually drunk.
Andy, Austell, Georgia, USA (ex Glasgow)

Personally, I find that haggis stuffed with deep fried Mars Bars is more traditionally Scottish.
Alex, West Coast, Canada

I've had a deep-fried mars bar, albeit in Leeds not Scotland, so they're slowly creeping south. And so they should, too. My Glaswegian boyfriend sings the praises of deep-fried pizzas (but you've got to be sure to buy the really really cheap ones as they soak up more grease). Not forgetting scraps and gravy too. There are plenty of unhealthy things to eat from every nation. Maybe Thomas McLaughlin should try and buy a better quality atlas if he fears his daughter will end up walking the streets drinking Irn Bru laced with Glen Morangie and main-lining deep fried mars bars.
Stephanie Gordon, Dover

I do not understand what all the stushie is about. I love a deep-fried mars bar and also a deep-fried (cheap) pizza. I must admit that when I eat a deep fried mars bar, I can feel the veins clogging as I take each bite. I'm sure there are many countries with equally bad diet trends. We all know that a brown bread sandwich on lettuce and cucumber is far more healthier, but what tastes the nicest.
Gerry Carty , Falkirk

Scots seem to be most reluctant to face up to our own failings. Our diet is a disgrace and all the inventions in the world can't change that. The deep fried mars bar is just an extreme example of how bad our diet is. Highest death rates in the world for heart disease and highest teenage obesity rates are nothing to be proud of. All our contributions are at least a hundred years old, all we have to offer is drunken patriotism.
Stuart, Taiwan ex Scotland

Concerns about healthy diets aside, anyone who can find a way to make Mars bars even marginally palatable deserves at least honorable mention in a list of great inventors, Scots or otherwise.
John Calhoun, Silver Plume, Colo. USA

Deep fried Crunchies are better anyway.
Marty, Edinburgh

I'm English but have lived in Scotland for over 11 years now. I tried a deep fried mars bar once out of curiosity more than anything else, and will never try another...it was awful. There's a lot of work to do on healthy eating in Scotland. In my own work place the canteen fare is regularly chips with everything, and while supermarket cafes offer breakfast (sausage, bacon, tattie scone, black pudding, eggs etc...all fried) for a pound or two, buying a salad or a healthy sandwich will often set you back twice as much. At the end of the day, we all have to make choices about what we eat, but when it's cheaper to eat an unhealthy diet, we need to be asking questions about social justice.
Helen , Midlothian

Surely, the makers of the atlas should be the ones disgraced to write such drivel. After all we have done more than deep fry the odd mars bar. Take your pick through the list of really important famous people that have changed the world. Bell, Fleming, or Baird spring to mind, to name but a few. Even just the home of whisky, Burns and golf would have done fine. Deep fried mars bars on the other hand, I cant think of one chip shop that sells them or has ever sold them, a passing phase in Glasgow perhaps?
Andy, Edinburgh

I agree with Mr McLaughlin. To put his mind at rest, I lived in Glasgow for seven years and in that time I didn't see a single person eating one of these things. The "phenomenon" of the deep fried Mars Bar was created solely by the Scottish media. Unfortunately the joke is on us now as this view of Scots is taken seriously down south and abroad. We need to be careful of the image we present of ourselves to the international community.
Murray Henderson, Bo'ness

Ridiculous! One would not jot down a quaint fact for Japan as "... on Japans subway systems, men often grope women." There is much much more to be said of Scotland: Kilts, History, Castles, Sean Connery or Nessie! I mean, come on, what's going on here.
David, London - ex St - Andrews & Helensburgh

Deep-fried mars bars happen to be rather tasty. I'm sure many nations have examples of foods which aren't terribly good for health but taste great and so are widely enjoyed. Perhaps the focus should instead be moved to the overall food consumption, as I cannot see that there's anything wrong with an occasional deep-fried mars bar if the diet as a whole is healthy and varied.
Dawn, Bristol

As a west coast Scot I have to agree with Thomas. It is abhorrent. We are teaching a generation of children that a diet of saturated fats and calorie laden foods are acceptable. No wonder so many Scots die of coronary disease, and as a medical student I can safely say that is not light hearted at all. Wake up Scotland!
David, Glasgow

The author is complaining about the rash and not the fatal disease it represents. The diet in Scotland is demonstrably appalling. This is one of the reasons that NHS Scotland costs more to fund per capita than the UK average. I'd be less concerned about how you are 'seen' and be more concerned with the realities of what you 'are'.
Mike Bentley, Detroit USA

I think Thomas's observation is spot on. There is such a thing as chilling out and taking things lightly but there is also such a thing as not putting us up for ridicule, which is exactly what Scots appear to be good at
Kevin Murphy, Edinburgh

Thomas is right to say that our countries health is a disgrace but wrong to pin it on deep fried mars bars and the media. I too enjoy to indulge on the odd deep fried mars bar but I'm certainly still in good enough health. I guess you would call it 'moderation' and the media too only report on these things in moderation. It's a shame people take it so seriously as it's a part of the country's character. We eat boiled sheep stomach, our drinks are made of iron girders and the men wear skirts. Aye man - we're pure mental. It's not the media but education in schools and at home that must change. I think what Mr McLaughlin's wife saw was a stereotypical report, one that us Scots enjoy (and so do the tourists), he did not mention that the report probably also mentioned the health aspects.
Chris B, Edinburgh

As Thomas is so enamoured of Scotland that he choses to live in Australia, his own actions hardly display a pride in his country. His comments would carry more weight if he were a resident! (As would Sean Connery's, Rod Stewart etc)
Mike Pike, Wallington Surrey

The fact that Rod Stewart was born in England, but claims to be Scottish speaks volumes.
K Birney, Paisley

While I also find the idea of deep-fat-fried candy bars appalling, this writer is taking the wrong approach. Instead of insisting that this not be reported, maybe it should be talked about more, with an emphasis on "Is this good for us?" and "why do we continue to eat this?" and then it should be filed in a mental file named "The funny things we do and the amazing fact that we have the free choice to make such odd choices."
Ed Meardon, Ottumwa, Iowa, USA

Mr McLaughlin is right, what a very negative attitude towards the country. Maybe the article should have stated the amount of knife deaths there are in the country too.
P. Morrison, Glasgow

As a Scot living in Japan I am no stranger to English-speaking foreigners quoting our love for Deep Fried Mars Bars as a one of Scotland's choice culinary dishes. Usually with a smug glee across their faces. At first I tended to laugh it off. Explaining that it was one chippy in a million that sold such things, however it isn't something that I have ever actually tasted. Nor any other Scot that I know. It's sad that a country that spawned Penicllin, the TV, the telephone, the Steam engine amongst a few modest modern inventions, is now famous for Deep frying a foreign confectionary. I feel that Scots should be thinking more about our International identity and coming together as a community to try and portray those more positive aspects of being a Scot. And there are a fair number of them!
Alan McKissock, Yokohama, Japan

I take it then that all the critics here (who seem to require a humour transplant) live off all bran, water and self-grown vegetables, never drink alcohol and wear oxygen masks all day - get a life.
Neil Small, Scotland

I come from Glasgow, where I believe the Deep Fried Mars Bar is well-known of by people. I have never had one myself though. Besides the fact it must be bad for you, the thought of it alone and what it is made of seems to put me off the most!
Stuart, Glasgow,

This article is not a surprise. Humans are insufferable when it comes to food. Anything inexpensive enough that produces positive tactile and chemical response goes right in with little regard for what it will cause. No doctor has ever said that a patient died because of too many meat pasties or Iron Bru. Some will wake up and work toward better heath after becoming diabetic. Scotland is not the only country with this issue. It is a global issue. Until people realize that the old adage of "anything is good in moderation" is the best way to eat, this will continue to happen. No need to beat yourself up! This is just another sugar treat in a long line of products like it. Anyone consider batter frying Lion Bars?
Eric V, San Jose, California, USA

When it's cold, dull, windy and drizzly outside - as Scottish weather often is - the last thing you want to do is eat a cold salad from the fridge. You want to eat something to warm you up, something you can get your teeth into - like a deep fried mars bar or a pie. In this day and age you cannot fail to be aware of the health dangers of such foods, so if anyone eats them excessively, on their own heads be it. Or waists.
Duncan, Dundee

Gee whiz. If you don't like fried mars bars - and I don't - the solution is simple, buy something else. Each man for his own.
Glen Anderson, Stirling

It is true that the everyday diet of people in some areas of Scotland is poor, but it is certainly not the case throughout. I lived in America for five years and believe me, have never seen such fat waddling unhealthy people stuffing themselves with huge quantities of disgusting fast food as a matter of course - and that's across the socio-economic spectrum.
Clare Alexander, Edinburgh


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