Food is no joke in most of Europe. France and Switzerland once spent years fighting to claim special protected status from Brussels for their respective Gruyère cheeses. (The French have holes, the Swiss do not.) But whether Scotland needs to take up arms to protect the deep-fried Mars bar – a dish that has become synonymous with all that is wrong with the country’s diet – is highly questionable.
This week the Carron Fish Bar of Stonehaven, north-east Scotland, was told by Mars that it was not authorised to use the trademarked chocolate bar’s name. The confectioner had been alerted to the chippy’s cheek by reports it was to apply to Brussels to request protected food status for the confection that first emerged from its deep-fryers in 1995.
It is as clear as the batter on the hot and squidgy caramel treat whether the owners ever intended to apply for the same standing as Asiago cheese, champagne or Cornish pasties. But Mars has a point. Despite such creative initiative, the Mars bar is not Scottish and does not need protection from foreign bootleggers.
Mars is also right – though lacking in irony – to add that deep-frying is not conducive to a “healthy active lifestyle”. The Scottish already have one of the unhealthiest diets in Britain and the country has some of the highest rates of heart disease and cancer in Europe.
Scots are now being encouraged to think about their future, with a referendum on independence expected in 2014. So it may be a good time to reappraise their culinary symbols. The country boasts a tremendous wealth of natural produce. Why not opt for the wild salmon that populates its teeming rivers?
It would be better – and healthier – if the deep-fried Mars bar was part of Scotland’s past, not its future. Instead of seeking to protect its status, the Carron Fish Bar could instead apply to Unesco for listing as a site of special, but purely historical, importance.