Let them eat cake

London 2


If of late you have walked down a London high street on a sunny afternoon as I have, you will have been struck – and perhaps disturbed – by the multitudinous cafés and restaurants that have sprouted up like Hydra’s heads over the last few years. You will also have staggered up and down the vertiginous high street peering desperately into the windows to find some kind of variable on which to base your culinary decision only to fall by the wayside, defeated by the homogenous little tables, fashionable Middle-Eastern menus, exposed brick-work, delicious mothers and their well-dressed babies.

Unless – of course, you are one of the 19 million Britons who eat out at least once a week (compared with 17 million in 2013), [1] in which case you are probably wondering what my problem is and why I am being so dramatic. Perhaps you would be right to wonder this. The restaurant industry is not entirely bad. It is a luxury, which, if abolished, would significantly darken this Fair Isle. It has brought us dishes from all over the world, allowed passionate chefs to share their creations, and provided us with a setting for merriment with our loved ones.

My problem lies with the consumer costs of the industry. Nowhere else in Europe is eating out so disproportionate to one’s wage or to eating at home. Often it is fairly equal abroad. Yet economists – employed by banks – use capitalist jargon to positively assess the country’s well-being based on its spending habits: ‘The UK Expenditure Index continues to point to a healthy rate of growth in the UK… This highlights the on-going transition of increased consumer confidence that has been evident in recent months to higher volumes of expenditure in the UK… [2] The research finds that despite tightening purse strings, consumers are reluctant to give up eating out…’ [3] Blah Blah Blah.

We the consumers are diagnosed as happy, healthy and confident people because we are spending. The fact that we are spending more on food and drink than ever before, despite being poorer, does not trigger any correlation in their minds – people are not spending more on food and drink addictions because they are poorer, they are simply determined to eat themselves out of the recession – for the good of the colony. Hear, hear! Growth, growth! But Mr Economist, what are we growing into? It doesn’t matter! Spend, spend, spend! Eat, eat, eat! And when you’re too fat to go to work, we’ll strip you of your benefits.

There are many other ways of boosting the economy that would be far more effective and far less farcical. Banks could be regulated and bankers paid less, for one. But sadly, they would rather pay economists to tell us what a good job we’re doing in driving the economy than be told that their bonuses, speculative bubbles, money printing and ‘borrowing’ is what got us into this mess and could they please get us out.

According to these economists, restaurants also ‘create jobs’. This is one of the most absurd and surreal phrases to be bandied about over the last few years. Yes they create jobs – low paid, demoralising and slavish jobs for people who don’t have any other option, so that the consumer can be lured in to spend all the money she doesn’t have because her job doesn’t pay her enough, whilst the owners are left with barely anything after all their expenses anyway. Again, these are not issues in the rest of Europe, where staff are paid enough to live on – in Norway, wages are upwards of £12 an hour.

If these jobs are not useful to anyone, why create them? The more we work, the less time we have to cook, the less time we have to cook, the more we have to eat out, the more we have to eat out, the more we have to work – and the cycle goes on, spinning faster and faster and more and more extravagantly until it grows and grows into oblivion. We’ve created an entirely pointless industry so that there is a ‘free flow of money’ but none of those involved ever profit from it. It’s just flowing in the wind, and as Orwell once said, ‘political language is designed […] to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ [4] It all smacks of Catch 22’s Milo Minderbinder’s M&M Enterprises, which essentially grows out of nothing and benefits no-one but himself, yet he convinces the American people that: ‘What’s good for M&M Enterprises is good for the country.’ [5]

Two things that are symptomatic of the decline of an empire: huge disparity between rich and poor and a growing obsession with food, resulting – bizarrely – in the worship of celebrity chefs. These two things occurred during the fall of the Roman, Ottoman and Spanish empires, and now perhaps the West’s as we try to find meaning in something – anything. But as political analyst, David Morgan, put it: ‘you can never get enough of what you don’t need.’ [6] The disparity is what drives the dependency and, as with everything, stuffing it with more cake is not going to make the problem go away.


Sharifa Peterson is a writer and an MA student under Will Self at Brunel University


[1] fedrest.com/eatingoutstatistics.html
[2] visaeurope.com

[3] londonlovesbusiness.com/lifestyle/london-restaurants/13bn-uk-restaurant-boom-defies-recession/2282.article
[4] ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946), George Orwell

[5] Catch 22 (1961), Joseph Heller
[6] Four Horsemen (2012), dir. Ross Ashcroft


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One Response to Let them eat cake

    1. Well written very good sharifa

      Comment by waddy on 26 March, 2015 at 3:33 pm

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