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18th Jul 2019

In the world of public relations, the contrived consumer survey is a sure-fire way of gaining column inches in national newspapers.  One of the latest examples of such ‘research’ is a study carried out by Love Fresh Berries, a campaign devised by British Summer Fruits, which aims to, surprise surprise, encourage us to eat more (yes, you’ve guessed it) summer fruits.

A well-crafted PR survey can be entertaining and thought-provoking, but this one is neither of those things.  Instead, it purports to list the top food myths which British people believe, including that carrots help you see in the dark, chocolate is an aphrodisiac, and that it takes seven years to digest chewing gum.

Are these really the main things we believe about food, but shouldn’t?  I don’t think so.  By mining nothing more than the prejudices of my own mind, I can come up with ten food myths which are much more widely held – and which are all obviously nonsense.  If we can undermine the credibility of these falsehoods, the world of food and drink will be a much better place.

1. There is such a thing as a vegetarian sausage

No there isn’t.  A sausage is a meat product, and I cannot understand why someone who has decided that they don’t want meat in their diet (a fair enough choice) would want to eat something which is designed to look, smell, feel and taste like meat.  See also veggie burgers and the latest abomination to be advertised on our TV screens – the vegan chicken-free slice.

2. The best way to eat fish is in batter

Fresh fish has a delicate, delicious flavour, and represents a healthy, nutritious meal.  Smother it in batter and drown it in fat and it loses all of those characteristics, and becomes an oily, stodgy mess.  You may as well not bother with the fish and simply drink half a pint of rancid oil. 

3. All-you-can-eat restaurants serve quality food

The reality of running a restaurant is that - because of rent, rates, staff costs, insurance, cleaning, energy cost and so on – only a third of what you pay for your meal actually goes on the ingredients.  Therefore, if your all-you-can-eat meal costs £13.95, once the VAT is removed that gives the restaurant just £3.88 to buy the food.  Do you think they will get top-quality produce for that, or lowest-of-the-low mechanically-recovered leftovers?

4. You can buy good wine for under a fiver

Because the duty on wine is fixed whatever the price, the less you pay, the bigger the proportion goes on tax.  When you spend a fiver, the Chancellor takes £3.06 – more than 60 per cent of the total cost.  Once you factor in the cost of the bottle, transportation and retailer margin, the producer gets so little it is literally impossible to produce a good bottle of wine.

5. Meat tastes better from a barbecue

Only if you like food which is burnt on the outside, raw in the middle, and tastes of lighter fluid and dead flies.  You have a perfectly serviceable cooker in your kitchen, use it.

6. You have to be rich to eat healthily

An often-quoted complaint which is complete nonsense.  Buying fresh produce from somewhere like Norwich market will always be cheaper than additive-laden ready meals and junk food.  You don’t have to spend a fortune to eat healthily; you just have to make the effort to shop carefully – and to cook properly.

7. Chilli is the only spice

How often do we refer to a really spicy curry, when what we mean is one which is so hot it will blow the top of your head off?  I have never understood the macho posturing around who can endure the most chilli-laden vindaloo.  It means that most of us miss out on the delights of properly spiced – but not necessarily hot – delicious food.

8. Salt-free food has flavour

We are rightly more aware of how much unnecessary salt goes into our diet, particularly in processed foods, but it’s a myth that we can get rid of salt altogether.  Apart from the fact that our bodies need a certain amount of it to function at all, it is a vital way of enhancing flavour.

9. There is a substitute for butter

Margarine has now been totally discredited, and for good reason – there is nothing quite like proper butter.  Rare is the dish which is not improved by adding it.  It’s natural, free of artificial trans-fats, and delicious.

10. Real ale is the only good beer

I particularly dislike the inverted snobbery of those bearded CAMRA enthusiasts who insist that just because they only drink the warm, lumpy, brown stuff, that no other type of beer can be good.  I recently went to a pub which serves 20 craft lagers – all different – and all with just as much claim to be a quality product as any real ale.

This article was first published in the Norwich Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press.