Let’s face it: no matter how green or good it is, almost four quid for a lettuce is just wrong, no matter how many happy slugs have left their slimy trails in its crevices or how much grass-rich cow poo has fertilised the roots. Last week, a certain high-end ‘organic’ supermarket sold me a cheese at double the price I normally pay for it wholesale for the restaurant.
Less is definitely more
During the years of plenty (remember those?) when fat-fleshed kine covered the earth, the farmers’ market was born and shops like these championed (and profited from) organic, well-sourced ingredients. The promise of individually harvested, locally-sourced, hand-raised, line-caught delicacies, changed the landscape for a while. Now food retail is like fashion shopping. Plain food has gone gourmet. Honest provender like decent bread, English apples, or a nice old cockerel for the pot have become rare standards of excellence, and it prices accordingly. Less is definitely more.
At the other end of the argument, the ‘shocking price of decent food’ debate has the media in a sweat again thanks to Jamie Oliver’s outburst regarding ‘poor people’ who would rather eat crap and have a flat screen TV. Aside, of course, from being expertly nuanced PR for his new TV series, thank goodness they have the telly, otherwise how will they learn to make healthy peasant food on almost no money?
By eating well you might feel better
In a way I’m actually on Jamie’s side with this one. Regardless of his millions, he’s desperately trying to make a point about food: by eating well you might feel better. But as Joanna Blythman so accurately points out in her article ‘Oliver Twit’ (1 September 2013), it’s much more complicated than getting feckless people to eat better food. Clearly an “investigative, as opposed to light entertainment, TV series looking at why many poor people eat badly would never run out of material”. One thing is for sure, if you have no money, prospects or hope, what is there to stay thin and healthy for anyway? I, for one, would probably rather have a flat screen than a green bean.
Fact: most people don’t care
Fundamental to the principles of hospitality is to let those who are hungry, needy, strange and poor eat first from the plate. If we bother to pay attention to this responsibility, rising from our aromatic consommé of food purism, we cannot escape the fact that good food is either unaffordable or uninteresting to most people. Fact: most people don’t care. As a nation, one-third of the food we buy is chucked because of the tyranny of our ‘best-before’ and ‘sell-by’ rules. And that’s you folks, not just the poor and dispossessed. Not to mention the shameful disposal of food waste by supermarkets and massive chain restaurants.
Victims of our own success
People like us and Jamie Oliver, who understand the importance of good food and healthy cooking, have an obligation to ensure that those who most need nutritious, healthy, well-sourced ingredients are able to access them. And yes, it is my choice to buy silly, overpriced lettuce and cheese. But if we never rise from our tables and simply indulge our own epicurean desires regardless of our responsibilities, if we don’t actively resist greed and poverty in all its manifestations, we might eventually become the victims of our own success. And history will remember that we did nothing but sate our own appetites. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that there is no sincerer love than that of food. But not in a good way.