Yes, it’s true, British food is now some of the best in the world. In terms of variety, quality, ability to gain both in diverse areas, this is – as anyone who has travelled extensively will tell you – now true. Of course, it was not true for rather a long time. Paul Krugman made a useful attempt at working out why:
Maybe the first question is how English cooking got to be so bad in the first place. A good guess is that the country’s early industrialization and urbanization was the culprit. Millions of people moved rapidly off the land and away from access to traditional ingredients. Worse, they did so at a time when the technology of urban food supply was still primitive: Victorian London already had well over a million people, but most of its food came in by horse-drawn barge. And so ordinary people, and even the middle classes, were forced into a cuisine based on canned goods (mushy peas!), preserved meats (hence those pies), and root vegetables that didn’t need refrigeration (e.g. potatoes, which explain the chips).
But why did the food stay so bad after refrigerated railroad cars and ships, frozen foods (better than canned, anyway), and eventually air-freight deliveries of fresh fish and vegetables had become available? Now we’re talking about economics–and about the limits of conventional economic theory. For the answer is surely that by the time it became possible for urban Britons to eat decently, they no longer knew the difference. The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste–but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn’t demand one. And because consumers didn’t demand good food, they didn’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass.
We have around here someone who complains of German food in exactly these terms. Germans won’t pay for good food therefore there isn’t any. Britons have changed in this matter.
OK, fair enough. And now for an example. From a book circa 1935.
100 Fresh Food Dishes for Health and Strength and How to Prepare Them
Note that this is fresh food dishes. Fresh.
Cream Cheese and Tomato Sauce Snack
Take a portion of cream cheese (not a fresh food – Ed), skim off the rind, if any, and beat the rest into a paste by the addition of a few drops of tomato sauce (not a fresh food). Put in, also, a dash of black pepper (not a fresh food) and salt (not a fresh food).
Spread the cheese mixture thickly on the (wholemeal, they mean digestives) biscuits (not a fresh food) and put a few shreds of young lettuce over it. Dry the lettuce thoroughly before using it.
The contention that things have got better has some supporting evidence, no?