25 SEPTEMBER 1993, Page 50

I Imperative cooking: Gloom, gloom and more gloom UWAL.,41 4 L...

THE FAMILY Expenditure Survey's new figures show that the average family spends 17 per cent of its income on food, a mere £47.70 per week. This is a shocking figure, telling us just how little the average Briton cares about food. As most people have got more affluent, they have spent less on food. In 1972, for instance, they spent 30 per cent. They buy, apparently, shell-suits and luxuries for pets, anything but better food. You can forget the Elizabeth David revolu- tion and all the other hype, there has been no food revolution, at least in attitudes. We Imperative Cooks are as much a belea- guered minority as we ever were. More perhaps than ever: 20 years ago, most men were ignorant and incompetent with food, today most women are too.

For instance, there has been a revolution of a different kind at the Daily Telegraph. Its columnists used to be gentlemen, now they are ladies. This revolution may have been engineered from politically correct motives of reverse discrimination or in search of certain readers. I know not and it doesn't matter. What is of interest is that these ladies next to never mention food. They tell tales, discuss and opinionate on family problems, health, their children and other topics which might be thought 'female', but not food. This is either because they know and care little about it or because they and their employers do not think the modern British lady reader would be interested. I'm sure it's the latter and I'm sure they are right. Of course food is given its ritual slot in the recipe and restaurant columns. It is treated as a hobby a bit like motor-cars. The one newspaper which does give food interesting main-page and comment cover- age is the Guardian. Here often, but, to be fair, by no means always, food becomes an excuse for indulging in other ideologies — greenery, vegemania, health fascism or just attacking the food companies. Again, all very sensible given the readership.

The newspapers' judgment is very sound. And what it points to is this: a population most of which wants recipes to get through the tedious business of what-shall-we-give- the-Smithsons-on-Saturday-we-gave-th em- duck-last-time?, and a minority for whom food is an excuse for discussing progres- sivist politics. This is a world far removed from France, and even America, where food is a matter of interest, controversy,

allegiance, factions and passions in itself.

Further evidence comes from the judg- ment of the food industry. It survives by knowing what the average Briton wants and providing it. She wants convenient food as cheaply as possible. She can be persuaded to pay more but not for the quality or authenticity of the food itself. Food activists, especially the Green and Organic lobbies, thought they knew better. They represented the industry imposing pro- cessed chickens and frozen peas on a popu- lation which was really yearning for expen- sive, scrawny but tasty, free-range birds and unsprayed fresh starchy peas in their pods. They were wrong. Though greenery persists in the rhetoric of labels, the expensive organic products have been quietly removed from the supermarket shelves.

It is the fanatical lack of interest in food which is the true key to the slaughterhouse saga so often mentioned in this column recently. Of course evil and ambitious civil servants and a minister who cared nothing for the consumer are to blame. But they would not have got away with it in France. The much discussed lack of application of EEC directives in France and Italy on food is a consequence of the lively public interest.

As more regulatory pressures loom, the few Britons who enjoy and are interested in good food are going to find it even more difficult to obtain what they need. Already most butchers only receive and sell parts of the animals: brains, tripe, cheeks, sweet- breads, blood, feet are removed at slaugh- ter and go into processed meats. We can- not buy fat pork and that means an end to half the charcuterie recipes. We cannot buy fat meat generally, which means poor roasting joints. Few butchers now sell undressed game for us to hang and deal with as we wish. Indeed the writing is on the wall for many small high-street butchers. And similar trends are occurring with fish.

Of course, good things can be found, with effort and at a price. And there are new sources and allies: thank goodness for the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. And one good piece of recent news: some enterpris- ing chaps have just set up The Carnivores' Club to start the fight back against vegema- nia. But it is going to be a rough future and one in which we Imperative Cooks will find out just how small a minority we are.

Digby Anderson