xrematon

July 21, 2018

The Rituals of Dinner – part II

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Sustainability,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 6:23 pm
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This is the second in a duo of posts inspired by reading The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. The first post can be found here.

One of Visser’s points that I would like to content is the idea that food is not something we value. Having a good meal with people whose company we enjoy is an activity we seek. In this time of experiences over ‘stuff’, we are certainly keen on creating moments that matter and sharing good times – so much so that our big feasts are often instigated by commercial activities, rather than our own particular personal or social cultural rituals. We now get very excited by Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the World Cup and other big sporting events, as well as get the opportunity to invest with great splendour at Easter, Christmas and New Year.

There are many many interesting nuggets within The Rituals of Dinner which made me look at food habits in a new light as I gained a better understanding of the historical or cultural context from which these habits sprang.

  • Offal used to be the most prized part of eating an animal. This is because at a time when hunting was an important way to get meat and there were no fridges to keep food cool, offal would be most the delicate and most important part of the animal to eat fresh – it could not be hung and improved as with other cuts. And offal is often the most nutritious part of an animal – quite different to a big fat plumped up piece of chicken breast.
  • Meals that are to be eaten with chopsticks have the food chopped already, which necessarily encourages faster eating, in part because the food is already in convenient sizes but also because it is most likely to lose heat thus. Compared to this, those of us relying on knives and forks are slow and languorous eaters.
  • What will happen as we eat less meat? This is important as meat often formed the basis of the ceremonial energy in a Big Meal: it is a special and relatively expensive ingredient and there is entertainment and social value to be had in going through the ritual of carving and dividing up the meat. It is hard to see how as much energy and excitement can be created around a roast butternut squash or cauliflower.

Back to our original questions: are table manners dead or getting worse? If this is a source of concern to you, rest assured that help is available. In the US, the Barclay classes, table manners and how to carry out small talk are part of its programme. http://www.thebarclayclasses.com/aboutbarclay.html The next generation will know what to do.

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August 14, 2017

A duo of posts on physiological introspection – Part I

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:48 pm
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Health and wellbeing are topics that you cannot ignore if interested in consumers and societies. At the level of the individual, feeling good in mind and body is now often more than just not being ill but part of a broader aspiration to positive health and a way of showing that we can invest time and money in taking care of ourselves, important both in developed and developing economies. And from a societal perspective, there are important new public health issues rising up the agenda: obesity and the associated conditions, and an ageing population to pick up on two of perhaps the most obvious issues.

It was these thoughts in mind that I decided to read two books which aim to tell their readers more about areas in health where there is a lot of energy and excitement. I started with Gut by Giulia Enders and then launched into Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I will discuss my thoughts on each in a pair of posts.

I must confess to not having a great first impression of Gut – thanks to the book cover. As you can see from the image below, in the edition I read, there is a large photo of the attractive young blond German scientist who wrote the book. I cannot recall having come across other science books, or indeed any type of book bar autobiographies, which put their author so prominently on the front.

The impression of youthfulness continues. The inside blurb opens with the following perhaps somewhat patronising sentence (my italics), “In this charming book, young scientist Giulia Enders takes us on a fascinating tour of our insides.” My more objective verdict of youthfulness/immaturity of thought comes from the relatively superficial/narrow scope of discussion: Gut gives us only an overview of the basic science behind the organ and our current understanding of what is going on. Gene is very different – deliberately so – as the latter sets itself up as a history and thus has a very broad scope in terms of chronology, revealing along the way changing cultural attitudes as well as the scientific discoveries linked to the genome. I would have liked to know more what ‘we’ (in a societal/cultural sense) think about how to understand the gut and what it does for us as much knowing the hard facts.

For example, I would have been interested in knowing more about how other cultures ‘engage’ with their gut and how their diets intuitively work with guts better. For example, I know that in Turkey, women will often drink a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar before their meal and kefir, fermented milk drinks, are an important of a region’s traditional cuisine. Both these products will encourage the development of gut flora, but how and why did these customs come about? And what else is there like this?

And we find out that there is scientific validation for relying on ‘gut instinct’ – we are simply reflecting how closely our guts and are brains are entwined. The gut is connected to our main brain via the vagus nerve, a superfast broadband connection along which messages travel in both directions. But it would have been good to know more about how this metaphor arose.

I obtained my copy of Gut from the library but I wonder on what shelf it would be found as its classification is not obvious. The blurb describes it as an ‘entertaining, informative health handbook’ – a bit of a fudge if you ask me.  Is it a popular science book or is a self-help book? For a clearer example of the latter, look no further than the latest tome from Dr Michael Moseley (of 5:2 diet fame).

However, despite the above observations, Gut did inspire me to action. I have been tucking into the below on a regular basis. Not sure I can tell the difference yet!

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February 21, 2016

Eating across the generations

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 9:10 pm
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I stirred my spoon disconsolately, looking at the concoction in the bowl in front of me: prawns in miso broth with udon noodles and some slices of red pepper for add of extra colour. This meal had been a special request from my children and as I sat forlornly, thinking how I would have prefer something nice and creamy or at least properly spice-y and sleek with oil, it made me realise how taste preferences and eating habits vary across generations, even within a family unit.

In a way, the fact my children asked for Japanese broth is because I have been a victim of my own success. Some time ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to try a new recipe each week and this commitment has seen me diversify well beyond meat and two veg. It has led to children who may ask for globe artichokes – I got very excited one season about trying as many different vegetables as possible – as well as for things I really don’t like – such as the prawns still swimming around sadly in the miso broth. They’re too much like chopped up fingers or earthworms in my opinion.

My children’s generation will have grown with parents who like to invest time and effort in food; parents who themselves grew up during a period when food went from being not much more than fuel into a massive industry which itself fuels many different forms of media and entertainment. We remember the Angel Delight and Findus Krispy Pancakes we ate in our youth and now aspire for something different for our own children.

Cut beyond the middle-class snobbishness about processed food and there are more interesting implications to consider for the food industry of these aspirations to eat well. Take lunchboxes for example: no longer will they simply contain sliced white bread with cheese spread, a packet of crisps, a bit of fruit and a Penguin. Sandwiches are more of a rare sighting these days – in their place come wraps, oatcakes, bread sticks and many other delights. Whereas I grew up thinking the most important thing in a packed lunch was bread spread with something, this expectation is no longer there and the habit to spread is fading. Tellingly, sales of traditional sliced bread are on the decline in the UK, as they are too for dairy spreads.

There is an interesting dynamic going on with the generation in between my own and that of my children – those that are young adults now – Millennials I suppose. This group is also ‘into’ food – but with more style than substance. And it can lead to some rather paradoxical outcomes. A survey in the US found that 50% of Millennials refer to themselves as “foodies,” but 60% of those self-identified foodies still visit fast-food restaurants at least once a week (compared with 48 percent for older adults).

There are also more serious implications about this gap between passion and cooking ability: it doesn’t come cheap. Research, this time from the UK, found that 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK spend more on food than any other age group because they know so little about cooking and had a greater outlay due to eating out more. There is something to be said for bog standard home cooking.

Perhaps later once everyone else has happily finished off their prawns, I could sneakily do myself some fried eggs.

Japanese broth

March 2, 2015

Pastiche British

The above title is not meant to be derogatory. I did um-and-ah about it for a while, toying with alternatives such as ‘International British’, ‘Aspirational English’ or even ‘Fake British’, but let’s stick with the current option as I think it best captures the points I am going to make.

This post is inspired by a visit a couple of months ago to the rather magnificent Rosewood London luxury hotel situated in the High Holborn area, which opened just over a year ago. What is notable about this establishment is the ambition to offer something which captures a mix of British manor heritage (intriguing) and contemporary design (more familiar). The end result deserves inspection; there is good intent but actual delivery is sometimes compromised.

First to the building itself – well, it is rather magnificent. It is an Edwardian neoclassical construction started in 1912 and expanded upon in four stages over nearly 50 years, during which time it was the headquarters for the Pearl Assurance Company. Here we have already encountered our first pastiche – the architectural style – which is inspired by something that was initially about simplicity, purity and careful elegance.  However, 252 High Holborn is a huge soaring pile complete with gatehouse and courtyard (hence the ability to have manor house pretensions).

Inside, the ‘wow’ factor comes from a combination of original features, such as the Renaissance-style seven-storey grand staircase made from seven types of marble, including extremely rare types such as Swedish Green and Statuary, and from modern additions. The most memorable of the latter is the rose bronze gallery which you encounter when you first enter the hotel before stepping through into the more expected luxury slick chic.

We had the opportunity to luncheon in the Holborn Dining Room, which was perfectly pleasant. Perhaps unsurprisingly the menu also had British aspirations and included dishes which are de rigeur when trying to show local alignment: spelt risotto, fish and chips, queen of puddings anyone?

Perhaps the most quixotic element was the staff. I should begin by pointing out that they were very lovely and extremely helpful.  They too were part of the British manor heritage scene thanks to their uniforms, which consisted of a mish-mash of tweed, flat caps and tartan (of course). Moving on from the rather deliciously posh pantomime effect of these outfits, what was more incongruous was the fact that not one of the staff we encountered was actually British! There was a charming and extremely camp Thai butler, resplendent in his assortment of tweeds, followed by a more brooding Spaniard the next day, whilst the waiters in the restaurant were an assortment of continental Europeans and I think the grounds man/game-keeper wannabe outside in the courtyard was probably Polish. Case made.

Rosewood courtyard staff

In terms of the interiors, here too we can find this international Britishness. The sides of the lobby were decorated with large paintings of English landscapes, but painted by a Chilean artist. Below these paintings, there was a disconcertingly lifelike porcelain bulldog, but being watched over by tweeting birds in vast cages serenading guests entering the lifts. Quick explanation: birds are associated with good luck and abundance in Asia (Rosewood is owned by Hong-Kong based company New World Hospitality).

Rosewood acquired the very prestigious Hotel Crillon in Paris last year and are in the process currently renovating and revamping it. I am bemused by the thought of what French pastiche might be!

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