Excuses For Eating
Street food success: Eating in public used to be considered vulgar (Miquel Lopez CC BY-SA 2.0)
UK business is “too lazy and too fat,” says Dr Liam Fox. Was that meant to be a metaphor? Or is the rise of “fattism” the natural result of the PC ban on other erstwhile forms of British superiority?
When the Vale of York health authority decided to deny operations to obese patients there was an outcry. The hospital group withdrew the idea after pressure from large groups, so to speak. Fair enough, you may think: our medical procedures should not depend on how much of a patient dangles over the rim of a standard NHS trolley.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Equality Party pressured Sadiq Khan to withdraw funding from London Fashion Week unless designers stopped employing size zero models, on the grounds that their employment contributes to the unrelenting rise in eating disorders.
I wonder whether it wouldn’t be sounder to speak to local councils about granting licences to so many restaurants that our high streets are now café society minus the society. It is a bit bilious-making when one considers the lack of food in two-thirds of the rest of the world. I love seeing the British out at night as much as the next person, and the sound of tinkling laughter under twinkling stars on a narrow pavement in Shepherd Market fills me with awe, but must everything be an excuse for eating? The high streets of most major towns are just wall-to-wall force-feeding joints. We are the Bistro Kids.
Must the garage have a Nespresso bar? Must the library and the swimming pool do shawarma and chips? Must every park offer pizza margarita and every museum have a muffin counter? There are three-foot-long pesto baguettes walking back to work with people who have spent the morning sitting in front of a computer screen. Thai green curry and Diet Coke wobble on trolleys to your train seats.
My local cinema announces “Woody Allen’s Café Society” below the words “We Do Deliveroo”. Can people really not sit through a two-hour (though it felt like four) film without Polish/Mexican tacos with an avocado/quince coulis?
In 1980, when I moved to Muswell Hill, there was one restaurant; 25 years later, when I left, there were 49. Nowhere to buy a bath-towel or a packet of safety-pins or a bag of loam but you can eat in global fashion till you’re too flabby to get your hernia fixed.
It used to be regarded as vulgar to eat in the street. Even chewing gum was an act of rebellion. In the ’50s, in my stuffed neck of the woods, there was no such thing as going out for a meal. Unheard-of waste! As for dinner parties — if folk came over for “an evening”, they came when they’d had their dinner. Bridge rolls, with chopped hard-boiled eggs, or cream cheese and cucumber, put in an appearance at some point, and tea and home-made cake was served between card games and gender-separated chat, but spending two days planning a dish of sumac and preserved lemons with a bulgur crust, then toiling over a dessert which involves separating 17 yolks from 17 whites followed by a complicated networking placement was as remote as . . . well, as using a remote to change four channels.