They say that the night is darkest before the dawn, but for every food and drink producer of this sceptr’d isle, the night grows ever darker, and the terrors that emerge from it ever more cruel. From Inverness in the North to Dover on the Channel, a mud-brown curtain is descending across Great Britain. Is there ever to be an end to the repressive efforts of the mighty to reduce our choices and hammer those businesses with the temerity to be creative? Perhaps one day, but for now, the march of the illiberal tramples ever on.
This week there has come the command from on high, from renowned neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz – this year’s co-winner of the €1 million Brain Prize – that fatty foods should be sold in plain packaging, lest their colourful, vibrant designs lead the common man into temptation, and ultimately into sin. It was a decree carried prominently in, amongst others, the Times, Guardian, and the Telegraph.
“There should be some way of regulating the desire to get more calories,” railed the academic, adding, “Colourful wrapping of high energy foods of course makes you buy more of that stuff.”
If it’s colour that triggers the dopamine in the brain and draws in the consumer – and according to Schultz, tat is driving obesity and ill-health in this country – it’s curious red or yellow peppers, say, which no one could accuse of being pigmentally challenged, don’t elicit the same response in the average person as crisp packets of almost the exact same hue.
But whatever the science behind attraction, what, exactly, is acceptable behind the suggestion that plain packaging is a proportional response?
As we shall soon see with cigarette packs, the shade chosen to adorn the victims of the plain packs crusade is one specifically chosen for its ability to induce revulsion in the beholder. Removing the insignia or shade of an iconic brand, which distinguishes it from its competitors, is one austere measure; actively placing it at a disadvantage by trying to ward off customers is quite another entirely.
Quite aside from the effect this will have on the producers themselves, from the executives in the board right down to the farmers and factory hands employed by them, this creeping demand for regulation will have only one effect: the loss of jobs.
Not just those in the direct employ of manufacturing giants, either: what of the creative talents whose efforts go into forging the great brands we all know? As with cigarettes, it can’t be long until some acolyte of Schultz demands that pasties and jelly-beans – even if wrapped in khaki – disappear behind cabinet shutters, plastered with health warnings. And when their industry dies, where will graphic designers go ?
As the night draws in ever faster, the creative lamps are going out all over Britain. We may not see them lit again in our lifetime.