Oh dear

Ms. Cavendish:

(I know this because I retain a deep childhood nostalgia for Fray Bentos).

At a service station recently, my seven-year-old picked out an M&S corned beef butty that was called “the nation\’s favourite sandwich” and emblazoned with the Union Jack. It looked pretty disgusting but he was hungry. He also knows my sympathy for British-flagged food. We bought it.But it turns out that the “nation\’s favourite sandwich” is not British at all. The meat comes from Brazil, but is labelled British because it is processed here. Apparently, we don\’t make corned beef any more (another myth shattered). In fact, more than half of what we eat now comes from abroad.

Err, Ms. Cavendish seems to be unaware that corned beef and many other such products have always been made from Latin American beef. In Latin America. As the brand name "Fray Bentos" indicates, it being the name of the port in Uruguay from which the products were shipped.

We spend hours watching TV chefs but apparently only 13 minutes on average making a meal – down from one hour in 1980.

And the problem with this is? We\’ve had a rise in the opportunity costs of the time it takes to cook. We\’re both richer than we were in 1980 and we\’ve also got more and different things we could be doing other than said cooking. Thus the costs to us of cooking, as opposed to the other things we could be doing, have risen.

It\’s hardly a stunning economic revelation that when costs rise people buy less of something. Home cooking is more expensive than it used to be: thus we do less of it.

What\’s the problem?

9 thoughts on “Oh dear”

  1. Hehe. Corned beef was *invented* as a way of getting meat from South America to Europe in the days before freezers, FFS! Ms Cavendish has to win the much-coveted Idiot Of The Year award…

  2. john b:

    The process may have certainly been used as you say but likely “invented” somewhat earlier; a need for preservation existed before beef was being imported from South America.

  3. Gene, this is 2-nations-divided-by-a-common-language stuff: in the UK, ‘corned beef’ generally means ‘industrially processed salted beef in cans’, whereas in the US it refers to salted beef in general.

    The former process was invented to allow imports from South America; the latter has indeed existed for as long as we’ve had domestic cows and salt…

  4. It is wierd hearing you deride home cooking. One fine day – by means of recession and/or old age you may not have a lot of choice.
    Of course there was a time when the words ‘home cooking’ were a mark of quality – not the ability to open a tin.

  5. Dear Mr Worstall,

    “It’s hardly a stunning economic revelation that when costs rise people buy less of something. Home cooking is more expensive than it used to be: thus we do less of it.”

    Is Bollocks. Eat out at Cardboard-Chicken-U-Like is cheaper? Pizza-4-U? Or buy Em-n-Esses Lobster Dumbledore is cheap compare with home cook? Is bollocks! Get plenty nourishing beets, dash sour cream, set you up good, put hair on chest!

  6. ‘an ex-apprentice’ iz right, and obviously an hairy man.

    Home cooking is *more expensive* than it used to be in terms of time (not money, obviously, since ready-meals for the most part consist of the cheapest possible materials at the highest price the manufacturers & retailers can get away with charging) because too many people have never learned how to cook.

    The best thing the often irritating Jamie Oliver has shown, is that good meals can be produced quickly and inexpensively; though he’s probably tilting at cultural windmills.

  7. Eva,

    OK, so how come my generation all had home economics classes, yet no longer cook at home? Why did our grandmothers all cook, having been taught by their mothers, yet we don’t?

    The simple fact is that our grandmothers had no choice. They had no vacuum cleaner, no washing machine, no fridge freezer, no microwave.

    It may be that today people choose not to cook because they’d rather watch some TV or maybe they’re working hard, but I doubt it has anything to do with cooking skills.

    As for Jamie, well, bring any activity into an environment and people will play along with it for a while. Go back in a year and see how many of the people he saw are still doing it.

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