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Our problems with food go further than festive flab

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 07, 2013

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Old Music-Hall joke: "I've got a new job, as a habitué." "What do you do then?" "I shout at passers-by 'Habitué, fourteen stone three pounds'."

OK, Christmas is over and I'm guessing that most of us are carrying around a little more of our glorious selves than we did a month ago. Some will have done penance in the gym, that throwback to the medieval torture dungeon with its levers and springs and moving floors, its mind-sapping music as you cycle the virtual miles behind clenched teeth, row the dry stream, and balance on unsandy beach balls. Yes, I've been there. And I may go back for another gold star of masochistic virtue.

But not yet, not while my inner squirrel whispers "January ... February ... even March can be pretty nasty, Mike.... Best keep those nuts safely stashed round your waist where no one can steal them." Good thinking.

But as the bilious season comes to an end and the fridge finally gives up its guilty and evil-smelling secrets, a perpetual nausea returns to take its place.

Chefs! They're everywhere. I abhor snobbery, but my attitude to chefs chimes with Hilaire Belloc's towards the Dear Old Butler: "The Dear Old Butler thought – but there! I really neither know nor care, for what the Dear Old Butler thought..."

To me, what Cook gets up to in the kitchen is just a job, whoever it is (even me). I'll join the applause if it's nice and sing their praises if it's really special, but I no more want to kiss the artichokes of a chef than I want to endure hours and hours of programming devoted to the work of – my God, look in the TV schedules, they're all there – cleaners, undertakers, midwives, lorry drivers, etc, maxed up with ersatz drama and contrived personality clashes to keep us tuning in.

There's no profession left that keeps its mysteries out of the hungry public eye. Ah yes, one, but I'll come to that later. I respect their talents and hard work, but if someone follows a trade shouldn't you expect them to do it competently and not have to treat them like masters of the universe?

Instead, the food business in particular has become a classic reversal of the cart and the horse. I read restaurant reviews with horrified fascination, and see how even the wealthiest celebs have to beg and whine for a seat at some of these tables – only to be intimidated by the menu, patronised by the waiters, served something surrounded by splashes and smears of nameless things that wouldn't fill a cat, charged a decent man's week's wages, and then be expected to suck up to the chef afterwards in every available medium.

Was it a jaded restaurant reviewer who first started to sing (to the tune of Guantanamera) "**** in the morning, it will be **** in the morning..."?

As a culture it seems chefing can be attractive despite the stress – or at least I suppose that's what those who take part in TV foody competitions think. But it pokes so many others hurtfully in the eye – for a start, those who can't afford to dine out with Mr Grumpy or Ms Voluptua, or afford to put their recipes together at home. Those – what a perfect time of year for a guilt-trip – who simply don't have enough to eat. Those who, unbelievably in these flabby, spoiled, over-nourished times, will find the menu a plain blank from now until they finally succumb to starvation.

Yes, starvation, while we cruise the options in our new Christmas-present cookbooks. It takes a very solid filter indeed to avoid the basic obscenity of our gross and picky feeding. But we may have to.

There's not much prospect of actual starvation in Britain, but many families are having to resort to food banks. And strange winds are blowing around the world. Countries who were obliged for decades to sell their foodstuffs cheaply to us rather than feeding their own people are now better off and more inclined to look after each other. Climate change no longer impacts only faraway deserts. Those brightly-lit shelves don't fill themselves. We're going to have to look again at the bits between our towns we've neglected since the war. Farming is coming back.

And why not celeb farmers? There's a theme no one's thought of yet for a new generation of TV heroes. The Great British Milk-off? Ice Road Tractors? Can't wait...

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