Look At Life: Food Excess

2nd June 2017

Making More of Everything

By Grace Fuller

Once upon a time, a sandwich was just a sandwich. Two rounds of bread and a layer of something basic: cheese, or ham, or egg. Choose a sandwich for lunch in a café or a pub and that’s all you got. Maybe half a tomato and a couple of lettuce leaves on the side, if you were somewhere posh. If the kitchen staff had aspirations.

Today, what you see on the menu is definitely not what you get. Order a sandwich, and, unless you’re in a ‘greasy spoon’ where it will mean two slices of Mother’s Pride and a couple of rashers of back bacon (and a fried egg if you’re lucky), your simple selection will arrive primped and preened to within an inch of its life: there’ll be curly endive and pretty cherry tomatoes; there’ll be a little heap of ‘slaw’ or a tiny pot of pickle. There’ll be crisps. Or chips. Or, heaven help us, both.

Now, I get that eating establishments want to give value for money. I get that it’s a tough world out there, and if the George & Dragon starts offering home-cooked fries for free with its crayfish and rocket sarnies or its superfood salads then the Lord Nelson round the corner needs to up its game too – but the constant competitive piling on of unnecessary garnishes (if you can call a bowl of chips a garnish) turns something traditional and straightforward into something excessive and, frequently, overfacing.

Most people on the prowl for a pub lunch will be eating a main meal in the evening. They are (with the exception of builders, labourers and the like) merely looking for a little light something to tide them over – that’s why they order a salad or a sandwich in the first place. Piling the plate with extra carbs is really wasteful. Or waist-full. Wasteful because half the diners will leave them. Waist-full because the other half, brought up to eat everything put in front of them, will devour every last crunchy morsel dutifully and guiltily, and spend the afternoon feeling ill, miserable and fat. It’s no wonder that we are, as a nation, getting ever more overweight. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, obesity levels in the UK have more than trebled in the last 30 years. Current estimates suggest that more than half the population could be obese by 2050.

Super-sizing isn’t restricted to lunchtime, or indeed to pubs. Side orders in even the most sophisticated of restaurants (which should, frankly, be including some lightly steamed broccoli and a decent portion of carrots and beans with the main courses anyway) have become elaborate vehicles for the delivery of even more calories. Take cauliflower, distinctly difficult to obtain unadulterated outside your own home. Rich in potassium and in vitamins A and C, it has around 30 calories in a portion and is terribly good for you. Slather it in cheese sauce, though, and it’s an entirely different beast. A single serving of cauliflower cheese can be upwards of 300 calories – ten times that of the naked vegetable. That’s not a side dish: it’s a main meal. We’ve all lost a sense of proportion.

Roasted vegetables are now presented as honey-roasted vegetables, or honey-roasted vegetables with caramelised nuts and a balsamic glaze. Courgettes are always fried. Spinach is creamed. Everything is buttered.

And take those chips we were talking about earlier (no, please; take them – I didn’t order them). Once you simply asked for chips… then it was hand-cut chips, or triple-cooked chips (‘the holy grail for chip lovers’, according to greatbritishchefs.com). Then it was polenta chips. Now, according to one local menu I was perusing only last week, it’s polenta chips with olive and caper salsa.

Nothing is just itself any more.

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