Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More or Less

Up early enough to write the normal length blog today and thanks to Urbangirl et al who seem to enjoy my 'ramblings'. Have to say that I do enjoy a full-on discussion about things on my mind - albeit one-sided - at the time of writing, rather than just give them a brief mention. Wish we were all sitting round a coffee table and could air our view together. Waiting to hear your thoughts is a bit like playing chess by mail - a day has to pass before my next move.

Was (almost) stunned when Aileen told us that some dry cat food is produced in the shape of fish. This HAS to be for the benefit of the cat owner. Perhaps the same company makes dry food for dogs in the shape of bones!
But then am familar with the fact that we - as humans - quite enjoy seeing food in 'shapes'. Fish 'fingers', chicken 'nuggets', and the vegetarian options for meat products (chicken breasts, steaks, sausages, burgers et al) all formed to look as much like expectations as possible.
Alphabet spaghetti is another 'shapely' addition to the canned pasta range (not to mention the pasta bows, shells, wheels, spiral, ribbons and tubes - to name but a few of the huge range that is on sale as dried pasta). Do these make a dish more interesting? Certainly wouldn't taste different once in the mouth, so presumably for 'eye appeal' to make it look more appetising.
Do remember once having a set of alphabet metal 'cutters' for baking use, and the children loved these. I could impress "eat me" (like in Alice in Wonderland) or their names onto biscuits, and used to cut out "Happy Xmas" in pastry to top a big mince pie (the cut out letters then being put on top of another one).

I've even seen round slices of processed meat on a deli counter that had other processed meats embedded in it to form the shape of a face with eyes, nose, mouth etc. For children of course.
It has to be said that children do enjoy food that has a recognisable shape and would always choose a gingerbread man to eat rather than the same amount of 'biscuit' served in the round. Making a recognisable 'shape' is probably a good way to encourage a child to eat something it doesn't really like THAT much, especially if other 'likes' are included in the design. We shouldn't need to have to bother to do this, but often it's the only way to get the picky eaters to eat at all.

The mag I buy Cheesepare, is The Grocer. Not everyone's cup of tea I suppose, but more interesting to me than most other mags.. But it's not as good as it used to be in the old days when it gave long lists of most of the food products on the market that would be having a change of price within a week or two. Sometimes the price would be rising due to crop failures, sometimes some foods would be reduced due to surplus. At least it gave me the chance to choose between 'buying now' or 'wait until later'. Now they don't seem to have those lists any more, probably because - unlike the old days when all prices were much the same wherever the foods were bought - the foods will be sold at different prices in most of the major (and minor) stores.

What I do find enlightening is to read about the lengths stores will go to keep our custom. A great deal of this is to do with psychology of why we buy what we do, and from then on they exploit that as much as possible, making sure that all the foods that we NEED and went into the store for in the first place - such as bread, milk, eggs etc. - are right at the back, so that as we walk down the aisles to reach them we see all the other things displayed to tempt us. "And while we're there we might as well buy something else as well". Haven't we all been there, done that? Just adding one, two or three more items to the shopping basket before we go back to the checkout (which has to be reached by passing through another dozen aisles)?

Oh for those days when all we had to do was write out a shopping list, take it to the local grocer, where he would pack it all up for you in a cardboard box while you sat in a chair and waited, or deliver it to your door later that day. That TV comedy "Open All Hours" was a perfect example of what a grocery shop was like. One small area stocked with enough food to satisfy the neighbourhood needs. What call was there for ninety different varieties of biscuits, when six should be enough? Many different brands AND flavours of potato crisps when a packet of plain Smith's crisps (with a twist of salt wrapped in blue paper inside) was what we expected as a 'snack' (or even treat). Cheese and butter cut from a block by the grocer, bacon from a whole side hanging from a hook and sliced on a machine to the thickness we required. Ham sliced from the bone. Loaves sold whole and unsliced...
All foods (especially the fresh) tasted good then. Now it seems when it comes to flavour we have gone downhill fast, and need to keep seek new products to try in the hope of satisfying our taste buds again.

As well as the obvious psychological side of shopping, we also have to now be aware that not is all as it seems. Many manufacturers are not - at the moment - raising the price of their products (so we can breathe a sigh of relief and keep buying them) but what they are doing instead is by slightly reducing their weight. The shape of (say) a wrapped block of cheese could be the same as before as regards size (top to bottom, side to side), but could have less depth. Even changing the shape from an oblong container to an oval one means there is less volume inside - and again this means less content by weight.

Whether this is caused by the decimal system I don't know, but a lot of products that used to be packed in 'sixes' are now packed in 'fives' (although we still pay the price as though six) , and have noticed that although we can now buy eggs in cartons of ten, the same 'value' ones are individually higher priced when sold in cartons of half-dozens (which is what we are more used to).

Don't know if its me, but even baked beans seem to have more sauce than they used to. Certainly the cheaper brands appear to, as the other day opened one and a third of the can was sauce.

Yesterday made Beloved a Fish risotto using a pack of Fish Pie Mix. At least this contained almost the same percentage of smoked haddock, salmon, and an anonymous 'white fish'. Considering the price of salmon these days was quite impressed - until I saw the cost of the pack. £3! It was much cheaper not that long ago. Not sure about whether the weight had changed (must try and find an old Tesco statement to check).
However, it made a very good risotto, and B ate the lot. Just shows how easy it is to spend a lot more on one meal than another (over a month though my budget still is lower than it used to be so must be doing something right).

At the moment am enjoying watching the "10 mile menu" (not the cheapest of ingredients, but nevertheless interesting), and 'Daily Cook's Challenge" (freeview 10). The latter is really worth watching, firstly because it demonstrates meals made in five minutes, then a dish made for a set price per portion- this differing each day -anything from 50p to £2.50 or more. Am only interested in the meals made for 50p or £1, anything over that is what I call 'luxury'. In a way it's a bit of a cheat the way the cooks are allowed a certain number of 'free ingredients' from the store cupboard: seasonings, spices, flour, raising agents, oil....these all cost money in the first place and even a little adds onto the final total, but then we all have a larder full of the same, and taken them for granted rather than feel they cost anything, and - being shown a breakdown of costs - that the cook actually spent (although some amounts are debatable) does prove what can be made on a small amount of money.

Seems sport is taking over Saturday morning BBC TV this coming Saturday, so anyone hoping to watch Saturday Kitchen followed by the repeat of this Friday's episode of 'The Good Cook' will (this week at least) be disappointed. So this means B will be missing one of the Corrie episodes again. Or shall I be kind and watch the repeat of the cookery prog on iPlayer? Depends upon how nice B has been to me on Friday.

But back to our shopping. Yesterday had an email from Tesco saying that on-line grocery orders will be delivered for just £2 (for a short time only). Didn't read it closely enough, for when I checked on the dates/time slots available, only one was for £2 (this very late on a Sunday evening - and who wants a delivery van calling at nearly midnight? Bet no one does). There were a few slots towards the end of the week for £2.50, and the rest may have been slightly cheaper than normal, can't remember - but not a lot. Going back to the original mail, saw it said "....the delivery charge was FROM £2..." Which says it all. As long as one is £2, then they are not lying.
In the past this 'from' has often led me down the path of paying more than I expected, so we should always read everything very carefully before we make any decision when it comes to money.

An email from Morrison's was about a Disneyworld (Paris) competition, and they have several products that 'give away' Disney cards (or whatever) that can be collected. Just another gimmick to get children to demand a specific cereal or whatever (that costs more anyway).
But then these marketing ploys have been around since I was a 'gel'. My dad (a chain smoker since the age of 14) used to give me the cigarette cards that were in the packs. Myself used to give similar cards to my son to add to his collection (but 'mine' coming with packets of tea-leaves - as neither B nor I smoke). Many kitchen utensils that I still use (stainless steel mixing bowls in three sizes, cream jugs, coffee pots, trays, linen tea-towels....) were 'freebies' that could be sent for if you saved the labels from certain products (Nescafe gave really good gifts in return for their jar labels). My first memory of this domestic 'gift-giving' was the free plastic daffodil that came with a certain brand (and cannot now remember which) of soap powder. Buy enough packs (over time) and we had enough daffs to fill a flower vase (and very lifelike they looked too).

We can still get 'freebies' with certain products if we send proof of purchase etc, but nowadays also have to send money (and quite a lot) to cover 'postage and packing', and because of this doubt if any of the offers are taken up, as - for the same amount of money sent - we could probably buy something similar that is even cheaper. In any case - if a free gift carries the logo of the company, then in a way we are giving them free advertising when we display the item, so they shouldn't ask us for money AS WELL!

It is good to see 'old names' still appearing on the supermarket shelves, things like Colman's Mustard and Marmite etc. Golden Syrup and Black Treacle still sold in the same tin as were sold half a century (or more) ago. Yet find that I can be a bit naive in believing that many of these 'traditional' ingredients are still made from family run concerns.
The other day was surprised to read that Netto was owned by Asda (who are now selling them off to the Co-op or someone), but shortly after even more stunned to discover that Asda itself was owned by Walmart.
Silly me thought that Walkers' crisps (based in Leicester) was an offshoot of that great Leicester family butchers (who made the most ownderful pork pies). But not so, think it is Pepsi-co who own this particular crisp company. The family Walker's (shops) has itself I've been told now been 'bought out', and do have to say that their pies are still good, but perhaps not QUITE as good as we remember them.

Our beloved Cadbury's has been sold to (I believe) an American company. The famous Yorkshire 'Harry Ramsden's' (fish and chips) has also met a similar fate. Is there any family (food) company left that hasn't been snapped up by a larger one? There are of course small ones that specialise in (say) cheeses, but as ever the smaller the company the more expensive the product. Just wish we could all afford to patronise them.

Do I really care that the same company owns many different brands of biscuits (from Jammy Dodgers to Cadbury's Fingers - the latter made under licence but the company controls the sales)? Don't suppose it matters in the long run. We buy what we like, and who makes it (now) seems to be neither here nor there. It's just that these days, no one seems to be able to run a small business anymore - we can see that in our local shopping area where the drapers and sweet shops, the fishmonger and toy-shops, the family grocer, cobbler, greengrocer and butcher, have all disappeared to make room for solicitors, estate agents, travel agents, opticians, hair salons, chiropodists, betting shops, often more than. The only food that seems to be within our reach is that provided by the 'take-aways': the fish and chips, the pizzas, the Chinese and Indian. Perhaps - if lucky - there is a coffee shop that sells bread and cakes and maybe even sandwiches at inflated prices. Other than that if you want refreshment it's Starbucks! Or the local pub, and for 'real food ' we now have to travel further afield to the supermarkets that are often on the outskirts of town, so not within walking distance, so everyone needs to take a bus, car or taxi to do their shopping (and for this reason suggest choosing a store that delivers as it probably works out cheaper than paying for transport of any kind). and doubt very much that the small traders will ever return. Only the newsagent and chemist (called 'pharmacy' these days) seem to be firmly embedded in.
Even on the High Street things are getting worse. We hear of the big names such Woolworths' having to close down, and very recently Habitat. Never to return again presumably. In Morecambe one third of our shops have closed down, and more will be closing shortly. If any do open 'under new management' , there seems not to be enough trade, and in the two years we've been here seen several open then close down again within the first year of trading (one or two after being open a very few months) Only the snack bars, ice-cream parlours, fish and chips and other such 'eateries' seem to keep going. But then we are a seaside 'resort' (if you can call it sea), Relying on the good weather to bring trippers in mainly at weekends, and all they seem to want to spend their money on is food and drink.

The government are encouraging us to spend more to keep industry (and shops) going. Well, the only way we can do that is to have more money in our wage packet, not be given less. With the high rise in the price of gas and electricity that will happen shortly - this is going to take all of disposable income we have , and - as one man said on the TV - this will mean he has to make the choice of either 'eat or heat'. He will not be able to afford to do both at the same time.

Although nothing to do with food, my blood boils when I read of how the BBC are making cuts, meaning we know are shown nothing much more than endless repeats of very old programmes (many of course still worth seeing, but that's not the point). At least they arereducing some salaries which is fair enough. Yet seem to managed to find over £73 million so they can move up north to a new site with new buildings especially built for the purpose. Why move when they already have their flagship building (and others) in London, Shepherd's Bush? The Manchester studios are also closing - possibly to move to join up with the London set. Remember myself being very sad when Pebble Mill closed down and move to a new site in Birmingham. Why there was the need for that I'll never know.

What's the point of having all new technology to improve our viewing if all they can afford is to show us now are repeats? Why have four BBC channels when two will do? They are now so strapped for cash (they say) that they are even discontinuing series that we love to watch (such as Lark Rise to Candleford).
As they do not get any advertising income, presumably the money for the new buildings and all removal costs comes from the licence money we pay to the BBC.
If we are all - as a nation - being encouraged (especially with programmes made by the Beeb) to make the most of what we have, why don't their put their money where their mouth is and do the same?

The other channels are almost as bad. There are several 'money-saving' programmes - all worth watching, where the only fees paid are to the presenter and crew. Any member of the public appearing is generally not paid, however much they may add to the programme. You could say we are being made use of in this respect.

Sounds as though again I have another bee in my bonnet. But - almost certainly due to my age - really feel that life is not improving the way it should. Certainly there have been great advancements in technology, but many of the problems we hav today have been caused by them. So the more we have, the less (good) we really end up with.
Look at what is happening to our health. Obesity caused by eating too many of the wrong foods and lack of exercise caused by sitting in front of computers (and TV) instead of eating food home-cooked and home-grown food, and being out and about in the fresh air (as we used to do). We have digestive problems from the additives and preservatives in processed foods. Not to mention the fumes from traffic we are forced to breath in every time we walk down a main road. It's becoming common in China and Japan for pedestrians to wear masks in cities to avoid breathing in the foul air. How long before we need to? On the good side, because we now have fewer smoking chimneys, we now don't get the lethal 'smog' that we used to.

Nothing will ever stop us progressing when it comes to 'civilisation' I suppose, unless there is a major (and probably natural) disaster that shakes us up enough to realise what are priorities are. Otherwise we have to live with what we have. This doesn't mean - as individuals - we cannot improve the way we live. Just use more of the old ways, follow in the steps of our ancestors. Don't always be in such a rush. Remember that money never brings happiness. All it does is make it more comfortable to be unhappy.

Well - I've rambled on and on again. Forgive me for pouring my thoughts out as am sure many of you will disagree with most of what I have to say, but let us hope some of it has inspired you to believe that life is not as bad as it seems - once we are prepared to do find a way to improve our lot. It's really not that difficult. All we have to do is enjoy what we are doing, spend as little as possible when doing so, and cock a snook at those who think differently.

And with that will leave you for today. Hope to get LOADS of comments coming in with your thoughts on the above, and perhaps ways to tell us how to gain more from less. It is possible. Join me tomorrow and we can all have a good read. See you then.