Just recently I been fortunate enough to have a whirl around Vienna. And I’m angry. This very short trip to the grand old city quickly showed up some home truths – we in Britain have lost our way with food. Maybe it’s not just food – in just two hours I discovered litter-free clean streets, no beggars, streetsellers, scallies or yobs, trains that are clean, cheap and arrive early and then leave exactly when the clock strikes the timetabled second. There was also good service, friendly (and thankfully multi-lingual) assistance and more culturtal events that our own dear City Life could ever hope to publish details of.
But I digress. Back to the food. Austria is undoubdtedly a country with a culinary pedigree and I couldn’t help but notice its sweet tooth.
There’s chocolate and cake shops galore. Some are on the kitch side of things with their iced gingerbread and brightly coloured confectionary, some are bargain counters of sugary delight, most of gateaux of all shapes and sizes, some look austere and serious while others have an air of exclusivity but all offer sensuous delights.
It was all too much to resist.On a stroll through yet another litter-free park full of art, I was pulled towards a modernist cube of white and glass where I could glimpse a counter heaving with pastries, sweets and cakes. As I went into this small eaterie i was surprised to be greeted by the smell of cheese.
It wasn’t some stinking-in-the-celler musty, old smell but a fresh, evocative scent of the fields.
The menu informed me that this place had an amazing 120 cheese varities on offer and it seemed to specialise in dairy delights. Never before have I seen a list of the types of milk available by the glass. There was milk you might expect, such as full-fat but there was also buttermilk and even horse mare’s milk as well as rice, oat or soya types.
But I had called for cake and plumbred for this cranberry concoction. It was perfect with the tartness of the cranberry stopping the sweetness of the cream becoming too cloying and sickly. It all went down a bit too quickly as well!
I later considered these delicacies which were offered in an eaterie that was neither expensive or exclusive in any way and wondered why Vienna wasn’t full of hugely obese people with so much sweet temptation on offer.
I didn’t see a single melted candle body oozing from leisurewar and brushing pastry crumbs from its nylon shirt during my stay.
Not one, OK I wasn’t there long but I guarantee one would waddle into view within 10 minutes wherever I went in Manchester. So there must be something else at play here. And that’s what made me angry. For while policitians of all shades may attempt to bully, persuade and hector the population into healthy eating, they have suceeded in making good food the preserve of the well-off.
What has happened to our ability to enjoy something simple and well-made? The wholesome and the hearty? Where would you go to enjoy a glass of milk? How many varities of cheese do they sell at your local cafe?
As we all seem to be following the US into a high-carb, high-fat, pile-it-high culture of cheap food and then perversly accommpanying it with a multi-million £/$ fitness industry, isn’t it time for a re-think?
Just why can’t proper food be cheaper? Why can’t small traders survive? Why can’t we sustain an entrepreneurial culture of expertise instead of exploitation?
After all, what’s the point of triving to be an economic superpower if we can’t even afford to feed our citizens?
And I don’t mean merely sustain, subdue and sate into a lifetime of sugary sloth and surgery. No I mean feed – the body and the soul.