Issue 4: How to eat in Jan and for ever more, and what we can all learn from Giles Coren
How to eat in Jan and for ever more
We stir from Christmas mulling to brave a new year, only to be smacked with a generous helping of dietary challenges. The role of food as the great leveller and unifier rose to prominence in the pandemic, but you’d never know if you used January as a barometer. Food identity politics shines bright in the first month of the year. What you eat and drink, or don’t, defines who you are as a person.
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash
Cue Veganuary, Dry January, post-Christmas “balanced” January, and the British-farmer backed misinformation fightback that is “We Eat Balanced”. We might as well label all of it Dietanuary and await the arrival of Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year. It’s on 17th January, if you’ve been too miserable to notice, and is no doubt the creative genius of one of my esteemed colleagues in the communications world.
I have no issues with January resets or New Year resolutions. It offers a goldmine of content opportunities for marketers. It can be a useful time to do something different, better or more. Personally, I take particular pleasure in sharing selfies with meat feast, cheese laden pizzas and life-sized glasses of red wine to highlight my own brand of everything in moderation while going about life as normal.
Normal for January of course is grey, cold and miserable. This year we have the added joy of nearly two full years of a global pandemic. Pubs and the wider hospitality sector could do with our support after a brutal couple of years. In an age of significant pressures, polarised opinions and divisive discussions, what and how we eat and drink should unite and fortify, not separate and decimate. Just ask Matt Tebutt whose use of parmesan, wine and honey on his new Go Veggie and Vegan cookery show on Channel 5 sent him ducking for cover on Twitter, labelling it “an absolute playground of total joy”. Welcome aboard!
Amidst all the conflicting views and menu of options, we know eating well does wonders for the mood and general well-being. And for this alone, the kitchen is a great place to start. We cooked more at home during the pandemic and if there was ever motivation needed to ramp this up or get started, January is it. I’ve been particularly inspired by podcaster and writer Alice Slater’s #CookJan. A response to diet culture and “new year new you” nonsense, it is the simplest of movements to reconnect with your kitchen and share the results in January.
For the food industry, supporting cooking at home is about more than just recipes. It is about empathy, relatability, acceptance and self awareness. I field regular calls from my little sister asking if a pepper she cut three days ago and placed cling wrapped in the fridge is still okay to eat. I cook with a friend’s 22-year-old who I recently introduced to a shallot and a butternut squash. While many of us applauded the victory of common sense in this decision not to milk use by dates, this is exactly the sort of development likely to terrify these two.
Similarly, simple or easy recipes are often the polar opposite of both. The recipes I want to cook after two school runs, a full workday and no childcare, often involve two packets of Maggie instant noodles and two children doing their own crudité slicing. And I wrote two cookbooks. This piece titled How to cook at home mostly misses the mark. For a lot of people, cooking at home isn’t always about emulating chefs. It’s about breaking down everyday barriers to getting whole meals on the table, efficiently and quickly.
Sabrina Ghayour and Jack Monroe did some great work on this during the lockdown, and Ruby Tandoh’s recent book Cook as You Are is both accessible and bold. During the first lockdown, I created a range of multi-purpose spice and herb blends that can be used with a mix and match set of whatever ingredients are available - now awaiting launch at a major supermarket. Inspiration can arrive from anywhere, in my case from empty supermarket shelves and wine-fuelled video calls with my mumsgroup - mostly made up of reluctant home cooks.
On a more recent low point, involving time pressures as well as a shoulder injury, I found more inspiration in the words of Britt H Young in the New York Times who in her own words “was born missing a hand”. She says: “Two of the most incorrect things ever said about me because I was born missing a hand: that I wouldn’t be able to drive and that I wouldn’t be able to cook… let’s just say there’s practically a waiting list for a dinner party at my house. The kitchen is where I pour both my anxiety and my enthusiasm for life into various culinary projects – with the help of my favourite tools.” It spurred me on to stir with my left hand and book an overdue physio appointment.
As an industry, we have a full 11 months to think about how we want to inspire more cooking from January 2023 to forever more. But the month is not quite over yet. So how do you resest your relationship with the kitchen in January?
For start, don’t fret. No one is judging you (off social media, at least)
Cook what you’re comfortable with and enjoy your creations
If you’re lacking inspiration, locate a more talented friend, bombard them with questions and mine their cookbook / recipe recommendations. The most used cookbooks are often quite different from the ones setting social media / editorial pages on fire
When in doubt, refer to the back of the pack of an ingredient. It will often come with truly straightforward recipe you can simply replicate and add to your repertoire
And if all else fails, bag yourself some invites and get inspired in someone else’s kitchen. They can #CookJan while you chew the fat.
What we can learn from Giles Coren
This newsletter is late in no small part thanks to columnist Giles Coren and *that* restaurant review in the Times. His cancellation on Twitter for being simultaneously racist, classist and fattist was like watching a car crash in slow motion with a fried chicken takeaway flying dramatically through the air.
Yes, these words by Giles were actually published in The Times
It was interesting that Giles went to review Popeyes at all, as he’d already established it was not his sort of place. The cult of negative restaurant reviews has a well-established role in readers’ editorial entertainment. Unfortunately, it backfired dramatically here with his inflammatory and ignorant comments.
As I am all about the positive takeaways, and it is January reset season, this is what we can all learn from our Giles:
Don’t comment on things you don’t know anything/enough about
If you do want to reference complex and sensitive aspects of food culture, refer to experts. The most important article to read on fried chicken is this by Melissa Thompson, food writer and co-director of the British Library’s Food Season
Don’t defend your actions/words. Sometimes the hardest word to say is sorry, but a genuine apology can go a long way
Lovely read Mallika. I found January very healing, a little stressful workwise but overall healing as it gave me more time to cook for myself. For so long I had been creating for others. Wow!!! I totally missed Giles Coren-gate but then I don’t read restaurant reviews because they are just one person’s opinion, a person paid to be provocative and sound clever. More of that “West African food” is coming and the world will be addicted to it all, and for the better. I am West African and I have never known West Africa to be inventors of fried chicken. 😂😂😂
Not Giles Coren please. Ever. He’s truly ghastly. Try his sister Victoria.