Although spuds are a staple of the British diet, he never had cause to buy or cook one. His reasons were different: He moved directly from one Mrs. Crombie (his mother) to another (my mother). When the latter died, he lived on prepared food that he simply heated up, as I do.
In part, my estrangement from the tater is due to my not celebrating Western food. I prefer Chinese- or Indian-style cooking. Plus the inexorable rise of the microwave oven, the bachelor's best friend, and, since my return to London, the availability of laughably cheap but very good food delivered to my front door in 30 minutes or fewer. As a heavy smoker, I can't taste anything anyway. My enjoyment of food is mostly textural. Being single makes cooking a chore. Microwaves and boxed, prepared food make cooking essentially unnecessary. In that I could not be more divorced from the source of my sustenance, I am a thoroughly modern man.
This dependence on unknown others was underlined last summer, when the British underwent the latest in an ongoing 1,000-year series of national riots. The area in which I live was barely affected but a local halfwit lobbed a brick at the window of the only supermarket for a mile in any direction, where I buy most of my groceries. The window splintered but didn't break. Spooked, one imagines, the ne'er-do-well made off. The threat to the food supply was not to be taken lightly, however. If the supermarkets went out of business, I'd be dead inside a week.
Living in a city is an act of faith. No connection exists between the farmer and the consumer, other than the supermarket. I couldn't grow a potato if my life depended on it. I peeled them as a kid in the days when food was bought as raw materials and carted home in a bag my mother carried with her on shopping expeditions. Plastic bags and plastic food have replaced all that.
Should I be worried about this, and should I change my ways? Doing so would mean acquiring or renting land, regularly traveling to and from it, and getting my hands dirty, which is something else I haven't done much as an adult. I have a theory about manual work. It is cheaper, quicker and cleaner for me to earn the money to pay someone else to do the work, probably much better than I could do it anyway. Ditto prepared food: much easier than learning how to fix or prepare actual food and then finding the time to do so. This process requires that I do not mind working, and I don't. After all, I'm a writer: it's not real work.
I hear you tut-tutting, but don't. This isn't 1912. I don't need to know how to operate a potato. Hell, I use a computer and I have no idea how that works. I fly all the time, without ever believing I'll reach my destination -- yet I always have. In the modern world, as in the ancient, all you need is faith.
ROGER CROMBIE is a London-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
February 21, 2012
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