Food is the new rock and roll
“We are a nation of voyeurs. We love Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson in our millions, but we leave them on our coffee tables. We watch them but we don’t always learn from them,” Tom Parker Bowles, critic and author.
I never thought I’d agree with Tom Parker Bowles, but he is right. Britain lost its will to cook, we fell in love with convenience and out of love with ingredients. I would go further and say that cookery is the new rock and roll.
Whilst music on television has declined – Top of the Pops, The Tube, The Chart Show and CDUK have all come and gone, food and chefs have been taking over the telly. There used to be a smattering of Delia and a touch of Floyd, held together with a weekly dose of Food & Drink. Then slowly but surely the airwaves filled with Ainsley, Gordon, Jamie, Hugh and a host of new shows, all pretending they aren’t just there to sell the inevitable book tie–in.
Bookshops are the new record shops and cookbooks are the new LPs. Shelf after shelf filled with ‘discounted’ new releases of the latest celeb chef, each one designed and tailored to appeal to a slightly different consumer. Where as once you would pour over your LPs, to create the perfect balance of tracks for your compilation tape, now you sift through endless cookbooks to find recipes that knit together to create the perfect dinner party. Each one of these culinary must haves has a built in obsolescence, capturing food trends and styles that will last until… well, just about until the next one comes out! You can even chart the fashions of style and design from their pages – just as you once could from the sleeves of your favourite vinyl.
They are the publishing equivalent of Monsanto’s infamous terminator seed – designed to give one crop and then be sterile, they provide you with each recipe and teach you nothing. You could cook from Nigella, Jamie et al from now until forever but you wouldn’t be able to cook any better for it. Nigel Slater’s latest volume boasts he is ‘Britain’s finest food writer’, (the empirical evidence for this claim, I would happily pay to see!) but nowhere does he mention being able to make you cook or understand food any better. Without them we are like drug addicts separated from their stash – helpless, reaching for the nearest convenient fix.
It’s little wonder that the great British consumer so embraces other cultures foods, holds dear to their hearts the celeb chef – it’s because they can’t cook. They don’t know how too. At no point do they learn to, so why should they know?
Our National Curriculum includes Religious Education, Citizenship and Music, but nothing vaguely connected with food or its preparation. Would it help if we brought back Home Economics? It’s hard to know, given that the generations that did undergo those lessons are the ones that welcomed the ready meal into their lives and built supermarkets up to the giants they are today. Maybe it’s just another characteristic of being British – like the ability to queue and our acceptance of bad service? Hundreds of years of absorbing elements of other peoples cultures has made us into a nation always looking for the next thing. So instead of looking to what we have and learning to do it well, we become obsessed with Indian, or Chinese, or Italian, or Spanish, or Mexican cuisines – anything which is the newest sensation.
Where there is something new, there is money. Industries sprout from these trends to ensure that we can keep up with the Jones’. First there are the authentic imported products, latched onto by the foodie snobs, then the supermarkets catch a whiff of people spending money, then TV moves in. What else could compliment a TV show, other than a shiny, fresh-smelling, dust-cover clad cookbook – available in all good book shops.