Historian laments forgotten finery of British food

Fri Jan 9, 2009 1:26pm EST
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By Eleanor McCausland

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Rationing, the Industrial Revolution and a drastic reduction in household servants have nearly killed off Britain's once-rich tradition of food.

At least that's the argument put forth by British food historian Ivan Day when presented with the stereotype of his country as a nation filled with fast food-loving Philistines.

Day, a food history author and academic who also advises chefs such as the Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal, says British food once rivaled its European cousins in Italy and France before necessity forced dining habits to decline.

"We are very culturally confused in culinary matters. We have lost touch with our own terroir," Day said.

He said the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying urbanization of the population in the 19th century were two factors which began a deterioration in British eating traditions that were then all but eradicated by two world wars.

"Rationing during World War Two forced people to live off basic foodstuffs," he said.

By the end of the war, Britons were left with a gastronomic void that has been filled with food from other cultures, including the fast food blamed for rising rates of obesity.

"When ethnic groups moved into England from places like Bangladesh, they saw a lack of food outlets and thought, 'let's fill the gap'," Day said. "If you visit a market town today there are lots of Thai, Indian, Chinese, Italian restaurants, but few English restaurants."   Continued...