Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Budget Cooking and Celebrity Chefs

Julian Ware-lane in a blog post Look at me, I’m wonderful: helping the poor whilst helping yourself ponders:

what are the motives of those making a good living selling advice to the poor? Are those that are seeking a top ten spot for their advice in it for the good they tell us they are doing, or for less selfless reasons?

Presumably he is thinking of the Pucker Jamie Oliver?

I think there is a truth in his reminiscences of his mother’s traditional cooking; cooking from “raw ingredients” is cheaper than using processed food. Hence a meal of Brisket or Shoulder of Lamb with home dug potatoes and home-grown cauliflower will be cheaper than any “manufactured meal” – and the meat will go on to make further meals with baked potatoes and salad – and eventually with curry spice and rice.

The reason that such meals are cheaper is because by cutting out the “manufacturing stage” we are removing an opportunity for someone to make a profit. The supermarket supply chains also tend to be global so any “efficiencies” are offset by more “food miles”.

Point 1. It is not in the interests of the supermarkets to promote such eating patterns – they have less opportunity for profit and may lose customers.

We are now possibly getting to the stage where we are moving into a second generation which has viewed convenience meals as “the way to eat”. The current generation may live on cook-chill, the previous one thought “Vesta meals” and “Fray Bentos” pies where the hight of sophisticated catering.

Point 2. We have lost the confidence and knowledge necessary to “cook from raw ingredients”. How many people know how long you boil or bake an onion – or can we only fry them?

So who is to teach us? Why, “celebrity chefs” of course. The TV channels and publishers would not dream of commissioning a “cooking from raw ingredients” program or book from an unknown – particularly if they are a bit, how do you put it in the words of the commissioning editors, “not one of us”?

Point 3. In this celebrity obsessed culture we may be condemned to learn from the likes of the “pucker”. We seem unwilling to put “life skills” such as “cooking” into the school curriculum (apparently there is no longer room), preferring to dance to the employers’ tune and have “employability skills”. Some may argue that “cooking” is a skill that “people” should learn from their parents. But if “they” are not, what are you going to do? Pretend it is not the case or make alternative arrangements – or allow the situation to deteriorate further?

Celebrities – even if first generation celebrities – are a little “out of touch”. When they give a “money saving recipe” that requires “flat-fish fillets such as plaice, lemon sole, megrim or dab, skin off and pin-boned, from sustainable sources”, or “6 cornichons”, or “200 g brown rice”, or “1 thumb-sized piece of ginger”, they lose me. I am fortunately not a “breadline cook”, but my rice is white, ginger is a powder in a little jar, I would not recognise a cornichon (Aldi probably doesn’t either), and my fish is frozen – either as breaded fingers or chunks of cod/haddock/coley.

Point 4. If cooking from “raw ingredients” we need to be able to do it from a more restricted list of ingredients. And if you live in a one or two person household, you also need to be able to buy small quantities – and supermarkets are obsessed with “buy one get one free” or “three for two” etc. A cook-chill meal, albeit expensive, has little food waste (just lots of packaging waste). My jar of ginger powder goes a little solid when it gets more than a year beyond its sell by date.

Finally it is not just a matter of cost but of time. Many (if not most) of the poor are not just “cash poor” but also “time poor”. Too many think that if you are poor you are inevitably unemployed and have lots of time on your hands. What the posh-boys do not want to recognise is that the majority of “the poor” are working their socks off for next to nothing, often travelling huge distances because they cannot afford to live close to their places of work – so they are both cash and time poor.

Point 5. Cheap cooking has to be quick cooking. It is not just a matter of “prep time”, but total time; you get in from work “knackered” and you want to be eating within 10-15 minutes. The old “Sunday Roast” and then eat cold through to the middle of the following week strategy can work if you “have a Sunday”.

There is a problem. I don’t think saying everyone should earn enough to afford convenience foods is actually a sustainable solution. Simplistic preaching is also distasteful, it is necessary to recognise that the problem has many aspects (income, time, fashion, food-retailing, household size, aspiring for a celebrity-like lifestyle rather than a good lifestyle, etc.) all of which has to be tackled.

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