‘Good husband and huswife, will sometimes alone,
make shift with a morsell and picke of a bone’.
(Thomas Tusser, 1528-80. Heading to the month of January in The Cookery Year).
The fact that the developed world wastes half of its food has been all over the news this week. Our farmers waste food during harvest, storage and transport and of the perfectly good food that is left, a hell of a lot is wasted because it doesn’t look quite right or isn’t quite big or small enough. Our supermarkets bin so much edible food due to over-cautious sell-by dates; will they donate it to groups that need it like FoodCycle? You must be joking. What ingredients finally end up in our fridges count themselves lucky to have got this far, but our failure to then turn all of those components into meals is astounding.
Now, everyone drops their toast jam-side down every now and then and not all of us have got the stomach to scrape it up and eat it; a certain amount of inedible waste is inevitable. But I can’t help thinking that the average consumer’s attitude to food has languished of late. Mrs Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management shows just how far we have strayed since the book’s publication in 1861. Unlike Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Minute Meals where you only have to blink and there’s a plate of bruschetta, a chicken korma and a sticky toffee pudding on the screen, Mrs Beeton believes that cooking is not something that should be rushed. For each of her recipes she provides ‘a list of the ingredients, a plain statement of the mode of preparing each dish and a careful estimate of its cost, the number of people for whom it is sufficient, and the time when it is seasonal’.
One hundred and fifty two years later, though the housewife still exists, it is more likely that both parents will be working. In life today the average family finds less time to engage with the provenance of their ingredients and the process of cooking a meal.
But I find that an enjoyment of cooking leads to an interest in the shops I frequent. I personally have three great passions in life; cricket, food and sex. It is natural for me to play cricket all summer long and to follow the progress of the national team throughout the year. Equally, my love of food is just as much to do with where it comes from as it is about the way in which different ingredients compliment each other. It’s funny how my pursuit of my second passion gets me far more of my third passion than the pursuit of my first!
In the preface of Mrs Beeton’s first edition, she states that ‘there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways’. The aim of her text is to promote a holistic attitude to housekeeping that includes every aspect of sourcing, storing and cooking with local, seasonal ingredients. Although most of us today have less free time than her target audience, I think that a lesson or two taken from her philosophy would help us cut our waste significantly.