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The London Eye…Food for Thought

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Food for Thought

An Englishman’s Views from Across the Pond

Ask any American their opinion of English food and the answer can be summed up in one simple word; ‘shit’. That’s a little harsh coming from the nation that brought the world family dining from a bucket, but it was a reputation well earned. Back in the 70s, the concept of processed food was in its infancy and manufacturers weathered a biting recession by using parts even the animals didn’t miss. Only towards the end of the century did consumers have enough disposable income to demand better quality. By then it was too late.

American fast food chains had spotted a gap in the market and crushed all opposition by a) offering food that actually tasted of something and b) frowning upon the classification of muscle and ground ribcage as breast meat. This was married with incessant product placement in movies and on TV, and the British obsession with American food was born. Back then, anyone returning from a trip Stateside was more likely to be asked whether they’d been to a Burger King than the Grand Canyon.

These days the assimilation is almost complete. More teenagers can identify the Golden Arches than their own Prime Minister, and it’s this familiarity that makes any trip across the Atlantic such a shock. We think that, having eaten at McDonald’s in Richmond-upon-Thames, we have eaten at McDonald’s everywhere. Soon after arriving at LAX, it’s obvious that’s complete bollocks.

First off is the sheer amount of food dropped in front of you. It used to be said that our countries were separated by a common language. These days, it’s portion size. On a recent visit to a Redondo restaurant – for anonymity, let’s call it the Cheesecake Manufactory – three of us, all grown men, made the error of ordering appetizers AND entrees. What arrived was visible from space and the leftovers would have had the Third World crying into its rice bowl. Other than Food Tourists, Brits just aren’t used to this and will rarely clear the plate. The same goes for drinks sold in measures normally reserved for filling gas tanks.

Next, there’s the vast number of restaurants. On the average UK freeway there are services every 20 miles or so, normally with a KFC and a Burger King. In America it almost seems that you could slam on the brakes randomly and stop near a drive-thru. It wears people down like Chinese water torture in that, after the 5th McDonald’s passes by, resistance is futile. The cities are even worse because there are independent outlets as well as the big hitters, with choice aplenty. Basically, if something can be digested by the human body, someone in LA will be selling it. If not, it ends up in a Wendy’s chili.

On the other side of the coin, Los Angeles is widely credited as the birthplace of health food. Thanks for that. We are aware that salad and vegetables exist but the average Englishman thinks he’s eating healthily if he has lettuce in his burger. Tofu is regarded with the same suspicion as a sex pest, and soy milk may as well be squeezed from the teat of the Devil himself. Where’s the taste? Is it too much to ask for food that doesn’t have the same texture as pencil erasers? And who cares if there’s plenty of fiber in it? Food’s main purpose is to keep you alive, true, but the fucking Matrix did that and it wasn’t exactly fun, was it? The real irony is that the health nuts are usually the strongest advocates of greenhouse gas control. Before telling people they’re baby killers, just because they drive a sports car or eat meat, maybe they should stop farting recycled Lima bean.

Joking aside, it’s a shame no one has come up with a health food that tastes as good as Buffalo wings. I’ve written before that the UK lags behind the US by 10 years and so it is with obesity. Average clothing sizes are on the up, as are exploding hearts, and even Jamie Oliver can’t make a difference. For the first time, that elephantine leisure-suited family at Disneyland might well have British passports.


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