Michelle Hanson and Jamie Oliver rather want to know.
The best explanation I\’ve ever come across was Paul Krugman\’s:
Maybe the first question is how English cooking got to be so bad in the first place. A good guess is that the country\’s early industrialization and urbanization was the culprit. Millions of people moved rapidly off the land and away from access to traditional ingredients. Worse, they did so at a time when the technology of urban food supply was still primitive: Victorian London already had well over a million people, but most of its food came in by horse- drawn barge. And so ordinary people, and even the middle classes, were forced into a cuisine based on canned goods (mushy peas!), preserved meats (hence those pies), and root vegetables that didn\’t need refrigeration (e.g. potatoes, which explain the chips). But why did the food stay so bad after refrigerated railroad cars and ships, frozen foods (better than canned, anyway), and eventually air-freight deliveries of fresh fish and vegetables had become available? Now we\’re talking about economics–and about the limits of conventional economic theory. For the answer is surely that by the time it became possible for urban Britons to eat decently, they no longer knew the difference. The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste–but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn\’t demand one. And because consumers didn\’t demand good food, they didn\’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass. And then things changed. Partly this may have been the result of immigration. (Although earlier waves of immigrants simply adapted to English standards–I remember visiting one fairly expensive London Italian restaurant in 1983 that advised diners to call in advance if they wanted their pasta freshly cooked.) Growing affluence and the overseas vacations it made possible may have been more important–how can you keep them eating bangers once they\’ve had foie gras? But at a certain point the process became self-reinforcing: Enough people knew what good food tasted like that stores and restaurants began providing it–and that allowed even more people to acquire civilized taste buds.
May or may not be true but I\’ve yet to see a better explanation.