I know a roast dinner is standard fare for Sunday lunch and that to avoid serving lamb, chicken, or beef ribs today is the British equivalent of an American missing church. I also know that in a country seemingly less and less concerned with “family values”, the Sunday Roast is the last bastion of home and hearth. So, it would be a bit stupid for me to insult a great tradition of my host country, but stupid is my middle name!
Roast dinners bore me. It’s not the meat element, or the potato, or the stuffing, carrots, parsnips, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy that put me off. It’s the amalgamation of everything on one heaping plate. Each element individually is great, but I go into a bit of sensory overload when I’m presented with so many things mixed together. I try to isolate the elements and just enjoy them individually, but my taste buds are not adequately refined and the whole mess just tastes like a bland soup.
I think it might have something to do with life experience. To me a roast dinner is something for special occasions. Several dishes prepared sometimes a week in advance all in preparation for a big meal served once or twice a year. The dishes are then placed in the centre of the table and everybody takes what they like, regrets the consumption afterward, but doesn’t mind feeling bloated and horrible because the next event won’t be for another 364 days.
Maybe it’s just the way Freyas family serves the meal. Food is plated up in the kitchen and presented restaurant style to those seated around the table. I’m a huge fan of the buffet and the culinary autonomy represented by this style of dining, so having portions dictated to me is always galling. I’m not as terrible a son-in-law as I may sound though. I do understand that the method used for serving up the in-laws is based on a distinct lack of space and an undersized dining table (antique family heirloom or not, too small for serving five people).
Fortunately, roast dinners have fallen by the wayside with us for the most part. If we do have one, it’s on an occasional Saturday or a holiday. I think secretly my extended family is just as happy with this arrangement as I am. This is in no small part thanks to Freya opening their eyes about the possibilities that food can offer. They are now asking for Jerked Pork for the next meal. These are people who talk about doodlebugs flying over during the war asking for Jerked Pork!
So, what does the husband of a food enthusiast eat on a Sunday when everybody else is having the “special meal of the week”? Since I find myself eating poached sea-bass or prawn tostada Monday-Friday while my neighbours are eating Chicken Tonight and McCain’s oven chips I use Sundays to eat pizza, hamburgers, burritos or maybe even a hamburger burrito pizza (don’t ask!). Collectively, Freya and I eat so much crap on a Sunday that it’s amazing either of us is even alive on Monday morning. And yet, we don’t seem to be suffering any ill effects. (Were my legs this oedematous last week? I don’t remember that vein on your neck being so prominent before.)
I have today planned out. I went to bed thinking about it last night. I started the day with a bowl of cornflakes. I considered a breakfast burrito, but changed my mind because I was still too tired to bother. Freya had tea and biscuits. For lunch I’m going to crack open a two year old can of Manwich. For those of you unfamiliar with Manwich, it’s a tomato sauce with onions, peppers, and seasoning. It’s mixed into browned beef mince and served on hamburger buns, usually with a slice of processed cheese on top. It’s very 1950’s, not very nutritious, but the perfect vehicle to transport me back to my childhood. For school kids in the 70’s this was a staple in the cafeteria. So, I bought a huge can of it on a trip to the US a few years back and I’ve decided finally to eat it. I know I’ll be sad when it’s gone, but I’ll enjoy eating it today. Freya won’t touch it, but then it’s not evocative to her. She’ll have fish fingers, chips and beans I bet.
It’s meals like this that experienced food writers don’t tell their readers about. Food writing is about maintaining an illusion of sophistication. Food writing is about presenting a unified front against Pot Noodles and cheese doodles. Unfortunately, despite the 3000 cookbooks on the shelf telling me that every meal should be made from scratch from ingredients I’ve picked from my own garden just this morning, despite television chefs rightfully trying to ensure that school dinners be healthier, despite politicians cynically taxing foods that make us fat to pay for health care for the obese (while simultaneously denying specific procedures such as hip replacement for the overweight), despite my own tirades against processed foods on this blog in the past, my taste-buds still crave garbage on a Sunday.
I want Manwich for the same reason that everybody else wants a roast dinner, tradition and nostalgia. To me these things share equally with taste in our enjoyment of food. That’s why people say, “just like mom used to make.” That’s why people eat foods that remind them of childhood. That’s why you’ll never stop people eating roast dinners and why I’ll always get a slice of Rocky Rococo pizza when I visit home. This is probably due to our instinct for genetic survival; an innate desire to remain close to those who share our DNA, protect the pack, and ensure mutual longevity. Food was certainly the first concern of our primitive ancestors and it’s not surprising that it still brings the pack together. Enjoy your meal!