It must have been a slow ideas day at Channel 4 when they came up with last week’s Dispatches documentary, a hard-hitting exploration into the sordid world of ….sandwiches.
Eventually we got to the obligatory hidden camera segment, in an independent sandwich making factory in which the staff coughed over the ingredients, went for a wee without removing their protective clothing and fished pita bread out of the bin.
The presenter was Alex Thompson, chief correspondent at Channel 4 News. “Like most people I tend to think of sandwiches as very healthy,” he said earnestly, “but is that true?” This sounded for all the world like a Victoria Wood sketch.If it were true that all sandwiches were healthy, then it would have made for a very dull documentary. As it was, the dull quotient was still hefty. Almost as large as the salt quotient in a Subway meatball sandwich.
Aiming the programme primarily at the office worker grabbing a snack on their time-poor lunch-break, the programme examined outlets including Subway, Pret a Manger, Boots, M&S and Greggs.
While most were cagey about the actual ingredients in their sandwiches, Greggs were positively mute, their sandwich packaging revealing nothing but the name. “We had to actually send them off to a lab to get them analysed” said Dr Toni Steer, Nutritionist. Yes, Toni, I’ve often felt like doing that myself with a cheese and onion pastie.
Apparently we eat 5000 tons of salt in our sandwiches but “not all sandwiches are equal,” intoned Thompson, coming over all George Orwell.
So we discovered that a chicken sandwich isn’t always filled with actual chicken, but chicken bits filled with starch and bulked out with water. Suspicious, also, is the 'proper thick ham', which sounds like a guaranteed good meal as recommended by Lily Allen, until the small print reveals that it’s actually 'ham formed from cuts of pork.'
To untangle this semantic trickery, we visited a farmer who waggled a pig’s back leg at us. That’s proper ham, apparently. He then cut open a cooked version to reveal deep pink meat (“gorgeous innit?”) and contrasted it to the sandwich meat which, in comparison, looked like a slice of lard.
“So what’s in it?,” asked Thompson. The farmer pointed to his rubbish bin. “Everything from the pig’s bottom backwards.”
No. Worse. Pig’s tails And, well, their bum bits. Trotters. Reformed meat, in both senses of the word since it is, in a way, bad meat turned ‘good.’ “It’s meat, but not as we know it,” said the Trekkie farmer.
We then visited the man whose actual job is Director of the British Sandwich Association. He must have been very pleased. Actually, he looked a bit uncomfortable at the idea that sandwiches should say what they contain on the front, rather than in teeny type on the back. “We don’t want to confuse the consumer,” he said nervously, presumably aware that, when you’re feeling a bit peckish ‘reformed shoulder’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Eventually we got to the obligatory hidden camera segment, in an independent sandwich making factory in which the staff coughed over the ingredients, went for a wee without removing their protective clothing and fished pita bread out of the bin. The pest control man was appalled – and he must have seen some quite appalling things in his time - but the workers were indifferent. “Nobody cares here. The boss just says work fast, fast, fast.” No doubt passing on the trots to his customers.
As a nation, we’re porkers, so fat in sandwiches is also a problem. And Pret aren’t helping with their saturated-fat laden cheddar bloomer, either. Their response to Dispatches worries was amusing: “It’s not a sandwich to eat every day because of the fat content,” they said, before advising that it was a, “A good sandwich to eat prior to a session in the gym.”
I liked the voices used for the sandwich shop retorts. They were like those odious types they used to use on That’s Life.
M&S got their chance to talk back, too. When asked about their British Oakham chicken and pancetta Caesar sandwich that contains more fat than two McDonalds Cheeseburgers they said it was “really popular with people who want to enjoy an indulgent treat,” neglecting to add that it was one to eat just before liposuction.
Boots didn’t need a voice, being the shining beacon of good behaviour in buttie-land. Yay, them. It’s just a shame I can’t walk in for an egg mayo on brown without accidentally spending £25 on bath oils.
It’s testament to the power of suggestion that I had to get up half way through this documentary and make myself a sandwich. (I’m glad it wasn’t on serial killing.)
Actually, this is what the documentary revealed - just how compliant we are as a species.
Yes, sandwich sellers dupe us, but we’re just so ripe to be duped. Essentially, we’re just mindless dolts, stuffing our faces with any old pig’s bum if it purrs 'gorgeous' on the wrapper.
Conclusion. Sandwiches=dangerous. Humans=stupid. Glad we got that sorted.Next week, Dispatches take a look inside the explosive world of Scotch pancakes. Probably. Until then, enjoy your lunch.