Saturday, April 16, 2005

"What's the most important thing in the world? Food!"

I've been reading George Orwell's account of Industrialism and its effects on England in 'the Road to Wigan Pier' published in 1937 and particularly it's affect on the industrialised Northen towns of Leeds, Sheffield and Yorkshire in general. His comments throughout strike so true for the condition of England today, particular with regards to diets and the way that wealth affects the palate and on the industrialisation of food and wastage, its hard to believe that these observations were made in 1937 and ring so true of 2005:

To begin with, there is the frightful debauchery of taste that has already been effected by a century of mechanization. This is almost too obvious and too generally admitted to need pointing out. But as a single instance, take taste in its narrowest sense—the taste for decent food. In the highly mechanized countries, thanks to tinned food, cold storage, synthetic flavouring matters, etc., the palate is almost a dead organ. As you can see by looking at any greengrocer’s shop, what the majority of English people mean by an apple is a lump of highly-coloured cotton wool from America or Australia; they will devour these things, apparently with pleasure, and let the English apples rot under the trees. It is the shiny, standardized, machine-made look of the American apple that appeals to them; the superior taste of the English apple is something they simply do not notice. Or look at the factory-made, foil-wrapped cheese and ‘blended’ butter in any grocer’s; look at the hideous rows of tins which usurp more and more of the space in any food-shop, even a dairy; look at a sixpenny Swiss roll or a twopenny ice-cream; look at the filthy chemical by-product that people will pour down their throats under the name of beer. Wherever you look you will see some slick machine-made article triumphing over the old-fashioned article that still tastes of something other than sawdust. And what applies to food applies also to furniture, houses, clothes, books, amusements, and everything else that makes up our environment. There are now millions of people, and they are increasing every year, to whom the blaring of a radio is not only a more accept-able but a more normal background to their thoughts than the lowing of cattle or the song of birds. The mechanization of the world could never proceed very far while taste, even the taste-buds of the tongue, remained uncorrupted, be-cause in that case most of the products of the machine would be simply unwanted.

Asides from an incredibly interesting social history of English industrialisation, it's very readable and Orwell really casts his amazing observations and captures the essence of what it was like being amongst the coal-miners. However, it pains me and amazes me that they could be about any British supermarket of today. Mechanized 'convinience food'..protein 'shapes'..It's horrific when you really sit down and think about the impact it has on the diet. You can read the extract in its entirety here:


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