Has it ever occurred to you just how central taste is when it comes to food? Indeed, it’s so important that it tends to eclipse every other element involved in food preparation and dining. However, could it be that our preoccupation with flavour and texture has played a major role in the current tsunami of non-communicable, diet-related diseases?
Food Critics’ 7 Rules
A journalist and food critic called Roberta Schira claims 1 there are 7 rules you must use to make sure you are experiencing good food when you dine out:
- Ingredients – Must be the best the market can offer, fresh and of quality
- Technique – Manipulate and transform ingredients in a dish to respect its essence, tradition and science
- Genius – The capacity to transform something that already exists into something new
- Equilibrium/Harmony – A sense of harmony within oneself and the world during the culinary experience
- Atmosphere – The ensemble of details that makes one utter “I feel good here”
- Project – Something that goes beyond taste, price, calories. You can’t tell the story of food through numbers
- Value – Did I get my money’s worth at this dinner? Good service, attention to detail, good feeling and thoughts?
What Does A Food Critic Do?
One career’s advice website 2 describes the role of a food/restaurant critic:
“A food critic …encapsulates the dining experience and relays that experience to readers, viewers or listeners. This may include descriptions of the food, whether it tastes good, the serving size, the ambiance of the restaurant, the price, and how well the service staff do their job.”
What Qualifications Does A Food Critic Need?
According to myjobsearch.com3 : “There are no formal academic qualifications which are required to perform this job…a good understanding of creative writing and language expression is essential in supplying exciting copy.”
What’s The Best Meal?
According to an article by Jay Rayner in the Guardian 4 , some of the best meals he’d ever eaten were:
- gnocchi made from jellified egg yolk
- ham consommé bobbing with cubes of melon
- suckling pig at Fergus Henderson’s St John
- crème brûlée
- freshly boiled crab with a loaf of crusty bread and a pot of Hellmann’s mayonnaise
While his all-time best meal being:
- a two-inch thick rib-eye steak, crisp, rustling homemade chips and a good bottle of Bordeaux
Britain’s Top 50 Gastropubs 2019
A Daily Telegraph article 5 looked at the following ‘taste-packed’ offerings in the 50 named gastropubs:
- a “treasure trove” of seafood in pastry with lobster sauce
- saddleback pork shoulder, fennel risotto and apple
- chicken liver pâté with cornichons and toast
- pan roasted wood pigeon, bulgur wheat, kale and tropea onion or roast grouse in Armagnac gravy
- venison bonbons: four neat little ping-pong balls served with a mustard dip
- Scotch eggs, pork pies and charcuterie
- smoked eel with lovage and pickled onions, halibut with spatzle and rhubarb cobbler with popcorn ice cream
- Goosnargh chickens and slow-braised lambs
- devilled crab, salmon and shrimp pâté with sea salt croûtes
- aromatic tuna, Asian shredded salad with soy and citrus dressing and a superb Goan monkfish
- prawn curry with coconut rice and grilled flat bread
- Gunton venison stew with herb baked dumplings
- smoked haddock chowder
- oxtail, beef skirt and real ale suet pudding
- parfait of Cotswold chicken livers
- braised venison suet pudding, potato puree, seared foie gras, red wine sauce
- St Margaret’s Farm free-range pork belly with crackling, black pudding
- Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese souffle
- Holkham Estate venison and Brancaster Mussels, washed down with Yetman’s beer and gin distilled with coastal botanicals
- pot roast mallard, blood orange, celeriac gratin and watercress
- sheep’s head broth
- fish and chips
- ham, egg and chips
- baked potatoes
- Provencal fish soup and gruyere followed by pot roast pheasant or confit duck leg
- guinea fowl, pork and ham hock pie with mash and gravy
- pork chop, caramelised apple, roasted hispi & black pudding
- hake, new potatoes, cavil nero, caper, parsley butter
- dry aged, grass-fed English and Scotch beef from an open grill
- Chicksgrove beef and red wine macaronade with gremolata and buttered greens
- dressed crab with a pint of prawns or baked St Marcellin, with toast and pickles
- ox cheek, mushroom and ale in a suet crust
- pork belly with malted onion and poached pear
- loin of Cotswold venison with date purée
- salt-baked parsnip and stilton, game and bacon pie
- curried mutton
- Jersey rock oysters with cabernet sauvignon and shallot dressing
- sea bass, steak, risotto and burgers
- brownies and sticky toffee puddings
- venison and juniper suet pudding
- goats cheese and beetroot tart with apple
- hunch of venison with creamed spinach
- terrines of pedigree Welsh pork, braised rabbit with deep fried polenta
- house-cured goose ham, ewe’s curd, venison and hazelnut choux buns
- Yorkshire Dales beef tartare with smoked bacon
- steamed spice pineapple sponge with cinder toffee and rum-and-raisin ice cream
- lobster, duck pie baked in brioche
- 50-day-aged beef
- crispy pig’s head with celeriac, green apple and watercress
- venison chilli with red wine, chocolate and toasted rice cream
And the number one best gastropub 2019 offers:
- slip sole with garlic butter
- poached oysters with pickled cucumbers
Few, if any of the meals cited would stand up to close (or even distant) criticism in terms of the true impact such food has on the human body. Seen many thin and healthy-looking restaurant critics lately?
Is Organic, Free-Range & Locally-Sourced Enough?
These are, more or less, the only terms occasionally used within the whole review of the 50 gastropubs that are unconnected to the attractive taste of the food on offer. And it’s simply not enough that your beef or pork are organically reared in a neighbour’s pretty farm, or that the scallops and shrimps were caught by Freddie the Village Fisherman just this morning.
In previous blogs, we’ve covered so much research that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that consuming any animal or processed food – let alone that which has been drowned in extra virgin olive oil and served with organic whipped crème fraîche – is less than ideal for human health, especially when compared with a healthy and balanced plant-based diet.
Joe’s final thoughts
What’s revealing about the above, is the critic’s overarching emphasis on taste. The nutritional value of the food is either ignored totally or mentioned in part and in passing. It’s like going to the doctor to get advice on your cigarette-induced cough and only being given advice on what the doctor regards as the tastiest brand of cigarette, with no reference being made to what the fags are actually doing to your lungs and other organs. The main difference, at least to my mind, is that doctors no longer ignore the terrible side-effects of smoking like many of them once did (because most of them smoked!) while food critics continue as though there are no side-effects to the sort of food praised above.
If you stepped back for a moment and looked at this from a wider perspective, doesn’t it strike you as at least slightly odd that so little mention is ever made about whether or not the food that is so strongly advertised and promoted to us will make us ill? I mean, in a very real sense, we are what we eat.
Perhaps at some time in the future, people will look back as these decades with some surprise and disbelief that almost no emphasis was ever put on the micronutrients or even macronutrients essential to human health and well-being; that many of the most widely-known ‘experts’ on food required no training at all in nutrition, just years of training in how to tickle the taste bugs; that no links were made between what you put in your mouth and what it does to your body; with the primary emphasis always being on whether or not it tasted good.
But so what? Taste is important. And indeed it is. But is it really more important than physical and mental health?
We’ve become so focused on taste that we’ve become blind to our tortured, malnourished, bloated bodies – the greasy blocked arteries, bulging fat, creeping disease and, all too often, early and unnecessary death.
So does this mean that eating a plant-based diet is tasteless in comparison with eating the typical animal-based, fatty, sugary fare? Well, if you want to be so addicted to a food that you simply can’t stop eating, even when you know you’ve had enough, or if you want to feel yourself compelled to stuff certain foods into your body, even when you know they’re going to make you feel horrid and are destined to pile on the pounds, then put taste at the top of your dietary priorities – because whole plant-foods will certainly not be so addictive that you’ll be compelled to eat beyond the point at which your body is genuinely satisfied, and, in any case, it would be highly unlikely that you could do any harm to yourself by overeating whole plant-foods.
Other species eat food in order to survive. They eat when they’re hungry and, unless humans are feeding them junk food, they will eat the ideal food to maintain their health – irrespective of whether it would be less tasty or addictive than a chocolate doughnut or a cheeseburger and chips.
Furthermore, starving humans and human populations who don’t have the ‘luxury’ of ever-available mountains of food like we do have little or no interest in the flavour of what they can eat. Their bodies tell them that they should simply get as much nutrient inside them as possible – no need to worry about adding a tasty sauce to it or covering it in spices, salt or sugar.
Finally, I’m not claiming that we should ignore the taste of food altogether in lieu of solely concentrating on its nutritional value; but I do suggest that when we feel compelled to eat a particular food (especially when we are quietly aware that it’s not an ideal food to eat for our health), we have fallen victim to the easy-availability and widespread acceptance of foods that cater to those few thousand taste buds on the top of our tongue.
We’ve become unwittingly enmeshed in the misguided trap that our society itself has fallen into – seeking the buzz of fleeting oral gratification at the expense of the most precious possession we each own – our own bodies.