• I operate a just-in-time supply chain

    Apples packaged in plastic on a supermarket shelf
    (Photo by Ethan Feng)

    It’s called my ‘supermarket-to-kitchen run’. But I hadn’t realised – until I read Dan Hancox’s article in the June issue of Prospect magazine – just how recent and unusual my lifestyle is. 

    Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring!

    We’ve all heard the tales of rationing, and how it lasted into the mid-50s for Britons. But it always felt very far away from a 1980s childhood. 

    Hancox relates how responsibility for food security has been handed to supermarkets by the British government since the 1960s, and in earnest since the 90s. 

    But since the 90s, just-in-time supply chains have become the norm, reducing waste and unused capacity, and allowing us ever cheaper chickens and strawberries whenever we want them.

    Freezers are for losers

    I don’t really do freezers. Like many of my generation, I smirk at 70-somethings with their bursting freezers and their back-up chest freezer in the garage with another years’ supply of Findus crispy pancakes and Quiche Lorraines. 

    Just like Sainsbury’s, my supply chain has about enough capacity to last two days in a crisis. I haven’t even planned for what I’ll eat tomorrow, let alone at the weekend. 

    But I am also completely at ease with the idea that what I will eat might be a poké bowl, or a Greek salad, or perhaps some tuna sashimi. Because growing up in this culture has given me infinite choice. 

    Meat and two veg

    This has shielded me from another uncomfortable truth. I don’t much like the food that actually grows in my country. I’ve often been given pause by Blackadder episodes where Baldrick bangs on about turnips. Turnips! Are they edible?

    I’ve always preferred mezze to Sunday roast. I’ll take calamari over fish’n’chips. I’d rather an olive than a turnip. If I hadn’t lived in this hyper-connected age, what might I have never tasted? 

    While we’re on the subject of food, Fancy a Dinner Share?

  • Hot dogs, with added Swedishness

    A Danish hot dog in a bun with pickles and sauce held in a woman's hand
    Korv, blimey! (Photo by Mark Solarski)

    In Sweden, a hot dog is not simply a hot dog. It must have mustard, ketchup, gurkajonäs (chopped pickles and mayo), prawn mayo, hell, even mashed potato. In short, it has cultural legitimacy

    In the UK, eating a hot dog is imbued with no cultural significance whatsoever. It’s cheap processed meat, pure and simple. It even looks and feels like Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. You’re a glutton and a piglet slayer. 

    But in Sweden, you can be sure that any stretch of forested highway will soon be interrupted by the neon light of a kiosk of hot dogs. They are a Swedish institution – just as fridge-cold Ginster’s pies are to Britons. 

    A good hot dog

    Being offered a hot dog in Sweden is a liberation. You aren’t simply eating a hot dog, you are having a ‘cultural experience’ – and as all good tourists know, cultural experiences cancel out calories. 

    It means that when you eat a hot dog in Sweden – which you call a korv, naturally – it has so much cultural legitimacy that it’s essentially zero air miles, carbon neutral, plant-based goodness. Amazing!

    The same goes for meatballs – that other mighty Swedish culinary edifice. It’s processed meat made happy for the Scandinavian socialist utopia. It has the same guilt-free X-factor that deep-fried fish has in Britain. 

    The icon halo

    This halo effect is fantastic, but we all know it’s ultimately a con. That’s why IKEA has taken to offering a veggie dog to its customers. It can’t get rid of the hot dog – that would cause a riot – but it can offer a clean alternative. 

    Swedes are super-hot on being super-environmentalists. They’re world famous. But hey, even zeitgeists need downtime with a hot dog every now and then.  

    Talking of how we eat, Fancy A Dinner Share?

  • Fancy a dinner share?

    Break bread together (Photo by rithwick. pr)

    A lot of things are becoming shared these days – cars, energy, childcare – yet one of the most everyday and immediate of our needs continues to be atomised: our food. Imagine a community hub that provided a square meal every evening, for everyone to enjoy…

    Surely that’s called a restaurant?

    No, not a restaurant. And no, not a bring-a-quiche community buffet. I’m thinking of something more. Especially in northern European countries – like I’m used to – eating out has always been a bit of a posh thing to do. 

    That’s because the entire economic structure makes it so. The cost of running a restaurant means that the food has to cost a certain amount to be worth preparing – a certain amount more than most people would contemplate more than once a week. 

    Costa del London

    I got a taste of something else in London, where competition is so fierce, and people so time poor, that eating out can happen a lot more often, at much lower cost than small town Britain. But still, it’s a solitary pursuit. And it’s always a one-off transaction. 

    Imagine a place that you subscribed to, paying your monthly rate in order to go to the community kitchen every night – or as often as you like – to eat the meal of the day – on seven-day rotation, reflecting the seasons.

    Now that’s what I call community

    It would eliminate the strange way in which every little household individually buys tiny, pre-plastic packaged pieces of food to take back to their individual tiny kitchens and prepare their individual tiny meals. Imagine the resource savings!

    It’s been done with car sharing. It’s been done with energy where we can sell unused renewable energy back to the grid. Why not with the way we eat? It would also, in the process, have a knock-on effect on our social life. 

    It might mean a reduction in the epidemic of loneliness and alienation. It would mean that, on cold winter evenings in the northern hemisphere, we wouldn’t all be eating our solitary meals, aside from those rare occasions when we thought f*k it and went out for a £15 pizza. 

    • If this is one of those zeitgeist things that’s already happening somewhere, please comment and tell me all about it

    • More urban life brainstorms? How about making cities soft?