TV Dinners

Pizza

Pizza

Earlier this year I experienced something that made me think about how we appreciate food. I tend to watch TV while eating meals, I have done for many years and on this particular evening I was watching The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads while eating a pizza, suddenly I realised that the pizza had pretty much disappeared. I didn’t remember eating it, by which I mean I didn’t remember what it was like.  I did, however, remember the TV programme.

I realised that because I’d been concentrating on the events on-screen my mind had simply allowed the eating to be done autonomously, as though it were simply food for survival rather than enjoyment.  I felt distinctly disappointed as it was a kind of food I like to taste and savour.  For some people the TV is more important than enjoying food but not me.

There are restaurants where you eat in the dark and when I first heard about the concept, about how it enables you to appreciate the food more and experience all the nuances of flavour fully without even the distraction of seeing the food I thought it was just a fad, until the lost pizza.

Perhaps this is why we enjoy food more in restaurants or outdoors, whether it be a bacon cob or a picnic, with fewer distractions.  TV is often a constant stream of events, taking your full attention as opposed to having it on in the background, or listening to music, or having a conversation with family or friends at the dinner table like we used to – all of which let you pay attention to everything in turn, including the food in front of you.

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Electric Hands and Aluminium Kitchens

chisels

chisels (Photo credit: The Year of Mud)

I was watching a TV show which showed a restaurant and the customers kept talking about all this “home cooked” food, OK it was a family restaurant, owned by the same family for generations but I was sure that they just showed the food being cooked in a very shiny, very metallic, very up to hygiene standards industrial restaurant kitchen behind the counter.  Do they live upstairs?  I thought.  On other shows this pattern repeated, maybe it’s the decor that’s making people think “home cooked”, don’t they know it’s not the owner’s dining room.

Next up came the description of hand-made food items which again didn’t seem quite what I would call “hand”-made, although hands were involved in some ways, moving the ingredients, pushing the button, turning the handle.

“The meat is still prepared by hand” – the guy pushed a piece of meat into a machine.  No knife, no hammer.

“Hand-cut fries” – the guy pushed a potato into a device and pulled a handle.  Again, no knife.

It’s not just restaurants though, more and more (often expensive and exclusive) things are described as “hand-made” when they’re in fact made by a machine and assembled by hand.  A chair leg hand-turned on a lathe is still hand-made, the hand that guides the chisel, but a cabinet where all the joints are routed by a set machine rather than a hammer and chisel – is that still hand-made?

Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that the term hand-made, along with home-cooked has come to mean the opposite of “made in a huge mass-production facility in China”.  TV shows have shown examples of some mass-production methods used by food producers, occasionally emphasising the less savoury looking aspects – the infamous “pink goo” – which doesn’t look appetising it’s true but restaurants don’t make food like factories, they mass produce just on a smaller scale, I’ve done a large spaghetti Bolognese at home but not enough for a table for ten at eight.

As well as that people know that fast-food or large chain restaurants have frozen food items shipped in nightly to be warmed up which are as such full of preservatives and evil whereas in a small restaurant the food is made properly, just like you’d have at home, hence home-made.  Even if the mass-produced stuff is 100% beef and the home-made one is just as bad for you if you scoff too many.

Maybe I’m being picky over semantics, again, but even home-made “home-made” food can come from a kit you buy at M&S these days.

In our world where just about everything is manufactured in a factory, see How It’s Made on TV, people are more often craving the hand made for its roughness, lack of uniformity – in things like cakes and chocolate bars, but if you phrase it differently “made by hand” or “hand finished by Barry” suddenly you can charge a fortune for it, whether it’s a watch or an Aston Martin engine.  The irony is that less than forty years ago Fiat ran a campaign for the new Strada expressing how amazing it was that it was Hand Built by Robots.

If you can market something as home-made or hand-made you can imply it’s more wholesome in some way, even if many of the ingredients still contain colourings and preservatives, when used deliberately this way it’s tapping into consumers’ resistance to “processed foods” which are full of salt, fat or MSG.  You can also sell to those following the current fashion of seeking out “authentic” experiences, like rustic furniture, timber sash windows, overpriced hearty bangers and mash or real ale at six pounds a pint – yes you read that right, a pub near here is offering an authentic real ale in a real pub experience for just six quid a go. Again they’re selling people the idea that the past was better, that retro is the way forward, so to speak.

I think I’ll stick to my real real pub across the town at half the price, followed by a decidedly not home-made battered sausage.

 

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The Needs for Bees

bee eating

bee eating (Photo credit: acidpix)

It is said that if you ask the question “where does our food come from?” today you’ll get the answer “the supermarket” more often than not and it’s true that many people are increasingly further along the supply chain from the raw produce than ever before – I am guilty of this myself, for convenience’s sake I eat much frozen and processed foods and it would be easy to not realise which animal beef comes from or that potatoes are grown in the ground or peas are pulled from one natural packet before being shoved into an artificial one.

The thing is that so much of our food still relies on nature to help in its production, despite irrigation systems, spray-on pesticides and nutrients.  Sometimes an apparently insignificant change in nature can have catastrophic implications that science can’t (yet) get round effectively – the most extreme example of this effect on our food being the novel The Death of Grass by John Christopher in which a devastating plant virus wipes out all species of grasses – including wheat leaving us without cereal crops for either us or our livestock to eat with the result of a rapid breakdown of society to a barbarous state of desperation for survival.

But it’s just science fiction isn’t it, we’re ok.  Aren’t we?  Well, to a point.  Bees are one of the main pollinators of plants, we need them in order to grow our food crops as well as gardens full of pretty flowers but they have been, across the world, in decline in recent years and scientists don’t fully know why.  It is thought that if we lost the bees the knock on effect would be the loss of up to a third of our regular diet. 

Various theories have been put forward such as mites like the tracheal mites that killed off all native British bees during World War I – which needed to be replaced by imported Dutch and Italian bees.   It is also theorised that, ironically, pesticides and other chemicals used to protect the crops the bees are pollinating are responsible.

So what can be done?  Well another possible contributing factor is that people are either removing wild flower areas that supported the bees or concreting over gardens and having low-maintenance patios and so on that have no flowers at all or only plants that are no use to bees whatsoever.  So while science tries to find out why the decline is happening and the debate over pesticides rumbles on consider how that humble bee sitting on your windowsill ultimately affects your life, it’s not as insignificant as it may seem.  There are lots of posts on Facebook at the moment advising helping out struggling bees with drops of sugar-water and more importantly the planting of bee-friendly plants.

At the front of our factory is an area that hadn’t been cleared of wild plants and flowers for some time and as I was making a mug of tea the other day I noticed it was a hive of bee activity, so to speak, so we’re doing our bit, in a tiny way.

Chocolate Shouldn’t Require an Excuse

This mean cat is me

This mean cat is me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone who shall remain nameless said to me today that they’d opened a bag of sweets “because we needed something for the mousetrap”.  I replied that it was the best excuse I’d heard for opening chocolates and they then said “you’ll put that on your blog now won’t you.”

Yep 🙂

Also this month’s excuse for a cat picture.