“On this occasion,” said Jack, “that’s exactly where you’re wrong. You’re all here as my guests, and you can order anything you like. The tab for this is being picked up by the British Leyland Motor Corporation, so expense is no object. Go for it, chaps. Let your imaginations run wild.
Roy ordered fillet steak and chips, Colin ordered fillet steak and chips, Bill ordered fillet steak, chips and peas, and Jack, who went to the South of France for his holidays, ordered fillet steak with chips, peas and mushrooms on the side, a touch of sophistication that was not lost on the others.”
The Rotters Club
This little scene really captures the dismal state of English dining in the 1970s and the nation’s unsophisticated tastebuds in the days before any of us had ever heard of Balsamic Vinegar or Chilean Sea Bass and everyone’s idea of upmarket grub was steak — always with chips. I don’t want to come across like one of the Four Yorkshiremen or anything but I don’t think I even ate a steak until I was in my late teens (I mean a proper one, not some frozen Findus thing made out of unknown cow parts) and I don’t remember my mother ever cooking one at home, I assume because it was too expensive. I don’t think it was something anybody had at home back then, it was a luxury treat you had in a restaurant when you were “pushing the boat out” or if someone else was paying, like above, though back then “steak” usually meant a puny overcooked fillet served up in a Berni Inn or Angus Steak House.
I ate more “real” meat at school (though I dread to think where that Liver came from) than I did at home where my diet was 99% packaged, processed and artificially-flavoured: spam fritters, fish paste sandwiches, instant mash, Pot Noodles, Findus Crispy Pancakes (God knows what they were made from) tinned meat pies, boil-in-the-bag Cod, and “international cuisine” meant Vesta Instant Chow Mein which came in a box. Pudding was usually something powdered and instant (and totally artificial) like Angel Delight. We rarely went out to eat either (unless you count the Wimpy Bar) except for when my Dad took my sister and me out for the day and we’d have lunch at this Italian place in Kensington (which, amazingly, is still there) where he’d eat this weird thing called a Lasagne — he was sophisticated my old man, he’d been to Paris! — while I’d always have double egg and chips, a meal that still gives me a Proustian rush back to my childhood.
With all the tinned, frozen, instant, and boiled-in-the-bag rubbish we were eating in it’s no wonder we all looked so ill and pasty back then, the shit food adding to the general sickly air that seems to hang over the 1970s. Watch a TV show like The Sweeney and everyone looks like they smell of chip fat and ashtrays and has skin like an uncooked pork sausage (all that beige polyester didn’t help the complexion either).
But at least we were thin. I was surprised to find out that we actually ate more calories in the 1970s than we do today but we still looked like rickety runts, while the vast smorgasbord of cheap food and dining options we have now is creating a nation of obese tubbies. I don’t think it was because everyone was working out either, back then a gym was a place you only went when you were at school. Perhaps just getting through the day in 1970s England kept us slim, we didn’t spend all day on our bums in front of a computer and drive everywhere. So maybe the next slimming fad should be “The 1970s Diet”: wake up in a freezing cold flat, walk five miles to work, stand on your feet in a factory all day, carry your shopping home from the supermarket, eat a pile of spam fritters, instant mash and processed peas for tea, have a big bowl of Angel Delight, smoke twenty Rothman’s, and the weight will just fall off.
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