Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 21 May 2014

So where exactly does food come from?

I saw this status update today from Mark Newton on FaceBook: 

A score of children in the local Tesco learning about 'where food comes from'. Haven't the heart to tell them it's farms and fields, not supermarkets.

Firstly, I’m pretty confident that he will have the heart to tell his children the facts of food, if and when he has them, because I happen to know that Mr Newton tends an allotment. I even suggested that Mr Newton might invite a party of local school children to his allotment and give them each a packet of seeds to plant.

Can you imagine the risk assessments involved in that kind of outing? Can you?

Our very own local allotments, looking wonderful!
In an ideal world, of course, it would be lovely if every primary school in the country was given an allotment to cultivate. Every child would have the satisfaction of seeing something grow and learning about where food actually comes from. There can't be a child in the land who doesn't already spend about as much time as he can stomach in supermarkets.

I love food and I love kids... Well I love my kids. Frankly, I’ve never been all that keen on other people’s kids, mostly because they’ve been raised by other people, not actually because of the kids themselves. They can’t help how they were raised.

There is so much talk about food. There is so much talk about diet in general and about dieting in particular, and is there any wonder why? The answer to that question is: Not if kids are learning about food from bloody Tesco there isn’t.

Point a child at a cow. That’s where steak, burgers, sausages, mince, milk, cream, butter most kinds of cheese, yoghurt and suet come from. Point a child at a wheat field. That’s where bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, and most types of breakfast cereal come from. Point a child at a pig: chops, more sausages, lard. Chickens: Well... chicken, eggs, more cakes. You take my point.

The problem is that kids don’t eat meat, potatoes and two veg, and they don’t eat scrambled eggs for breakfast or boiled eggs and soldiers for tea, and they don’t bake, from scratch with their families at home. Who the hell knows what lard even is any more let alone buys it? Children eat minced chicken made into shapes and breaded, which they call ‘nuggets’ or ‘dinosaurs’. They eat pizza and burgers, and they eat Cheerios and Frosties and Shreddies. Cornflakes and Weetabix and Rice Crispies might not look like what they’re made from, but at least the main ingredient is right there in the name.

We don’t have to smoke or drink, and we don’t have to gamble or take drugs. We absolutely do have to eat. When did we decide that everything we put in our mouths had to come with some sort of gimmick? When did we decide that it all had to be made in a factory instead of in a kitchen? And when did we decide that it had to be addictive, that sugar and salt, never mind a whole slew of additives, would make food in any way better? Better for whom?

And that’s fine, because we’re adults, and we can make those choices. We can eat whatever the hell we like, and who would dare to tell us otherwise? I throw my hands up, and I say, ‘Not me!’ You go ahead. I’m not your keeper, and I’m not going to judge you. The same applies to any other habit you might have acquired. Live and let live, that’s what I say.

When, though, did we decide that it was OK to do this to our kids? Because what we’re actually doing is taking away their choices. If they don’t know what real food is, where it comes from and how to make the best of it, how the hell are they ever going to choose to eat real honest to goodness food and enjoy it?

Not very long ago, I wrote my own rules for food and eating. I bloody love food. If you want to get something a little less snarky, and, possibly a little more constructive from me, have a look at this blog.


  1. I'm old enough to remember buying meat from a butcher, bread from a baker etc. but now it's bloody Tesco all the way. My kids know where food comes from because we buy vegetables and pulses, grains and nuts and make almost all of our food from scratch. Stir fry with cashew tonight, and I try and buy UK grown, seasonal veg and fruit. I think I'm giving them an education for life, and it's lovely to see my young adults cooking the same way. Incidentally, it's a lot cheaper as well!

    1. Yep. Me too. We even had a rota at one point, and all took turns cooking. Couldn't stand to send the kids off into the World without the basic skills for life.

      As a kid, when she was invited to tea at other people's homes, my youngest would always ask if they cooked real food. I often had to tell her that she might have to put up with fish fingers or chicken nuggets. There were times when she simply didn't like the child enough to bother.

  2. When I realised that the feather dusters my grandmother used to clean with were actually just the dessicated wings of the turkeys she raised every year for a bit of extra money at Christmas my young world was shattered. On the other hand, I know what it's like to feed an animal specifically so I can eat it later thanks to that.

    There's also one legendary supermarket in a suburb of Dublin called JC's where one day I heard that the fish counter had gotten in some variety of shark and "to come have a look at it before we chop it up and sell it to you!".

  3. A friend was mightily impressed when a teenager said she could cook, so she went on to ask her what she liked to cook. "Pizza" says the girl. Even more impressive: the patience of kneading the dough, waiting for it to rise etc. So she asked "How do you make pizza?" Girl replies that she opens the packet and puts it in the oven. Job done!
    Some schools round our way to have allotments which is great but don't know how they squeeze it into the curriculum. I remember visiting a school in Zimbabwe in the 1980s when the kids were all taught agriculture. So sensible.