Always one to jump on the back of a trend, I thought I might add my 2 cents to the current fad for nostalgia in the context of Credit Crunchiness and the escalating prices of foodstuffs. My recent post about childhood skiving was also moderately well received, so I feel further emboldened to comment.
Essentially (in the style of Mike Yarwood) the premish is thish:
Is the world a better place than it used to be, or a worse one? For the vast majority of course the question is about as academic as you can get, but I can only speak of my self can I not? So here goes.
First of all, though, a bit of background. Mark Lawson has once again identified the zeitgeist in his usual cucumber cool manner, by asking if we are all yearning for a golden age which never existed, whilst conveniently forgetting about cholera, rickets and child abuse. These days, he maintains, we are all so comfortable that we cannot tolerate the relatively mild degrees of suffering with which we have to deal. Of course things could be better, he says, but let's not jump on the backs of knife-wielding yoof, etc before we remember the Edwardian street gangs and the Teds of the 50s, their crepe soles covered in bits of brain and bone and Brighton beach.
The Sun's Captain Crunch last week carried a - fairly - interesting two page spread on a family eating a 1940s diet for a week (only!) and everywhere you look there are references to tightening the belt - living life as we used to, complete with dripping and powdered egg, as some kind of means to a) take us back to a perceived age of innocence and b) help us to become healthier and more frugal with a spot of good honest self denial.
I remember dripping. I liked dripping, though not too much. It had a pleasantly salty taste and a faintly nauseating texture. Though, like Special Brew, I really don't think I could take it now, unless in extremis of course. There are some other key things I remember about food from my childhood, and they are (in no particular order):
Lots of meat by-products - we used to eat savoury duck, faggots (is there a difference?) and cervelat (whose name, I have just discovered, derives from the fact that it originally contained pieces of brain!) as well as pies, corned beef, spam and sausages. A favourite was heart (ox heart, I would think) which my grandmother would roast for what seemed like hours and cut into slivers, serving it in a rich gravy. I can still taste the meat, which was extremely toothsome, even though I haven't eaten it for many many years.
All fried food was cooked in lard or dripping, and must have been extremely greasy, though I don't have a particular memory of it being so. Vegetables were boiled to a very soft consistency. Nothing was steamed. I did not eat rice (except in tinned rice pudding) until I was about 15, and even then it was in a Vesta ready meal. Salad was a fairly rare treat, usually more common in the summer, accompanied by triangles of bread and a steaming bowl of new potatoes covered in butter with a dollop of Heinz salad cream. Salt was abundant, and jam tarts and tea would follow.
My uncle would often eat a plate of radish with a pyramid of salt for dipping, and I would eat strawberries - sometimes from the garden - with a pyramid of sugar. Fruit juices, which seem to be coming out the wazoo these days, were hardly ever available, though there was always plenty of squash. I can't say as I ever went hungry (except when I stayed with my uncle and aunt in Harlow during the summer holidays, when I would sneak downstairs in the dead of night to supplement the meagre meals they prepared) and I ate vast amounts of sweets, resulting in the loss of 2 of my adult teeth before I reached the age of 21.
In all, there seems to be no question that the food I (and we) eat today is immeasurably healthier than the one I was used to consuming. My kids even more so. It is a strange and sad phenomenon then - the increase in child obesity and the frightening rise of diabetes in the young. Clearly, I was more able to run off the calories I consumed, and in all probability the few fresh fruits and veg I did eat contained a higher proportion of vitamins and minerals than they do now. When it comes to food, and the politics of body shape, I would have to say that the world is not a better place than it was. It is terrifying to think of 8 and 9 year old kids obsessing about their figures and trying to look like something out of a magazine. Bring back dripping, I say!