It’s very hard to beat Jay Rayner’s restaurant reviews. I’ll never set foot in the majority of the places but he’s always a sharp voice and his writing is very engaging. This book sees him trying to dispel many of the arguments you hear for things like organic food, farmers’ markets and many other things we keep reading about.
The start of the book sees Jay buying a chicken for the princely sum of £31. This leads to him questioning how in the world this has come about. Chicken is something people seem to eat nearly every day of the week, smothering it in all sorts of sauces and throwing it around themselves at parties. Can a £31 chicken really be better than the others? He traces the origins of this prize chicken and finds these fancy chickens aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be.
We keep hearing people criticising the supermarkets, talking about how it’d be better if we went back to when we went to shops for specific items. Jay argues that supermarkets are a godsend as they save people large amounts of time as they’re not wandering around the high street for hours on end. He gives a few examples of how they’re not the unfriendly places people say, with staff members warmly greeting familiar faces. They’ve made wide range of produce available, ordering stock after recipes feature in magazines and on TV. This is certainly a luxury I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger, we can grab pretty much any random ingredient just by hitting the supermarket.
The good thing about Jay in this book is he’s quick to outline he’s not on for polarized viewpoints. He’s not a complete cheerleader for supermarkets but is only too aware of the damage they cause to Britain’s industries. He’s a calm voice, not at all preachy in this book. He reckons vegetarians are complicit in the death of animals, with vegans holding the moral high grand, but isn’t saying he agrees with them. I’m a vegetarian myself but I thought he was lighter in tone on the issue than I expected him to be. He feels that people aren’t doing something to revolutionise the supply chain by going to farmers’ markets, something he sees as an expensive pursuit, a lifestyle choice.
Growing vegetables and keeping chickens may be worthy activities, but they won’t save you money, he says. We’re better living our fulfilling lives while other people do these for us much more efficiently. We could be driving ourselves to allotments but that would leave a big carbon footprint. He asks how much we value our time and whether it’s really worth giving up so much of it for a few vegetables. He highlights clearly how imports that have travelled long distances can be more eco-friendly and sustainable than local goods.
Jay lays out the arguments against factory farming but says that it has actually brought cheap nutrition to the masses and is necessary if we’re going to be keep 9 billion people fed fed. The rise of the middle-class in developing countries has increased demand and this will have to met somehow. He keeps hearing arguments about genetically modified food being ‘not natural’, something we don’t hear many people say about antibiotics. Jay says we’ve an abundance of food and ask if we really have the right to deny this to other countries by arguing against new technologies.
This book certainly doesn’t have all the answers but it’s a very enjoyable set of arguments. He writes movingly about his family and his passion for food but I would’ve liked him to do into a bit more depth on many of the issues. As it stands though it’s a really good overview of all the issues from Jay’s perspective and a most entertaining read.