There’s been a huge amount of guff talked in recent days about how people who eat cheap, processed food should “learn to cook”. This article by Jay Rayner says it all, really, for me – there’s more to this than people simply not knowing how to cook.
I know how to cook, and I can produce cheap and nourishing meals. But I doubt I could rival the price of a couple of 12 pence burgers, some cheap oven chips, and a can of beans.
As an example, yesterday we had roast belly pork. To my shame, I cannot tell you how much the meat cost, because I bought a chunk from the butcher, he divided it up into three smaller chunks, and it went in the freezer. My best guess is about four quid for this piece, which will do us at least four portions.
With it we had red cabbage and apple; those two ingredients cost £1.34 in the greengrocer, and will do at least eight portions. We also had root mash – four carrots, three potatoes, two thirds of a swede. About – what – £1.50? £2? I don’t even know, to be honest. And there were two meals’ worth there. Tonight we will repeat the meal with the leftovers. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t compete with the cost of a £1.30 Findus frozen lasagne.
So, you might say, that’s a cheap meal. And indeed it is. But it doesn’t include the cost of cooking it, or the time to do it. Or buying for the first time, the store cupboard stuff I used – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, red wine vinegar in the cabbage; Fennel seeds, olive oil, sea salt for the pork. Or the pots to cook it in, or the knives to chop it up. I’m nearly 60 years old – I’ve been building up my skills, my confidence, my batterie de cuisine for forty years, and I’m still learning. And we’re lucky – we don’t have kids to look after, or a commute.
I heard a head honcho from Morrisons on the radio on Saturday, saying how “the food supply had become so complex”, and indeed it astonished me that meat was being shipped all over the place before it landed in the factory. In part, it’s complex because the major supermarket chains are constantly driving down the cost of food to the customer, while making the suppliers pay for that price drop. Most people spend less and less of their income as a percentage on food, while UK farmers are going out of business because they cannot get a fair price for their produce.
Those people in our society who are out of work, or ill, or elderly, are seeing their benefits cut, in real terms, while inflation goes up and up. If you are really struggling to heat your house, or buy your children’s school shoes, “decent” food is something that’s likely to be beyond your reach. So can we stop demonising everyone who eats this stuff, please?