As a nation we have forgotten how, when and what to cook and eat

Looking closely at the receipt pictured in a Tesco ad, something other than the intended message can be found: evidence of cultural impoverishment

If you wanted an insight into Britain’s cultural poverty, Tesco is not the obvious place to look. Megalomania and yearnings for world domination, maybe, but nothing more profound than that. And yet, its latest press campaign reveals, rather in the manner of the diarist Pooter, more than it intends.

It comprises a side-by-side comparison of prices; on the left, a check-out receipt for a variety of groceries from Asda; on the right, an identical list from Tesco. The Asda total comes to £103.09, the Tesco one to £101.31. But, with Tesco, the shopper gets 101 Clubcard points worth £1.01, making an overall advantage of £2.79. Yes, every little helps, with the emphasis on little.

It is, however, only when you look at the list of items in the notional shopping bag that you realise, with a sickening feeling, how impoverished we are. Coca-Cola, Jacobs Cheddars, Nestlé Cheerios, Kellogg’s Pop Tarts Strawberry Sensation, Fray Bentos Pork Meatballs Tomato Sauce, Pot Noodle Beef and Tomato, Laughing Cow Standard Cheese Triangles, Bernard Matthews Mini Kievs, 5-pack jam doughnuts. It would be wrong to describe these products as rubbish, but not all that wrong. In terms of taste and nutritional value, their value is negligible whatever their price. This is an expensive way to eat.

Among the greatest paradoxes in our society is that our desire for big kitchens and lavishly illustrated cookery books, and our keen interest in celebrity chefs and telly cooking programmes, is matched by an inability to cook and a taste for culinary junk. This is not a matter of class or wealth. Until the present economic crisis, the great majority of Britons were comfortably off or, thanks to easy credit, enjoyed the illusion of being well off. But they still ate like paupers. In Welwyn Garden City, near where I live, a common sight in the early evening is the row of shining BMWs and Mercedes lining up outside the local Kentucky Fried Chicken. That is what I mean by cultural impoverishment.

We do not know how to eat, ee do not even know where to eat. It is now commonplace to see Britons refuelling with sandwiches, burgers and kebabs in the street, on public transport, at their desks, on park benches. Parents don’t know how to cook. Children don’t know how to hold a knife and fork.

It was not always thus. As recently as the Forties and Fifties, mothers knew how to prepare nourishing meals from wholesome ingredients. Yes, British cuisine was mocked by foreigners – especially the French, whose culinary superiority was genuine, as indeed was their native superciliousness – but our food was nothing like as bad as Elizabeth David and other aficionados of Mediterranean cuisine made out. For example, the British breakfast was a gift to the world and remains so today, even though it is to be found not in our homes, but in corner cafés.

The reasons for our food poverty are well documented. We are far too busy earning the money to pay taxes and mortgages to cook at home. Our schools no longer teach girls (or boys) how to cook. The microwave and “ready-meals”‘ mean something resembling food can be put on a plate in seconds. We have enough money (or did until recently) to eat out, often in places where we are served microwaved, ready-meals in seconds. Above all, the explanation lies in the triumph of feminism. Today, women have been freed from the shackles of the kitchen and tied instead to the masochistic pleasures of wage slavery. They are too exhausted to cook and in many cases consider it beneath them. So be it. There is a price for every freedom.

In Greek mythology, humans are the playthings of malevolent gods who look down from Mount Olympus and laugh as the outcome of our desires is not as we expected. How they must chortle at the confusion sown by feminism. A generation of liberated women who have the freedom to be exhausted and, as mothers, to feel guilty. A generation of women freed from the irksome ties of marriage and thrown instead into the feckless arms of a partner, or series of partners. A generation of children brought up by a succession of child minders and other strangers before being turned out to roam the streets. A shopping list that includes Bernard Matthews Mini Kievs.

Then again, the workforce is enriched by a supply of energetic, talented ambitious, well-educated women, many no doubt employed in the marketing department of Tesco and some, perhaps, in the humming laboratories of Bernard Matthews’ Norfolk turkey complex. Whoops, there split the sides of another Greek god. 

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