Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Faddy Folk & English Food

LAST Saturday in the Financial Times the food writer, Rowley Leigh, wrote:  'Although there may be concomitant healthy questions, the presence of horse meat is almost reassuring compared with some of the horror stories that circulate around meat production.'  The truth is we Brits, as Mr. Leigh writes:  'lurch from scandal to scandal, whether it be mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), avian flu blamed on Hungarian turkey meat or, now, Romanian horse meat.' 

The problem, according to Rowley Leigh, is that the British, despite all their fascination with celebrity chiefs on TV, tend to value food less than our neighbours in Europe, and are not prepared to spend as much for it.  It seems that the British spend 11.3% of their income on food, while the Spaniards and Germans are spending more than 20%.  It seems only the US and Canada spend less among the developed nations. 

When Chris Draper wrote a feature in Northern Voices No.11 about 'Six O' the Best Tea Time Treats', a member of the Northern Voices' editorial panel complained to me that there was too much coverage of food in the journal.  And in what I took to be a facetious comment, under a recipe for soup on the 5th, December, Galloping Gourmet said... 'This purely gastronomic blog is the best thing ... Stick to the recipes...'   Another regular writer in the printed version of Northern Voices said that 'I can't get worked up about the fact that eccles cakes are no longer produced in Eccles'.  It is like when George Orwell wrote about flowers in Tribune in the late 1940s, and one lady wrote in complaining to say that 'flowers are bourgeois'.  Flowers are bourgeois and food is merely fuel to many in the English working class.

But even among the English middle-classes ready made meals are fashionable, and even in the better class grocery stores the easy cook warm-up meals dominate.  I was in the Manchester branch of Marks & Spencer only last week for the special offer of a Valentine Dinner for £20 as the English lower middle-classes swarmed round the stall to buy their Beef Wellington.  I did mention about the risk of it including horse meat and the assistants laughed, but then he admitted that stranger things have happened.

As I write this the campaigner, Debbie Firth, is pondering what to say in an article on town centres for the next issue of Northern Voices, and only this morning a commentator on Today on Radio Four said that we have too many 'Centres', both Town Centres and shopping centres like the Trafford Centre, and some of these will have to go.  Some say 'Buy local!' from a trusted source - a local butcher, perhaps; but as Rowley Leigh writes:  'In reality, the friendly local butcher is already becoming somewhat folkloric.'  The butcher's decline just illustrates the daily death of all the high-street retail outlets.  And yet, the Continental Market in York's Town Centre was full of folk last Saturday, queueing up to buy the stuff, but when I asked the bloke on the Italian pasticciere stall when he would be back, he told me that he wouldn't be back until June because the Council charge them a lot to rent the stall; £1,200 for 5-days on the market. 

The problem is, and I think I see it in the comments of people who claim that Northern Voices has 'too much on food' in it, that English people are largely puritans who don't take food seriously or perhaps they take it so seriously that they are not relaxed at the table.  They enjoy viewing cooking as entertainment with celebrities on the telly, but they are either pompose about food and wine, or neurotic, or just plain uncomfortable and self-conscious.  Rowley Leigh claims 'many of us are unable even to cook a pancake, a Yorkshire pudding or a potatoe.'  There is too much attention to table manners in England, and they all tend to despise noisey eaters or people like the Italians who clearly enjoy their food. 

The printed version of NORTHERN VOICES No.11 refered to above is still available on request, but NORTHERN VOICES No.14, will be available shortly and may be obtained as follows:
Postal subscription: £5 for the next two issues (post included). Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' at c/o 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire BB10 4AH.
Tel.: 0161 793 5122.

1 comment:

Trevor Hoyle said...

I see that Debbie Firth (of the Touchstones Challenge group) is to write something on town centres for your next issue (of Northern Voices).

When she and I met Colin Lambert (the Labour leader of Rochdale Council) last October (to talk about forthcoming plans for Link4Life and arts and heritage in Rochdale), I was tempted to ask him about the proposed new shopping centre to be built on the site of the present bus station. This will cost millions ~ between 20 and 30 I believe ~ and we (or rather our grandkids) will be paying for this white elephant till 2040 or thereabouts.

Rochdale already has two shopping centres, the Exchange and the Wheatsheaf, both with several empty units. Now it seems we're to have another one, so we'll end up with THREE half-empty shopping centres. Does this make any sense to you? I think it's daft.

Many people now travel to Bury to shop in the old market and the new shopping mall. It's crazy for Rochdaleto try and compete; this is just antiquated thinking and shows a complete lack if ideas and original thinking as far as the council and councillors are concerned.

I hope you'll highlight these issues when Debbie's article appears (in NV14).