In praise of fast food

Food should be about sustenance for the body, not the soul.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • In praise of fast food

It seems ironic that no sooner had Jonathan Meades’ invective against fast food kicked off on BBC2, that one of France’s most celebrated chefs goes and tops himself. There was Meades warning us about the dangers of junk food, when a foreign celebrity dies not through clogging of the arteries or diabetes, but thanks to the pressures imposed by the world of ‘real food’.

Bernard Loiseau shot himself apparently because of a bad review, having recently lost two points in Gault Millau guide, falling from 19/20 to 17/20 last year. ‘The critics play with us’, said fellow high-ranking chef Jacques Lameloise, in the wake of the suicide. ‘They mark us up, they mark us down. I think that’s what made him crack.’

Meanwhile, on this side of the Channel, in Meades Eats: Fast Food the former restaurant critic concluded that ‘fast food is the noxious stench which defines our era. It is our tallow, our coal gas, our sewage. And it’s about as fragrant as coal gas, about as enticing as the sewage it will become’. Granted, fast food is too fatty, salty and sugary. Personally, I can’t abide the sickly-sweet stench of people tucking into McDonald’s first thing in the morning. In fact, I find eating on the street vulgar to the extreme, and I am despairing of the litter that invariably results.

But Meades is wrong on one essential point: fast food is delicious. Curries, burgers, pizzas, chips and kebabs (particularly the Manchester variety, wrapped in naan bread, bursting with salad and smothered with yoghurt and chilli sauce that drips all over your clothes): nothing I have eaten that counts as ‘proper’ food has satisfied quite the way the likes of this ‘junk’ has. I’d wager that I am not alone.

But it’s really about what fast food stands for. By being partial to the grubby and the convenient, we are refusing to make temples out of our stomachs. Fast food is about not fetishising what we eat, it is about savouring the moment, and then getting on with proper things like watching football, reading a book, going to the cinema, a gallery or a pub. It’s about the eschewal of being trapped in dreary, overpriced restaurants next to people you don’t want to talk to, and who don’t want to talk to you either – particularly when the topic of conversation happens to be food.

Fast food is about celebrating the progress of man: the microwave oven, food in seconds, something our ancestors could have only dreamed of. In Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation we are meant to be alarmed at the fact that most flavours for junk food products are synthesised entirely in a chemical plant in New Jersey. I thought this a stunning testament to human ingenuity. Similarly, I still don’t know how on Earth the Pot Noodle was created, but I remain in awe of those who did so.

It is all very well lavishing praise on the Mediterranean approach in this area, but what is overlooked is that women in France remain slaves to the kitchen thanks to that country’s food fetish. As a British resident in France lamented in The Times (London) this week: ‘working is something the French do in between queueing for ingredients at half a dozen different shops, preparing food, eating it and then cleaning up afterwards.’

Such a mania for ‘real food’ is not healthy or desirable, as the example of poor M Loiseau illustrates. Neither is Britain’s weakness for junk food too good – frankly, we do eat too much of it.

The point is that food is not something that should subjugate us. Being human is about mastering your body, not being a slave to it. Food is something occasionally to be enjoyed, but mostly to be consumed. It should about sustenance for the body, not the soul. We’ve got brains to provide that.

  • Clobbered

The country’s flagship comprehensive school, London’s Holland Park, is in a state of civil war. According to reports, many parents are rounding on efforts by the headmaster, Colin Hall, to modernise the place and make it what detractors call ‘elitist’. ‘The school has no values or ideology’, says Neil Ferguson, former pupil and now parent. ‘They want selection of sorts, they want a uniform, they want better exam results.’

I think Holland Park should introduce uniform for two reasons. Firstly, everyone knows that uniforms are a great leveller, egalitarian by nature, masking distinctions of wealth and removing the temptation for children to compete as to who has got the most expensive clothes, and thereby sparing their parents a lot of grief and money.

Secondly, it’s only fair on neighbouring establishments. I went to nearby Cardinal Vaughan School, a comprehensive in which the pupils did wear uniforms, and who were consequently bullied, attacked, chased and mugged by Holland Parkers on account of being the ‘posh kids’.

Of course, much like the British Army in Northern Ireland, we never knew what our enemy looked like, melting as they did into the crowd. Uniforms are important in battle, ensuring a sporting chance and removing the risk of civilian casualties.

  • Stupid books

Following the success of Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies’ Why Do People Hate America? and Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, I can exclusively reveal the shortlist for the 2003 ‘Writers’ Prize for Best Ethnic Slur Or Brown-Nosing’:

  • Christ, Aren’t the Canadians Pious? by Viscount Chadwick

  • Palestinians Are Starting To Get On My Nerves by Janet Hawking

  • How the Afrikaners Saved Civilisation by Fanny Anne Dunlop

  • 100 Greatest Bosnian-Serb Drinking Songs by Slobo Slobovic

  • Why the World Hates the Irish: That’s Quite Enough of Your Pipes and Diddly-dee Music Now by Denisa Buckmaster

  • ‘Cor Blimey Mate!’ How To Discover Your English Roots by Dwight Schloker and Brad Roosevelt

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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