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Home > Culture and Society

Big Portions: the Yankee menace on your platter

Step away from the food. Do it now.
No sudden movements...

26 September 2003

Those pesky Americans - first they wouldn’t pay their taxes, then they invented Dawson’s Creek, then they dragged us into a war no-one wanted, and now they're about to unleash an even greater menace on us: big portions.

According to the ever-so-slightly hysterical journalists at BBC News 24 (who must have conversations like: "My car wouldn’t start this morning" - "Shit! was it Al-Qaeda?") - the latest threat to dear old Blighty is American-style portions in restaurants: vast servings for one that would feed three people, and all-you-can-eat ribtastic buffets.

Of course, if you're ever unlucky enough to be confronted by the nightmare of a large portion, there is one simple solution:


Eat until you’re comfortably full, then stop. Think you can manage that?

The suspicion that there might be a bit of scare-mongering going on is supported by the fact that you can go into any UK town centre and see wobbly lard-beasts lumbering around, desperately wondering if that last Whopper meal really filled them up. In other words, we’re quite capable of getting fat without the help of the Americans.

The latest food scare is symptomatic of our slightly moronic relationship with food. There are TV channels devoted solely to cooking, and Nigel Slater's new food-autobiography crossover is getting so much publicity we'd barely notice if Ariel Sharon said - "What the hell. Those nuclear warheads are just sitting around gathering dust. Let's really give the bastards something to complain about."

Yet when it comes to actually cooking something ourselves, we think we've prepared an exotic gourmet banquet if we've heated up three different cartons of M&S 'Chinese-style' food.

Real foodies are just as bad - and quite Luddite in their own way. Spending hours making a meal is actually pretty tedious. That's why mankind has traditionally avoided it at all costs, preferring to eat out, dial in or get themselves a housewife who's off her head on boredom-suppressing Valium. Even the handiest of handymen/women don’t go: "I want to watch TV - I know, I’ll build my own!" so why spend hours making icecream when the stuff you buy tastes better anyway?

Another weary trend is this business of 'simple' cooking. The backlash against nouvelle cuisine has got so ridiculous that you can buy a River Café cookbook full of recipes for glorified toasties. The secret, as ever, is only to use the best quality ingredients. OK, instead of wasting three hours producing a meal, we'll waste three hours trudging round specialist food shops in central London for stuff you can prepare in five minutes. With a generous drizzle of olive oil, of course.

Then there are diets, most of which are just ways of formalising the advice: EAT LESS FOOD. Despite the success of the Atkins diet, the most popular diet is probably the Self Delusion diet.

Here’s a typical day’s eating:

Breakfast: slice of wholemeal toast, tea with low fat milk.

Lunch: Low-calorie sandwich, piece of fruit.

Dinner: grilled fish with salad.

Snacks: six bags of crisps, sickly cake from coffee shop at railway station, four chocolate bars, bag of M&Ms, five cans of sugary drink, four leftover sausage rolls from an office bash with side helping of Twiglets, Big Mac and fries on the way home, five pints of lager/ five giant glasses of wine, bag of peanuts, random selection of prawn cocktail, hommous and scotch egg absentmindedly pilfered from the fridge, cheese and bacon toastie for pre-bed nibble.

What's most remarkable about the delusional dieter is their sheer will to believe. Eating an average amount for one day becomes a Herculean achievement; ten minutes after starting a diet they start kidding themselves that their clothes feel looser. Delusional dieters are a bit like heavy drinkers who claim they’re cutting down on alcohol, when in fact they’re drinking Coke because they're still nauseous from last night’s binge.

The problem is there’s nothing very deep or interesting about food, unless you’re a Werner Von Braun of food like Heston Blumenthal, who at least devises recipes that are a bit more ambitious than "Puy lentils taste great with a knob of butter!" (one of Nigel’s). But Heston gets paid for it. We don’t.

Food: it tastes nice. That’s all there is to it.

Here's what we're all going to look like in a few years, if we can't keep our traps shut.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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