Thursday, 30 June 2011

Un-Fashionable Food

You don't wear a crinoline, or a flapper's dress. Men don't wear bowler hats anymore. Clothes aren't made of the heavy, difficult to wash-and-dry fabrics they used to be. You don't wear ten layers of undergarment or complicated corsetry. You CAN of course wear those things, say for a costume party or for fun... but you wouldn't think it is quite the normal thing for everyday life or to go to work in.

So why is it that people still eat the same type of food their forefathers enjoyed many decades or even centuries ago? Every country has their own depressing litany of outdated foods. (I think it is fair to call them "outdated" as food definitely has a shelf-life (pun intended). Nowadays we know so much more about nutrition, we don't need quite so many calories as our lives tend to be less physically demanding - and most importantly our tastes should have changed.

In Germany, the dreaded combo of a piece of pork swimming in virtual estuaries of creamy gravy, garnished with rubbery canned mushrooms goes by the name of "Jaegerschnitzel".
Weirdly, it is most frequently accompanied by a heap of noodles. The recipe was first established in the early 19th century. Time to move on I say!

Britain still suffers from the heritage of wartime austerity when almost all foodstuffs were rationed. This unfortunate legacy continues to make British home-cooked meals a thing of nutritional horror. Greasy, stodgy and depressingly dull meals are still the norm in an ordinary household.

The only widely accepted modernisation would be microwaving which really is more a time-saving device than an actual modernisation. When people bother to cook "properly", they still refer to a meal-plan that was devised ages ago. Pies for example are to this day made with suet, lard and dripping - fats that are nutritionally deeply suspect.

Yet it's not just the nutritional aspect that remains iffy. The content of a Cornish pasty for example evokes the musty, mushy, greyness of a 1940's school dinner. And it really would be so easy to bring it up to date (more interesting vegetables not cooked to a pulp etc.)

The same is even true for such a gastronomic ideal as France. French cuisine with its penchant for old-fashioned "meat and two veg" formulas (and that's for lunch!), its passion for all things boiled, its unsophisticated odd puddings "(Ile flottante"! )place its cuisine firmly in the mid-19th century.

NB I'm talking about typical meals families would consume at home, not what you can get in restaurants - of course there is much more diversity there, and food has clearly moved with the times.

So why is home cooking so reluctant to adapt to any reasonable interpretation of "zeitgeist"? Why can it only either dwell in the doldrums of a forgotten decade, or else become dull fastfood? Why is there not a modern interpretation of healthy, nutritionally balanced and easy to prepare complete meals? TV-chefs like Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay produce examples how this could be achieved. But there suggestions rarely make it into family homes. Too fussy, too difficult, too many ingredients, outcome unsure.... those are the arguments against. So people stick with what they know, and (think they) love. Which is either greasy and heavy 19th century food, or greasy and heavy fastfood (chips, bacon). What a shame!


  1. People take a long time to change, especially when they need to believe in their roote. But to help them, I suggest tasty, colourful, but most importantly, SIMPLE recipes from Josée di Stasio. The website is in French (, but you can find di Statio's books in English on (type "a la di stasio").

    Believe me, you're gonna want to love food.

  2. Sorry: "believe in their roots", not *roote.