Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mr Oliver, Will You Offer Some More?

I know that people think they know what you're doing, Mr Jamie Oliver, and I'm pretty sure that you think think you know it too, but I'm not sure that you've ever sat to one side to think
about what you're doing with food and what you feed into the minds of people who follow you. Yesterday morning I saw you with a knob of celeriac in your hand. I believe you were making some kind of salad with it. You said (words to the effect) that it was too much bother to peel it finely, so you took a sharp knife to cut the skin off in slices, in the process leaving convex lenses of celeriac flesh lying on your work bench, all neatly coated with skin.

As a child, Mr Oliver, I can remember my mother opening the pedal bin to inspect the potato, apple and carrot peelings. Nothing was usually said, but if she found more than two or three  slitherets of vegetable flesh adhering to the skin, she would summon the scullery maid, and I have only a brief memory of one girl who made the same mistake twice. A shame, because she had such a lovely character.

We were brought up  to be very conscious of food waste, the value of food, and the efforts which people make to bring it to our table. Mr Oliver and his ilk however, seem to trivialise it, belittling the food which brings them light and life, thereby turning the entire subject into a comedy. He likes to whack it, bung it, wham it, sling it and then 'drizzle' oils and dressings over his creations. He draws twirls, twists and shapes it upon his plate and presents it more as a picture than a plate of honest tucker to fill you up and send you on your way.

Whether you want to hear it or not, he effuses about all the spices and flavours intermingling in his marinades, whereas in my day the judgment of the food was left to us. We were plate-fed dishes of food which we could spoon or fork into our mouths as we wished, at our own rate. As we ate our meal, cook would not also indoctrinate us with vacuous notions about what was going on within the dish before we ourselves had a chance to decide what we thought of the meal, and whether we wanted to know more. Satisfied silence gave her all the comfort she required.

Which would you rather have? To be presented with a dainty little picture on a plate and fed a lecture about what you might discover if you ate it, or given the meal to enjoy at your own rate, while cook stepped back to see if you were enjoying it? Supposing the eater were to show delight and end up asking you what had gone into it, and how you prepared it? Did you make the soup this morning, or did you do it the previous evening and left it all gel together in the fridge overnight? Did you fry the spices first and then grind them, or perhaps you ground them briefly before crushing them  between stones before frying? Perhaps you put them in a muslin cloth and twisted them like washing from a boiler tub, squeezing out the juices between the pores of the cloth? And if you did that, what did you do with the remaining pithy pulp?

    Mr Jamie and his kith and kin are young, too young perhaps, to remember hardship, scarcity and need. Yet as surely as the sun will rise upon the morrow morn, so also will those hard times visit us again. I wonder if Mr Oliver, with his slapdash sling-it, bung-it, whack it attitude, has made plans for those times, if not for his own sake, at least for the sake of others whom he feeds.

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