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Corona Diaries: living to eat

July 2, 2020

I very rarely write about food, because you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

If I start extolling the joys of eating meat, I will upset the vegans, get accused of killing the planet because of cows that fart and I will be reminded of all the horrible things people do to animals before they reach our tables. And now, after the coronavirus has been revealed to enjoy the cold, nose-dripping atmosphere of meat-processing plants, I can be accused of unwittingly perpetuating the pandemic.

But if I were to embrace the vegan code, I would be accused of helping to ruin livestock farmers, of contributing to a drastic reduction in the world’s cow, pig and sheep populations, not to mention the chickens and turkeys. The only animals that would come out well would be fish – the ones that aren’t farmed, that is. I would most likely also be accused of lacking a sense of humour, since one of the characteristics of proselytising devotees of any faith (and no, I won’t call veganism a cult) is that they find it difficult to laugh at themselves.

The real clincher is that a vegan conversion would deprive me of one thing without which my life would be bleak, not to say hardly worth living.

I shudder even to think of life without cheese. Cheddar, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Wensleydale, Feta, Mozzarella, and that multitude of French cheeses with more names than God. Just writing those words produces an instant rush of serotonin.

I’m not a cheese snob, and I don’t do subtle. The stronger the better. In fact my favourite is Canadian Cheddar, which you could call the vindaloo of cheeses. Unfortunately it’s rarely available in the British supermarkets these days. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps the Canadians have decided to keep it to themselves for now, so that they can dangle it in front of us as part of some future trade deal. Or maybe it’s now so niche that you can only buy it in from a specialist shop in Covent Garden.

But enough of cheese.

Last night my wife mysteriously disappeared. Thirty minutes later, she returned with shawarmas from our local Lebanese Restaurant. It’s been selling take-out ever since lockdown started. And since shawarmas are the perfect take-out food – lamb, chicken, fresh salad and secret sauces wrapped in flatbread – I’m surprised that this is the only meal we’ve eaten in all this time that hasn’t been home cooked.

But you know what? I haven’t really missed restaurants, even though they’re a bit like music. Both have the priceless ability to summon up memories. In the case of Lebanese, shawarmas remind me of many happy years spent in the Middle East.

Barring such delights, our evening meals consist of 90% home cooked, 10% of ready dishes that my beloved has hoiked out of the freezer. Of the stuff we cook ourselves, at least half is fish, often accompanied with a glorious cheese sauce that I can make with my eyes closed.

I also don’t miss entertaining, though we have had daughters and partners over a couple of times, along with a squeaky grandson. Outside, of course. And since we don’t do dinner parties, except among a regular group of friends who shame us with their cooking whenever we go to them, we’re spared the intolerable pressure of having to concoct absurdly complex creations that we wouldn’t dream of lavishing on ourselves.

And anyway, I reckon that dinner parties usually have a hidden agenda, as in “it’s our turn” or some social or business objective. Can’t be bothered with that stuff any more. The only reasons for having people to dinner are friendship and kinship – keeping in touch, having a laugh and maybe learning something.

To an extent, this pandemic has been a bit of a phoney war, at least in terms of daily life, and at least for lucky us. Except during the initial panic buying stage, there’s been no shortage of essentials in the shops. Unless you’re a foodie, nothing that you need to come up with tasty, nutritious food has been unavailable. By the way, the pot roast in the picture is my creation. The leaves come from our bay tree.

If I sound a little smug, forgive me. I’m just grateful for the fact that some aspects of the pandemic could have been worse, at least in my country. There could have been major supply chain disruptions resulting in food shortages and price-gouging, which would have been very tough for those who can barely afford the essentials.

Who knows? Perhaps this winter we will see shortages, especially if second or third waves take a grip in various parts of the world. We’re not an island any more. We’re not self-sufficient. Maybe we’ll need the Irish to help us out, which would be an irony given our failure to prevent the famine of 1845-9.

If that were the case, I’ve no doubt that the nuns who educated my beloved would smile grimly from heaven, and remind us that we should never take for granted the food on our tables.

Amen to that.

From → Social, UK

  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    Same-same here. Mafeesh mushkila. Great home cooking saves a lot of money, is tasty, and can be brought out of the fridge two days later for a second yum.

    The only thing I miss from Saudi Arabia is the humble shawarma – the French version is a catastrophe, neither Gyros nor Döner…nor shawarma.

    The only thing I miss from the UK is Taylor’s Pork Pies from the company founded by my beloved’s great-great-grandfather (“my Taylor wasn’t rich”)

    I don’t miss fish and chips as my beloved doubles as a fish fryer and this very evening there will be double cod (Delia Smith batter) and chips. Sherry vinegar gives a nice tang.

    Shropshire Blue and Scottish Mature Cheddar continue to be on offer here and will continue to be so at inflated rates from 2021 I presume, until the England-isolating “Celtic Union” is formed, when the Salop Smuggler Syndicate will be set-up to get “the Blue” across New Offa’s Dyke to Anglesey and escape to the Continent.

    By that time Canadian “Vindaloo” Cheddar may have captured the market here, free-trade deals being what they are.

    Local lunch as I write – the French version of a pork pie with octopus in it and a chilled rosé. La Tielle Sètoise (bought in)

    • God bless the pork pie. Pigs wouldn’t agree, but there you go…

      • And thank you for opening my eyes to a new French delight!

  2. deborah a moggio permalink

    I’ve waited as long as I could.
    Any leftovers?

    • Always leftovers, but gone in a day. Next time I’ll send you the doggy bag!

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