When the French have to be forced to forgo frozen pizzas and other pre-cooked industrial rubbish, you know it’s the end of the world.
That’s exactly the apocalypse unfolding before our eyes. French senators, worried about the health ramifications of British-style (originally American-style) eating, are planning to introduce a ‘bad grub tax’ to dissuade the French from aping British coprophilia.
That measure won’t affect me, for I never buy such food anyway, and never have. However, I’ve been peeking into the supermarket trolleys of my fellow shoppers at French supermarkets for 20 years now, and I understand how the senators got the urge.
My area is one of the country’s poorest, and yet 20 years ago one hardly noticed people buying foods symptomatic of coprophilia. They tended to buy cheaper cuts of meat, unremarkable fish and basic vegetables, but everything was fresh and eminently cookable.
Then things began to change. The very same people slowly developed a taste for microwave food, the sort of thing my British colleagues subsisted on.
I knew what my co-workers were buying because there was a supermarket next to the office, and we all shopped there at lunch to save time after work. My younger colleagues would also look into my trolley and conclude that I was odd.
“Alex cooks from fresh,” they’d whisper in a bemused and mildly critical manner, as if I had been rummaging the rubbish skips for my daily bread.
I was surprised they were surprised. Cooking from fresh seemed to be the only option, especially when compared to cooking from stale, rancid – or for that matter pre-prepared.
When queried, the youngsters explained that they had neither the time nor the money to cook fresh food. However, being a didacticist by nature, I showed them, calculator in hand, that fresh food could actually cost less than the alternative.
And, much to their disbelief, I said that a weekday meal seldom took me more than 15 minutes to cook. And – unlike them – I could always find 15 minutes, even though it took me much longer to get home, and at that time I spent every spare minute writing my books.
Amazingly, French coprophiliacs are putting forth the same arguments. And, unlike me, the authorities take them seriously.
According to scientists at the National Institute for Agronomic Research, low- income families face “constraints on time, resources and equipment that can dissuade them from buying and preparing fresh food”.
Chaps, you are French! Didn’t your pauvres mères teach you that a sharp knife and a decent saucepan are really all the equipment you need to produce the delicious food your pauvres mères used to cook?
Pour l’amour de dieu, take some cheap cut of meat, seal it on all sides, add some bacon, lightly fried onions and garlic, any herb growing in your garden, some carrots, sliced mushrooms, a splash of wine (you don’t have to spend more than €2 a bottle, though ideally you should), leave it to bubble for a couple of hours – and Robert est ton oncle, as the French don’t yet say.
A quarter of an hour of your time is all it takes, plus a small amount of money and exactly the high-tech equipment I mentioned earlier. Leave it to the perverse Anglo-Saxons to opt for frozen merde, and even they are getting better.
There’s hope for the French yet, as there may not be for les Anglo-Saxons. For come Friday, I see those same incipient coprophiliacs queuing up at the cheese counter in our local market and spending €40 or so on average.
Once, bored in a queue behind them, I tried to count all the varieties on offer. My turn came when I was at 110, each looking delectable. So one can understand those big spenders, most of them on some kind of income support.
They are thus still stuck in some time warp, if only in its cheesy part. Another small step backwards, and they’ll revert to those winey beef stews for which Burgundy is so justly famous.
One just wishes they learned other things from us, not just such perversions as awful food, tattoos, facial metal and drinking bladder-bursting amounts of beer. Surely there must be other things to learn?