Saturday, October 04, 2008

Know your onions

I get very upset when I stand behind people in supermarkets who are buying those microwavable cheeseburgers already in a bun. Food is one of life's greatest pleasures, and we've never had it so good, but you have to know what to do with it, and millions of people don't.

These days I sometimes go to Sainsburys on a Saturday morning with ex-housemate S and baby Tungsten. She's come a long way from the days when she'd ring me up from the Co-op in Botley and say 'what should I buy?', but she'll still stand there at the meat counter and ask me questions about stew. S, I say, I haven't eaten meat since 1983. I've never cooked the stuff. I have no sodding idea.

Her mother was what used to be called a 'good plain cook'. Her cheese and onion pie was one of the highlights of my late adolescence. But S was the youngest of five, and somehow never learnt. Most of her recipes are mine. Most of *mine* I made up in my early 20s, many of them based on things that the mother of my Significant Ex used to cook on her Aga. When I was living at home, I somehow never learnt either.

I'd never cooked anything till I went to university. My first recipe was pasta with sauce made from a tin of chopped tomatoes mixed with packets of minestrone Cup A Soup. The soup had croutons. It was kind of crunchy. I can't believe I fed this to people. But I worked at it, and these days I am a passable cook. I am best at soups and things which spend a long time in the oven, like roasted vegetables and pasta bakes. I think this must be an Aga throwback thing.

This is a rather long-winded way of admitting that I am again taking my hat off to Jamie Oliver, if as begrudgingly as last time-- he still gets right on my tits. The first episode of the Ministry of Food made me cry. If we lived in a decent social democracy this would be a public health issue the government addressed at its root, as in fact it did during the war, but as we in fact live in a celebrity-obsessed Daily Mail reading dystopia, it's down to Jamie to enrich the lives of those single mothers on benefits. 

But if he *can* get people learning how to boil spaghetti, it might just save us all. It's not just poor people who can't cook, I've seen plenty of middle class fridges full of Waitrose ready meals and mouldering bags of salad, but it's mainly poor people who live in such a nutritional desert, with all. The reasons for this stretch back forever, as Felicity Lawrence explains very well, and will stretch forward forever too if we don't do something about it. It's a national tragedy. 


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