Modern technological advances often have surprising social side effects. In the early 1980s the availability of easy-to-carry portable cassette players, or ‘guh-eto blasters’ as they came to be known, spawned a bizarre street dance craze that saw pubescent boys, bedecked in sweat bands, throwing themselves onto their stomachs to impersonate a physical seizure-cum-fit suffered by some common garden invertebrate. This era also took linoleum out of Nan’s kitchen and onto the previously unchartered waters of concrete playgrounds across the western world. More recently, under-developed in-car global positioning systems have led to careful, considered, and often anally retentive drivers taking techno-obedience to a new level, willingly mistaking village ponds or an elderly couple’s privet hedged front garden for Tank museums and the garden centre. But then, could the world and it’s damn mother have ever predicted that the ‘hands-free’ facility on modern mobile telephones would give rise to supposedly adjusted members of society striding confidently and unashamedly along our public pedestrian highways, having loud, open conversations with no one? A practice previously confined to the arena of the mentally unwell. Only the sight of the merest of wire ear pieces dangling from one side of the head provides an indication that these people are actually conversing with a vacuous friend or golfing partner. There is no sign of the expected canvas shopping trolley full of newspaper, or clothes stained with four day-old piss. Instead these gabblers possess a fairly unthreatening demeanour, evidence they aren’t ‘known’ to local mental health service providers or employees of Greggs bakeries. Thus, as a fellow pedestrian, aware of your own mortality and irritability, you should not have to cross the road immediately so as not to enter into a violent altercation, and yet you do.
Now, I think most would agree that those individuals who willingly embrace this ‘hands-free’ method of
conversing, usually with little or no regard for personal or family embarrassment, must at the very least
have some form of personality disorder. Albeit a socially functioning one. Yet as the 2010s enter their
final quarter, social acceptance of this practice is already secured. We now look twice, whether we intend
to or not, concluding whether said individual happily spoiling our peaceful streets for no good reason is
actually attached to a highly carcinogenic modern communication network, and not talking to their higher
power through an unkempt beard.
As a result, it would seem that, our friends burdened with very real, serious and life-destructive mental health problems, are having to seek new and inventive ways of expressing themselves in public.
What has this, I hear you ask, got to do with food? Isn’t this supposed to be a food column? Well, probably it is, or should be. Bear with me, I’m getting there.
….and thus, in a modern society plagued by up-their-own-arse Foodies (such as yours truly) as much as the twisted socio-effects of techno consumerism, I was privy to one such man-mental’s ‘nouveau-expression’ very recently.
About a fortnight ago I was queuing at a well-known chain of cinema’s film-snacks (sigh) kiosk for a lukewarm paper cup of bitter burnt coffee brewed the day before, to ‘enjoy’ during the afternoon matinee of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s ‘Hot Fuzz’. Mid-queue, I witnessed with my own eyes a man, as wide as he wasn’t tall, sporting the ill-fitting trouser of the common barfly, breach almost every international health warning and buy himself one of the two cinema-grade hot dogs on offer that day. A hopeless pork-based
product, suspiciously resigned to its status and reheated by rolling endlessly like an invalid between the
bars of the specialist cattle-grid type ‘dog broiler’ at the back of the stand. A reconstituted, pre-processed,
broad-termed sausage of a weak German persuasion, the wrong colour of brown on the outside, and the
wrong colour of pink on the inside. A mousse textured delicacy of the finest cuts of foreskin, eyelid, anus
rim and hair, enjoyed with particular pleasantry when nestled in a stale bun, dug from a drawer under the
broiler and smothered in handy ‘dispense your own’ polonium-spiced, luminous yellow mustard, and a
90% vinegar ketchup as red as red shouldn’t be. Lovingly presented in a miniature cardboard open coffin.
As if this lone gastronomic decision wasn’t enough, it emerged during the course of the awkward transaction, and much to the dismay of the teenage kiosk girl, that this man’s cinematic snack choice wasn’t actually a suspect, low-grade indulgence he afforded himself while taking in an afternoon movie he’d been eager to see for some time.
No. He was, in fact, simply getting some lunch.
This wasn’t an art-house cinema ladies and gentlemen, oh no. This place didn’t have a wine list, and it certainly didn’t sell a wide selection of organic oat cakes and vegan sponges, offer Q and As with directors, or information packs on environmental change after the film. This movie palace didn’t have ‘screenings’, this was a major release cinema, a building that becomes a pre-pubescent war zone at weekends, a cinema whose interior has been designed in a violent, ‘shock and awe’ blend of cross channel ferry interior and ladies-get-in-free parochial ‘nite’ club with the lights on. This cinema only offered snacks that belonged back on the dirt-ridden floors of the Hertfordshire business units in which they were born. Please risk a sugar-related poisoning from the popcorn substitute, disappoint yourself (like I do) with the 1970s standard hot beverage, even eat the fucking boiled sweets out of the packet, but for the love of god, don’t eat anything they are proclaiming to cook!
You will die.
There are many, many things wrong with this incident my friends, and I am now simply too drained of emotion, too weary and exhausted to discuss them all. But let me say that these problems are not all about my position as the educated and worldly self-confessed food-wise troubadour (I’ve eaten Vietnamese you know). A legal combatant in the great food wars of our time, a master in the arts of gastronomic ninjutsu. It’s okay my pretties, my children, father is here to help you. To educate you, to guide you, and, above all else, to preach to you from a position of vast social superiority.
And thus we return to our sausage-muncher friend, presently pondering exactly which quasi-replica
weinerwurst he would like to poison himself with next. What is wrong with this? Who am I, just who am I
to question this man’s free will?
Number one: This is not free will. This is a by-product of a psychological episode possibly down to
wrongly-prescribed medication. Our friend here is displaying little or no shame, let alone any awareness
of the scenario he is enveloping himself in. This man is clearly far more unwell in the head than he will be
in the stomach after about 2 hours. This man simply doesn’t know what the fucking hell he is doing.
Number two: The revolution of British food culture and the rise of the ‘foodie’ in recent years has brought many things. Middle class pretension is one of them. Er, okay, middle class pretension is the biggest one. But, it has also opened an entirely different and wide spectrum of opportunity. Scope for experimentation in restaurants or delicatessens. Food establishments of all kinds abound, offering culinary delights; hot, cold and somewhere in-between, each from a myriad of local and foreign sources. You might think, at least I would from atop my soapbox, that behaviour of our friend’s sort had been put to bed. If he wants to abuse his body like that, if he wants fast food and no questions asked, he could at least support the local immigrant communities and head down to the nearest Chicken Cottage franchise. Ok, so there’s a high chance he might subsequently fall victim to teenage gun crime as well as contracting a rare strand of MRSA, but the value of his life doesn’t appear to amount to much right now does it?
Number three: There is positively no economic reasoning behind his actions. This hot dog is costing him three times as much as a better one down the road. It’s a concept known in the cinema industry as conveniently over-pricing everything.
I considered engaging the radge bastard, ‘mano-eh-mano’, and informing him politely of his error, but my disappointment and disgust at his lack of self esteem or personal hygiene would have been difficult to hide. It was almost my duty as a worthy citizen to point him in the direction of the high street and all it’s wondrous culinary opportunities. But I didn’t.
Why spoil my afternoon any further?
And so, I left this man happily munching on a pig’s foreskin at the counter like it was the most natural thing in the world. Finish that and he’d probably be in a coma by dusk, and he’d fucking well deserve it too.
The food revolution on our shores IS a class issue. Stare wide-eyed below our social strata’s middle grounds and nothing has changed. It’s not getting through. They don’t watch BBC2, that’s the problem. Mum will still go to Iceland and risk death by touching a Norfolking turkey farmer’s reconstituted poultry products which may well be riddled with the Bird AIDS. She’ll do it because she can buy 8 whole turkeys for £2.50 and feed them to her 7 kids by 8 different fathers with no hassle. Auntie will steal down the school after her morning cleaning job to pass deep-fried Mars Bars through the wire fence, so little Jordan can avoid the Oliver-inspired organic brain-fuel pasta dish with added fish oil on offer in the canteen, then he won’t have to resort to pesto and accidentally turn out cleverer. The streets of our great nation’s local boroughs will continue to be invaded at 3.45 p.m. daily by a desert storm of teenagers devouring lard-boiled chips out of fried chicken boxes, whether politicians sniff and say how terrible it all is or not.
Meanwhile, back in the idyllic, locally-sourced, hand-reared world of Guardian reading-ville, we all joyously
struggle to understand the concept of good Omega-3s and bad Omega-2s. Superhero goji berries, Siberian
barbeques, raw langoustine purees with black risotto paint and whelk air, eggs cooked at 65.12567 degrees,
celebrity chef thermo-dynamic scientists and so on.
Who is right?
Whatever happened to Magic Chocolate that hardened on contact with ice cream to form an impenetrable bitumen-like crust? What about those giant grilled tomatoes flattened (presumably by nature) and skilfully fashioned to look like tractor wheels? And where are the Beefeater Restaurants in which they could be consumed atop a well-done steak? Have we rendered extinct frozen pizzas that came in packs of twenty, topped by square red chunks masquerading as tomato, with a maximum three strands of processed cheese? An insult to any Italian, dead or alive, and expertly over-cooked to charred black discs by a matriarch who had no idea what she was doing beyond boiling a potato.
Well, we are right of course. We, the gastronomically-educated middle classes. Or rather, I am right.
Truth be told, it’s a bloody fruits-de-nightmare out there people. But never fear, I am here to help.
That is all for now, you may go.
….having said that, upon re-visiting another cinema of the same chain, not three days later, accompanied by some close gentlemen friends to see Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s ‘Hot Fuzz’ for a second time, I found myself somewhat ‘caught short’ and rather peckish after the pre-film drinks we’d had in a nearby Soho hostelry.
And decided upon one of those nice-looking hot dogs they had on offer…
Fucked if I’d have touched the nachos though.
Next time: Letters home to mother from the ‘cult of foodie’ commune, whippet stew, and why can’t you get hold of oily fish in Newham?