I’ve just finished reading Bad Food Britain by Joanna Blythman. I whizzed through it in just over a day, because it’s compelling reading. She talks about how our food culture has been eaten away (sorry, unintentional pun – ‘eroded’ if you prefer) by processed food manufacturers and supermarkets, and that the correlative effect of this, as well as a lack of food education in schools (apart from teaching them how to process the sort of junk you find in supermarkets) is that Britain is getting fatter and more malnourished by the year.
I was shocked, for example, reading the chapter called Kids in White Coats, when Ms Blythman detailed the replacement of Domestic Science (my mum’s generation) and Home Economics (mine) with some hideous-sounding subject they call Food Technology. No wonder that, apparently, 60% of schoolchildren in this country think that potatoes grow on trees. I actually did have to put the book down at this point. Spuds? On trees?! You are KIDDING!? Just what is happening to food in this country?
People in other European countries, with healthy food cultures, where children learn to cook at home (the same way I did), and who sit down to eat meals and take time over them, are puzzled. We in Britain are a laughing stock. Frankly, it’s fucking embarrassing, and successive governments should be ashamed of themselves for pandering to the almighty food industry instead of putting the health of the nation first.
But where did all this start? I learnt to cook at my mum’s elbows, practically, when I was very young. I watched as she baked cakes and made flapjacks, pastries, pies and scones. She taught me how to make scrambled eggs, how to listen for when a cake is cooked (as opposed to the normal skewer-in-the-cake method or pressing it to see if it bounces back). She taught me that all this faffing around waiting for pastry dough to cool in the fridge for half an hour is ‘rubbish’. And she taught me to improvise: I learnt how to make cheese straws using a basic recipe she uses, only with at least double the amount of cheese, so they actually taste of cheese.
Compare this to the cakes you find in a supermarket. Full of additives and preservatives, flavours, colours, chemicals… In fact anything, it seems, except real eggs, butter, sugar and flour (which is, in case you don’t know, all you need). What happened? Are mothers not teaching their daughters how to cook, any more?
I am deeply disturbed by all of this. I may be ‘old’ compared to the kids in school today – I’m 37 – but I remember learning, both at home and at school, how to cook. How to make a roux sauce. How to put a hard-boiled egg under cold running water to prevent the yolk going grey (compared to school-dinner eggs, which were always grey and unappetising). How to make a bread pudding with leftover crusts and spices. And you know what? It’s FUN to cook. Chopping vegetables and making dough, adding spices, or making cake mix, whacking it in the oven, seeing if it’s cooked (then listening to it; don’t forget to listen – if it’s still talking, says my mum, it’s not ready). These are easy, simple, enjoyable things, and the end result – good, healthy food you’ve made yourself – is countless times more satisfying than anything that comes in a packet.
I’m very glad that my man can cook, too, and is not only good at it but thoroughly enjoys it. That’s unusual, in my experience (not to mention rather sexy). And being a martial artist, good food is essential, to make sure I don’t die in class – the training is tough. Eating loads of chocolate, biscuits, crisps and whatnot just to get the calories, just ain’t gonna cut it. I need protein, carbohydrates, collagen, vitamins, minerals… And lots of it. (Of course, the more I eat, the more I can train, and vice versa – it’s a delicious circle of kung fu and food!)
I’m dumbfounded (and embarrassed – for them) that as a nation, Britain is clueless about food. There are only a handful of us, it seems, who have a genuine interest and therefore knowledge about what’s good food and what’s crap. It’s time to take action.