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How British food has improved over the past 50 years


Will self writes in the BBC magazine that we should end “our national obsession with food.”  He bewails the fact that the nation has become a “foodie paradise” and looks fondly back to the days when you might find just a fish and chip shop, an Indian and a Chinese eaterie on the high street. Now those same streets and our supermarket shelves offer us the food of the world. If Will Self were to spend a fortnight eating food from the 1950s and 1960s, he might reconsider his somewhat perverse criticism of the way food has changed since then.

Of the many cultural changes I have lived through, this has been one of the most welcome.  British food had the dubious pleasure of being among the world’s worst. We had no taste, and we didn’t know how to cook.  I remember advising my Hillsdale students, “when the waiter brings a plate with a lettuce leaf, two tasteless halves of a tomato and two slices of processed cheese, don’t sit waiting for the main course; that is the main course.”  Burgers in Britain were a kind of stewed meat loaf; vegetables had the life boiled out of them (or came out of tins); meat was overlooked to leatheriness, and we thought wine was a sickly sweet sherry brought out for celebrations. Ah yes, I remember it well, but I doubt if Will Self does.

Food is one of the things that has become better, and the change has improved the quality of our lives. We have learned that meals are not a refueling stop but an aesthetic experience, something to savour and delight in.  From celebrity chefs we have learned how to cook, and how to choose fine ingredients.  As a nation we have become better at many things in the past half-century, and food is one of the important ones. Bon appetit.


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