Saturday, 25 August 2012

A nation of fussy eaters


You don't like olives? Seriously?
If ever there was a time to read stories about British eating habits, it was when you're out in France. The contrasts could hardly be greater.

A survey of 2,000 people, Fussy Food Nation, by appliance manufacturer Hotpoint, was reported at greatest length in the Daily Mail.

It seems that the top 10 least popular foods in the UK are:

Snails
Tripe
Oysters
Squid
Anchovies
Liver
Cockles
Kidneys
Olives
Black pudding

Okay, so I can comprehend the snails – it’s what them furriners eat, anyway. And, of course, nothing at all like the cockles and winkles and whelks that are traditional British foods. But then, cockles make the top 10 too.

Offal rates ‘highly’, with tripe, liver and kidneys all making the cut, along with black pudding.

Oysters, squid and anchovies? There’s only one there that isn’t a native British dish.

Olives? Are people serious?

The rest of the list apparently includes avocado, beetroot, goat’s cheese and blue cheese, paté, prawns and mushrooms.

Now obviously the survey isn't saying that many people hate each and every one of the foods listed, but one of the things that strikes me with such a list is the number of traditional British foods that it includes.

In France, many restaurants will have very limited children's menus – in essence, usually little more than a burger and chips. Except that the burger is proper meat, properly cooked. It isn't baby food – and it isn't processed food.

On plenty of occasions, we've seen French children – and we're talking under 10, here – choosing and eating so-called 'adult' dishes: mussels and other seafood, for instance.

It's something that I first started to notice after hearing Rick Stein mention it. And he wasn't making it up.

Yes, McDonalds is popular in France – but it is not (yet, thankfully) as god almighty dominating as in the UK in terms of the culinary landscape.

There isn't a single one – or any other burger joint – in Collioure, and this is a holiday resort.

And indeed, traditional and cheap foods – the latter being a particularly relevant point in these straitened times.

Indeed, in Italy, people are turning away from the supermarket and the ready-meal, and looking back at their 'granny foods'.

They’re doing this precisely because they’re so much better value. And at least one child nutritionist hopes that this will be a silver lining to these times of austerity, in helping to reduce rising obesity.

In other words, that rising obesity does not come from traditional, Italian foods – no, not even pasta – but from processed and ‘convenience’ foods.

Liver and kidney are cheap and versatile and nutritious. And they’re very tasty too.

But as with so much else on the list, it seems that texture is a problem. What texture do the respondents to the survey like? That of the turkey twizzler?

I could be wrong (it has happened), but this seems to me such an indictment of our food culture in the UK – it is like a bloody big firework display illustrating the analysis that Raymond Blanc has made, when he says that we (and the US) have lost our food heritage and that that is a major part of the problems we face.

Within the same few days as these stories emerged came another, as it was reported thatconsumer magazine Which? had tested assorted cereal bars – so often presented to the public as a ‘healthy snack’ – and found that many contain vast amounts of sugar.

Yet therein lies a big piece of the problem: snacking.

And of course, it’s an absolutely massive market.

Little wonder, then, that according to the BBC story, a spokeswoman for Kellogg’s, which makes the Nutri-Grain Elevenses bar and some of the other snacks that Which? tested, ducked the key issue by responding: ‘We’re confused as to why anyone would call a Nutri-Grain Elevenses snack a cereal bar’.”

Well, because ‘cereal’ has come to mean something healthy in the UK – as have ‘nutri’ and ‘grain’. And a ‘snack bar’ is usually readily assumed to be that sort of thing.

For god’s sake, we had an ‘official Olympic cereal bar’ only a few weeks ago – albeit produced by but by Nature Valley and not by Kellogg’s (a company founded by a man who believed cereals would help stop masturbation).

Now, we even have graze.com offering a service to deliver ‘healthy snack boxes’ to you, as if that changes the situation.

Why not just not snack? Why, if you eat proper meals, do you need to snack at all?

Ask yourself: why do cultures that do not snack have better heath stats – including, but not limited to, less obesity?

No, it’s not the sole factor, but it is a factor.

So, in the UK, we are (by and large) fussy eaters; we eat masses of junk food and snacks; we have lost touch with our natural food culture; we have (as previous posts have illustrated) lost our kitchen skills; we have a grocery retail market dominated (80%) by supermarkets – and we have a rising obesity crisis.

When you take all that into account, then quelle sur-fucking-prise.

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