Friday, 9 November 2007

Food, glorious food

I am astonished at how cheap food is in British supermarkets. This has been puzzling me for some time; the paradox that French restaurants are much cheaper than British restaurants when the basic ingredients are so much more expensive to buy in Paris than in London. What started me thinking about this again, was the enormous box containing a full kilogram of cornflakes (yes, I realise French restaurants rarely serve cornflakes, but still) I picked up at the local supermarket. It became a centrepiece during the French friends' visit, mostly because it was so obscenely large it would not fit in any cupboard, so was shuffled from surface to surface always in view. Given their general astonishment at its size, I need not have bothered taking them to the Tate Modern or Covent Garden but should have put it on a table with a sign: 'Box of Cornflakes 2007 - Anonymous'. They had a point. It really was a monstrosity. I only bought it because I thought the boys liked cereals for breakfast. They do but not, it turned out, cornflakes.

Then there are the ever increasingly complicated offers: buy-one-get-one-free, buy-one-get-one-half-price, buy-two-get-the-third-free, buy-three-get-the-cheapest-free. I said to my husband: "Why don't they just make one item, half the price?", in much the same way I used to berate British Telecom sales people who cold-called with: "Why don't you just make all calls cheaper instead of allowing me to ring someone for half the price as long as they're a friend or relative and it's 3am on a Bank Holiday Tuesday morning?". The Frenchman scratched his head: "But then people would only buy one," he said. Exactly. So we buy twice as much as we set out to buy. Do we subsequently: a) eat twice as much in the same amount of time; b) make the double helping last twice the time or c) end up throwing the double portion away because it has gone off?

As someone known to scorn ready-made meals and fast food, I am ashamed to say I was waylaid in Marks & Spencer, while looking for socks, by some three-for-the-price of-two-curries with a couple of two-for-the-price-of-one nan bread and a pack of just-pay-the-bloody-price-on-the-label poppadoms to feed my parents who came to visit this week. As I was heading for the check-out I passed the cakes and was tempted. After all, my mother was looking after La Fille while my stepfather rewired the living room lights, so desserts were justified. I picked up one Swiss roll (priced £1.49) then noticed it had a glowing sticker screaming 'Two for £2'. I picked up a second, put it in the basket, then put it back. "We are not going to eat two Swiss rolls", I decided. But how could I resist paying just 50p more for a second pudding? I snatched a second. Later, the four of us, the chocoholic La Fille included, failed to finish off just one. The other I stuck in a very large bag for my mother to take home, along with the cornflakes.

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