If, as Freud said, everything is about sex, apart from sex, then goodness knows what he would make of our current obsession with food.
It’s hard to say when the nation became so obsessed with food that it will happily watch someone baking a cake without being near enough to actually eat it. TV schedules are crammed with chefs leaning smugly on oak tables; their kitchen an oasis of culinary calm. Family members swearing at each other and demanding why there’s no bloody orange juice left are presumably in the other kitchen. Meanwhile, even more desperate TV chefs tour Europe on motorbikes, or donkeys, searching for forgotten peasant recipes last seen cellotaped to the fridge of the ark. The only programme you’re safe from recipes you’ll never cook is the news.
The earliest example I can recall of a cookery programme is Get Stuffed, where stoned students were introduced to kitchens without a parent for the first time, and subsequently demonstrated their kitchen prowess (somehow) without killing themselves during a 5-minute recipe concluding with them baffled by which way up to eat a boiled egg.
I’m not quite of the school of thought believing that the best use of a table is for table tennis, but the obsession with cooking leaves me cold, or at least lukewarm, you know, the kind of perfect temperature of soup so it doesn’t burn your mouth.
It’s hard to know when our appetite for food reached such proportions. Stress caused by suburban dinner parties is now such a popular reason for divorce that guests need to bring a bottle, argument de-escalation skills, and keep their car engine running. Food recipes have reached the extravagance last seen at the fall of Rome. Meals enjoyed when no one is looking, (cheesy crumpets buttered to critical mass) are displaced by recipes requiring hand-pressed pasta and sauce toppings blowtorched by actual Mediterranean sun.
Other than the US space programme leading to the shuttle Challenger disaster, few things require more preparation for such brief results than a roast dinner. The washing up alone requires taking the following day off work. It’s the biggest build up, 7 hours prep for 10 minutes pleasure. It’s good for people to enjoy their food, but some demolish it with such gusto that you’re lucky to be left with the table veneer, or even the table. Ironically it’s the slowest eater who has the food the longest. If food is sex, than it’s sadomasochistic
Most interestingly, it’s often blokes now obsessing with competing against their mates through intricacies of new recipes, which they’re happy to talk through in detail if you’re foolish enough to express polite interest. Every other phrase is al Dente, gratinéed or Pappardelle, like you’ve walked into the waiting room for a casting of Good Fellas. You’re as likely to find them discussing the merits of the Moulinex Compact Electric hand-held blenders over the static model, as you are the strengths of Tottenham’s current defence issues.
For those less versed in food alchemy, most products kindly include a Serving Suggestion, on everything from milk to Bakewell tarts. For those struggling with sloshing milk over worktops and the floor, ‘in a glass’ is illustrated as a suitable serving suggestion, while Bakewell tarts are shown on a plate; not that a Bakewell tart has time to reach a plate once leaving the packet. Some shampoos even curb voracious appetites by labelling their bottles with THIS IS NOT A FOOD, presumably to stop Heston Blumenthal from making his latest twist on Bubble and Squeak.
Cooking is all about good planning and good intentions. And cooking your own food is far healthier. The problem is that plotting the kale and ginger breakfast bullet before going to bed is commendable, until you wake up craving nothing but a Terry’s Chocolate orange and tea with enough sugar to stand the spoon in. Besides, the health & safety issues around slicing kale with a Lamson 6″ knife at 7am is the kind of thing requiring emergency bills put through Parliament.
Thankfully, this new trend for people volunteering to spend time in the kitchen results in more chefs than guests, so ironically it’s good times for those not particularly obsessed by food, but then perhaps that’s how it all starts.