I realise I’ve neglected this blog for a while but an item in the news caught my attention – and aroused my ire – the other day.
It reported that Sainsbury’s has introduced a new range of packet-to-pan chicken portions. To start with, this strikes me as an horrendously retrograde step when people are campaigning vigorously for supermarkets to do away with unnecessary plastic packaging – and quite rightly too*.
But it appears that the rationale behind the new product is that some people, particularly in the “millennial” age group, cannot bear to touch raw meat. Hence Sainsbury’s are pandering to them with this new package which allows the skinless, boneless chicken breast to be transferred from the packet into the pan or under the grill without manual contact. (I’m assuming it’s skinless and boneless because I can’t imagine Sainsbury’s would risk further offending the delicate sensibilities of the poor darlings by reminding them that their dinner comes from an animal with real skin and bones.)
My initial reaction – if you will excuse a vulgar social media abbreviation – was WTF?! If they really can’t stand contact with a piece of raw meat I suggest they should seriously consider becoming vegetarian or even vegan – and I say that as an unreconstructed carnivore, a lifelong advocate for the pleasures of eating good quality, humanely-reared flesh.
The article implied that the aversion to handling raw meat derives from a fear that doing so is unhygienic. Yes, I know raw chicken and pork can harbour nasty organisms like salmonella but every kitchen has a sink where you can wash your hands afterwards, and it’s not exactly difficult to segregate raw and cooked items. Is this where decades of overzealous hygiene regulations have led us (as well as weakening our immune systems and making it almost impossible to buy pork chops with the kidneys in)?
In some ways the whole sorry episode sounds like a throwback to the 1960s and 70s. Those were the days when food technology was actively celebrated (and never mind the loss of flavour); the days when TV adverts featured tinny-voiced aliens falling about laughing at the idea of peeling potatoes or serfs toiling over the manorial spit and dreaming of the day when “all manner of roast meats will come in little boxes”.
I thought things had changed for the better in the ensuing years, that we had eschewed the ethos of valuing convenience over quality and that we were collectively (perhaps with a little guidance from inspired chefs and food writers like Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall) moving back towards a more natural relationship with our food. But maybe I was wrong.
* Coincidentally I’m writing this on Earth Day (22 April) and the focus this year is on plastic pollution.