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AGENDA: Whalemeat again, don't know where, don't know ...


Tender hunks of ocean-reared whalemeat, lovingly boiled with nutty turnips; aromatic Bovril drizzled on an artisan tin loaf, finished with noisettes of dripping; the stewed stomach-lining of a freshly-slaughtered roadside goat dressed with hand-plucked nettles.

This is no ordinary food, this is wartime austerity food. It's the next big thing for foodies and it is set to do for domestic cats what sun-drying did for tomatoes.

The Government's waste reduction agency, Wrap, has discovered what many of us already suspected: we're a wasteful bunch. Wrap believes a third of all food purchased in Britain ends up in the bin.

Remember those ready-prepared broccoli florets you bought in order to save time, but then couldn't be bothered to boil and ended up chucking out when they turned to a primordial soup in the crisper tray?

And what about the bag of ready-washed iceberg lettuce that lived up to its name and did indeed turn into an iceberg after languishing for so long, rammed up against the back of the fridge behind the ready-made "luxury" lasagne?

Such waste is the curse of the modern kitchen, and it all comes down to our cultural obsession with crap. This obsession, rife among the middle-classes as well as in lower socio-economic environs, dictates that we buy crap, we eat crap, and the crap we don't eat (because it's crap), we throw away with the rest of the crap. It all comes back to crap.

It has been estimated, conservatively I would suggest, that the average British family throws away up to pounds 400 a year in waste food. Such euthanising of the contents of the fridge would have granny choking on her powered eggs.

During the Second World War, the phrase "The Kitchen Front" was popularised, encouraging housewives to take part in the war effort by baking, boiling and recycling every off-cut of meat, strand of fibre and discarded peeling. Rissoles ensured we ruled the waves.

Not only does domestic belt-tightening save money (and, allegedly the planet - the rotting of unwanted pre-packed chicken bhunas contributing to greenhouse gas emissions). Recycled leftovers are jolly tasty, too.

If there is a finer Monday evening diner than bubble and squeak and a hack at the remnants of Sunday's roast, I have yet to come across it.

There are a number of reasons why we have become so wasteful. The first most obvious explanation is that a large proportion of people are slobs. You hear them bleating on around the water-cooler, or huddled in the playground, saying how they haven't got time to prepare fresh food because of their busy, busy lives.

Neither is the move to get people cooking helped by gurning TV chef Nigella Lawson and her "express" recipe suggestions for poussin, gravlax, and wasabi lime dressing. If I want to eat like that, I'll go to a restaurant, Nigella.

Living in Birmingham, rather than Belgravia, I'd like to know why more people don't cook bangers and mash, corned beef hash or that wartime favourite, Woolton Pie (that's cooked vegetables covered with a pastry crust)?

The all-consuming power of the supermarkets has exacerbated the problem of ready-meal Britain. High streets have been denuded of greengrocers and butchers as the retail beasts have gobbled up development sites and under-cut small scale producers and sellers.

The Competition Commission will this week recommended the appointment of an independent ombudsman to protect smaller suppliers, and therefore consumers, which is like closing the supermarket check-out after the trolley has bolted.

It is a seemingly intractable problem, and yet the answer may lie in the economic realities of blitz Britain. In one fell swoop, the re-introduction of rationing would curb the worst excesses of our wasteful society. Limiting allocations of meat, sugar, butter, cheese and milk would also deliver a body-blow to the nation's obesity epidemic.

The odd case of rickets may arise, but surely this is a small price to pay for saving money, combating climate change and cutting the NHS bill for treating fatties. With a return to rationing, we'll eat again.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 30, 2007
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