Wednesday, February 17, 2010
"I'm ready for the question, Noel..."
Cheap food: it’s a relative concept, isn’t it? One man’s bargain meal deal is another’s disaster, according to whether you live like a lottery winner or exist on extremely meagre subsistence rates. Most of us, however, are fortunate enough to be able to munch on a happy balance: we can splurge on fabulous food - usually cooked by someone else - when the occasion is upon us, but spend most of our day-to-day life keeping a close eye on the cashflow. And, despite the doom-laden headlines (largely revolving around the “we’ve never had it so bad” theme) that the recession has thrust upon us, ‘twas ever the case. What has changed, however, is the contemporary concept of ‘value for money’, particularly in relation to the food that we eat.
The fact that we live in an age where spending money on ever-evolving gadgets (translation: toys for grownups), clothes that are never given the opportunity to become worn out and endless, mindless, thoroughly exploitative ‘pampering’/holiday/leisure activities is prioritised way above spending money (or time) on decent food is not the result of the natural evolutionary process. Supermarket price comparisons, loyalty card ‘events’ and supposedly wallet- and family-friendly offers from the high street fast food snake oil merchants dominate advertising campaigns across the media, but if you read, watch and listen between the lines, the overall message is this: spend less on food with us, and you can spend more (preferably still with us, or at least with one of our multinational conglomerate franchise partners) on a whole host of other shite that will feed neither body, mind nor soul.
Such insidious propaganda starts very early. The results of a recent survey of more than 1000 West Country school children between the ages of 6 and 8 may have thrown up some ‘cute’ responses to questions regarding the origins of the food we eat (sheep lay eggs, butterflies produce cheese, burgers come from McDonalds, etc), but the temporary ‘awww’ factor can’t erase the stomach-churning reality behind the results. But who can blame the survey respondents for their lack of knowledge when they’re being taught about food production by TV adverts that feature dancing strings of processed cheese, breakfast cereal ‘knitted by nanas’ and a fast food ‘chef’ talking passionately about his ‘career’ in the kitchen?
When did you last see a TV advert that genuinely promoted really decent food at really decent prices? You may have seen several that featured a woman (it’s still always a woman) pushing a trolley around a supermarket, piling it high with all kinds of BOGOF deals (usually frozen, jarred or vacuum packed) and then loading it into the boot of her car with a smug look on her face. And what do the family get for dinner? Frozen pizza. ‘Curry’ made with a jar of orange gloop. Buckets of factory-farmed chicken. Chocolate spread on toast, posing as a ‘nutritious breakfast’ (okay, I’m mixing my advertorial metaphors here, but you get the idea). But despite what the ad moguls would have you believe, ‘convenience’ food will never, ever be a bargain compared to shopping for, cooking and eating the real thing; the only beneficiaries of such modern day habits are the fat cats.
But please don’t tell me that most modern families can’t afford either the money or the time to live the good life. A budget that can adapt to keeping a small battalion of mobile phones, laptops and computer games topped up, charged and upgraded is ripe for a bit of book-cooking, while sacrificing just one hour of the 28 the average family spends in front of a screen every week and using it to do a proper weekly shop instead (online will do!) is all it takes to herald a domestic revolution. Allow 20 minutes a day for cooking the ingredients you’ve brought and you’ve got yourself a real meal deal.