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Fast food-loving Philistines

Food historian, Ivan Day, laments forgotten finery of British food.

by: Eleanor McCausland: Reuters | 19 Jan 2009

Rationing, the Industrial Revolution and a drastic reduction in household servants have nearly killed off Britain's once-rich tradition of food.

At least that's the argument put forth by British food historian Ivan Day when presented with the stereotype of his country as a nation filled with fast food-loving Philistines.

Day, a food history author and academic who also advises chefs such as the Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal, says British food once rivalled its European cousins in Italy and France before necessity forced dining habits to decline.

Gastronomic void
By the end of the war, Britons were left with a gastronomic void that has been filled with food from other cultures, including the fast food blamed for rising rates of obesity.

Today's newspapers warn of an impending obesity crisis. But it was as early as two centuries ago that junk food began to creep into the British diet, Day said.

For the last 45 years Day has studied the preparation and consumption of food throughout history, covering everything from the aphrodisiac cordial waters of the 18th century to the gravity-defying jellies of the Victorians.

Wenches, cleavage and frothing mugs of ale
He passionately believes Britons should re-connect with their real food traditions and is saddened that many people still mistakenly associate British food history with "wenches, cleavage and frothing mugs of ale."

"Restaurants boast seasonality, local sourcing and organic produce, but in the 19th century all food had that," he said.

Using authentic kitchen artefacts (including a roasting range complete with clockwork spitjacks) in his 17th century country farmhouse, Day runs courses to teach participants a range of techniques, from confectionary to broiling, using methods from the late Medieval to the Victorian period.

"In the past we ate everything, including organs. Now we are urbanised into squeamishness," he said. "Before, when we killed an animal we believed that the animal offered up its life for us. It was a gift from a deity and so nothing was to be wasted."

What do you think of British cuisine?

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