Cutting Edge

I’ve never got the expression “best thing since sliced bread”. That innovation seems to me like a retrograde step in the progress of civilisation. Why would you want your loaf exposed to the air at multiple points along its length so that it goes stale quicker? Yet millions of people do. Some will even pick up a fresh bloomer from the bakery counter and request its mutilation. Why? Are they incapable of wielding a bread knife? Too damned lazy?

Ok, maybe there is a modicum of skill involved in slicing bread. I vaguely remember in my youth it could go a bit wonky but that was a long time ago. And admittedly some types of bread are easier to cut than others. But surely it’s worth the effort to retain the freshness a bit longer and to have control over the thickness – you might want wafer thin cucumber sandwiches one day and then chunky toast when its past the first flush of youth.

But it’s not just bread. It’s vegetables. Today I bought some black kale – at least that’s what Tesco call it now. It used to be Cavallo Nero until kale became the trendiest ingredient on the planet (with the possible exception of salted caramel). And the leaves used to be whole but now they’re chopped up and sealed in a bag because presumably that’s what people expect of kale. All manner of vegetables are readily available peeled and chopped up. Personally I like to keep my vegetables whole until I’m ready to cook them. Why would anyone want to subject them to unnecessary drying out and discolouration?

And meat. Why buy a plastic tray of cubed “casserole steak” with multiple surfaces exposed to air and bacteria when you can get the butcher to carve you a nice chunk of shin and chop it up yourself just before cooking it.

And cheese. Cheese should be kept in as large a piece as possible for as long as possible: the cheesemonger buys the whole cheese; he cuts a wedge for the customer on demand; the customer keeps the wedge intact and cuts a smaller wedge prior to eating it.

So why do so many people buy pre-cut stuff? Are they prepared to sacrifice a degree of freshness for the sake of convenience? I suspect they are. Perhaps they don’t have a selection of suitable blades? And here’s a disquieting thought – maybe we’re all being groomed for the time when Health and Safety bans sharp implements of any kind.

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