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The Cuisine of the United Kingdom


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British hard cheeses (and very many of the soft goat and sheep cheeses) rank highest in the world.

And, Adam, I like pie too!

The basic combinations of flavours in British cuisine are often very intelligent and nuanced, regardless of the coarseness of common applications. I often make use of them in a somewhat more evolved form (tiny pease porridges moulded about ham, steak and kidney tartlets atop roasted wild mushrooms with Guiness etc etc).

My grandfather had a greenhouse in London and grew apples of numberless number. My father was a green grocer in Liverpool for a short time between military and diplomatic corp services. I have memories of the apples of childhood that loom strange as Glastonbury Tor now when I bite into a hard Canadian apple.

If one adores a prime rib roast and potatoes roasted in goose fat then one is ipso facto a devotee of British cuisine.

(I also likes me tea and sarnies, I do.)

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Why did C19th England, with its dynamic and wealthy urban middle class, not develop a cuisine bourgeoise in the way that France did?

In part because the food that was in vogue at time wasn't looking to English food for inspiration, but in general more to the French style. I quick look at most mid-late 19th century cook books shows a large amount of Frenchified names, even if the dishes are not.

Has a lot to do with the fact that an awful lot of French cooks from royal and royalist houses found themselves out of work as a result of the Terror; quite a few of those fled to England, and quite a few stayed there and became chefs for gentlemen's clubs and the like. Louis Eustache Ude was one of the leaders of that crew - as well he might be, having been chef to Louis XVI - and was a big success in his adopted country, even writing a popular cookbook in English (heavily larded with French). Then in less desperate times (1816) you had Carême himself cooking for the Prince Regent (and incidentally contributing greatly to the revolutionary design of the kitchen in the Royal Pavilion at Brighton) - followed by his "student" Francatelli who was eventually to cook for Queen Victoria. By mid-century these guys and their ilk were very thoroughly in fashion; amazing the cachet one can acquire when vouched for by the reigning monarch.

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Reading this thread reminded me of book I have in my library called Seven Centuries of English Cooking, A Collection of Recipes. The original copyright is for a Maxine McKendry in '73 but the '92 edition says it's by Maxime de la Falaise. It's been years since I read the text, but the recipes are pretty interesting specifically because she provides the original text and then translates into what should workable recipes.

As for favorite foods, for me it's clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Today, I have a very good butcher just around the corner from my house, but the nearest grocer's is the city centre open market, and the nearest usuable fishmonger is a 20 minute drive away. If I want to buy really good cheese and bread I have to find a deli whose prices are now aimed at those who can afford to treat food as a hobby rather than a necessity.

So the situation today is that the good basic food that was available to me as a child on my doorstep at prices my family could afford is now only obtainable as part of a treasure hunt around a 10 mile radius of my home, and at premium prices. This is progress?

this is a little bit of a rant, and i apologize. however,

i agree with andy completely. its an interesting phenomenom that yes, there is much good food available in london (at scarey prices) but its very much a fashion-liftstyle-national pride statement. the trickle-down effect remains to be seen--oh it exists, but how deep it goes will or will not unveil itself in decades to come.

where i live, in the bucolic countryside of hampshire, unless one gets in the car and drives quite far to find a farm shop, the only decent place to find food is the waitrose or asda, the first a posh supermarket, the second a decidedly budget minded one. both are supermarkets. and there is no restaurant worth eating at. a nice pub a ten minute drive, with great views, ambiance, etc, but the food is passable, unless you get a ploughmans which is lovely: cheese, pickle, bread, and an apple. (ploughmans, by the way, was invented a while back as a marketing compaign by i forget who, possibly the cheese people? or the pub people?). anyhow, i do love a good ploughmans.

having been in barcelona the past week, wandering into any old bar and hoisting myself up onto a stool to eat tapas , looking at menus del dias galore then walking in for lunch when one struck my fancy, nibbling on bacados and more bocadillos to go with a drink or as a small meal, it is once again in my face, the difference of food in britain and food in other countries that i frequent: the attitude in the shopping (quality held high, and knowledge of what makes something good not just the presige of one or two names), the delight in eating, sharing, the sociability of it all, the daily sociability of it all.

in the places that people have an enviable food culture, its all about attitude. its all about the good attitude towards food, its enjoyment, its knowledge, and its roll in the culture. and the way people eat, i feel this is most important of all.

my parisian friend who spent the weekend with me a few weeks back says: you can find good food in london if you look hard enough, but you must work hard at it and spend a lot of money.

there is a hospitality and generousity that is often missing (even now) in the hospitality industry here and that affects our experiences. and chain restaurants, or shall i say, restaurant groups, of even the biggest names, is a very popular phenomenom. i view chain restaurants as simply a way of pickpocketing the punters, and similarly try to avoid supermarkets too. but there needs to be an alternative, and you know if most people want this big chain thing, and don't support small individual shops except occasional special ones, and we know that marco polo must live in the most perfect spot in the world. but most of britain does not. most of britain does not eat very well.

in an effort to encourage children and their familes to enjoy eating (eating good food of course) i am working (volunteer) with The Great Ormand Street Hospital website childrens magazine. it is satisfying to feel i am making a contribution but difficult to realize what most people, esp children, eat.

and yet, in barcelona all the parents i spoke with say: ' why do the british children not eat vegetables? all of our children love vegetables!' i think kids just need the opportunity to taste good ones and a better attitude towards good (rather than embracing fast) food on behalf of the adults would go a long way towards this.

and i'd love to ban the huge long aisles of prepared meals which is pretty much what most people who can afford them live on. they view them as proper food. and yet, these things are expensive, not very tasty with a few exceptions, and made from the cheapest ingredients (so what kind of oils? meats? what provenance?) and also a very separating experience in eating together as a family (on the rare occasions when people actually do). its microwave this and that separate thing. i think they are a terrible influence.

to end my rant, these are some of the british foods i LOVE: marmite ( mmmmmm), branstens pickle ( a chutney-like tamarind and swede based relish in a jar), worchestershire sauce, picalilly, CHEESES!, British bacon, the range of butters we can get here from the excellent french local ones to a few british regional ones which are terrific; passion fruit (imported here, not so easily available in the usa and i always miss it so). elderflower cordial (this stuff is fantastic and makes the most divinely refreshing summer gelee dessert), treacle sponge (ooozy and richly sweet), trifle ( a once a year blow out, very over the top food wise and totally irrisistible). also the way that ducks are sold cut into pieces of breast and legs and sold separately.

also greek yogurt. and: INDIAN/PAKISTANI FOODS, TURKISH FOODS,

again, i emphasize its mostly the attitude towards food which has allowed big capitalistic supermarkets and hospitality companies to impact the way the british eat. we haven't mentioned the fact that most british traditionally do not like to spend much on food, as is borne by the percentage figures and statistics. and yet a segment of the population wants to spend spend spend regardless of the quality, they want the safety of the name brand, or the prestige. it all comes down to a lack of knowledge and appreciation, and this makes people vulnerable and less able to feed themselves well and happily.

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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Reading this thread reminded me of book I have in my library called Seven Centuries of English Cooking, A Collection of Recipes.  The original copyright is for a Maxine McKendry in '73 but the '92 edition says it's by Maxime de la Falaise.  It's been years since I read the text, but the recipes are pretty interesting specifically because she provides the original text and then translates into what should workable recipes.

Yes, I love Seven Centuries - it's a handy overview full of intriguing nuggets. And for someone going into the same racket its great usefulness lies in its bibliography: it was a wonderful introduction to her primary sources - most of which now grace my shelves as well, in one form or another. (Oddly, another great bibliography for the same purpose is that of the original edition of the Williamsburg cookbook: though designed to look and feel like an 18th-century American production, it actually draws most of its material from English classics of the time, like Hannah Glasse et al.)

And I bless whatever force it was that led to the proliferation of facsimile reprints during the past 15 years or so! Those original editions are a bit too rich and fragile for my blood.

The possible downside of all this historical background is a propensity to become a bit of an authenticity-snob. Suet puds with baking powder to lighten them? Heaven forfend! I make a pretty mean spotted dog, ditto jam roly-poly, not to mention a very serious steak-and-kidney pud, etc.; by today's standards, however, they're a trifle dense, as... well, as I feel they were meant to be. Innovation doesn't always necessarily constitute improvement, saith the bigoted culinary historian....

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Well I must confess that the first timeI had the pudding it was in Australia and it was the no lemon version (which is odd given how many backyards have lemon trees). I promise never to have the no lemon version again. :biggrin:

[unseemly Gloat...] I am glad to hear it. I do assure you you will be the happier for it, heh heh. [/unseemly Gloat...]

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One truly amazing book is the late Maggie Black's A Heritage of British Cooking, containing recipes from the Stuart through the Victorian eras. As well as its copious contemporary illusrations, it's noteworthy for the fact that each recipe is given in a facimile of its source, together with historical and bibliographical information, and a re-writing to make it comprehensible to the modern cook.

I'm particularly grateful to her for the recipe for tansy pudding with almonds. This neglected herb grows ferociously in our garden and I love its strong medicinal flavor; I often add it to an omelette (providing I'm the only one eating it). :laugh:

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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again, i emphasize its mostly the attitude towards food which has allowed big capitalistic supermarkets and hospitality companies to impact the way the british eat.

I think until quite recently supermarkets like Sainsbury's were considered to be forces for good in the sense of introducing a variety of new and exciting treats to the mainstream English consumer -- for example, olive oil Certainly if you read Elizabeth David and she explains how there is a shop or two in Soho where you can find this exotic ingredient, you realise how far we have come.

You are right that it is the attitude to food that is the key factor -- the liberal consensus that it is all the fault of the big bad supermarkets seems to me to have it backwards.

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You are right that it is the attitude to food that is the key factor -- the liberal consensus that it is all the fault of the big bad supermarkets seems to me to have it backwards.

Supermarkets both form and follow public opinion. When there is a demand for quality, they will supply it, so long as it lasts. But their biggest profit lies in rapid turnover of uniform products, and their advertising is concentrated on appealing to their customers' laziness, indifference or preoccupation -- buy this because it's cheap, it requires no work, it presents no challenge, and all your friends are eating it.

Organic? Locally grown? "Taste the difference"? Window dressing.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Big supermarkets have enough space to cater to several different market segments -- indeed they probably aspire to cover pretty much the whole specturm of food retailing. It's the small ones which really suck.

I am not sure what your point is about window-dressing? You are right that this constitutes a small percentage of their overall sales, but I understand that it is profitable in its own right.

Edited by balex (log)
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I am not sure what your point is about window-dressing?

Window dressing is what is used to get you to enter the store. Once you're inside, they can get down to the business of selling you what is most profitable. If you were to measure the shelf space given to various products, it would show you that their biggest profits lie in mediocrity. Is that what the public demands? They helped to make it that way.

However . . . The aim of this thread was apparently to demonstrate that there is more to British cuisine than what merely echoes the rest of the "developed" world. Those of us who live in the UK will already have discovered this; those who are about to visit will have been alerted to explore beyond the nearest fast food outlet or supermarket.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I am not sure what your point is about window-dressing?

Window dressing is what is used to get you to enter the store. Once you're inside, they can get down to the business of selling you what is most profitable. If you were to measure the shelf space given to various products, it would show you that their biggest profits lie in mediocrity.

I disagree with this argument -- the market for cheap stuff is highly competitive since it forms the basis for "shopping baskets" comparison. Margins are very much higher on the premium foods, and the supermarkets have a strong incentive to convince people to purchase that.

Though, of course since the volume is very much larger on the cheap stuff, as you point out, the gross profit on the generic baked beans and so on is undoubtedly higher.

You are right that this is off-topic, perhaps we could start another thread if you want to continue.

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again, i emphasize its mostly the attitude towards food which has allowed big capitalistic supermarkets and hospitality companies to impact the way the british eat.

I think until quite recently supermarkets like Sainsbury's were considered to be forces for good in the sense of introducing a variety of new and exciting treats to the mainstream English consumer -- for example, olive oil Certainly if you read Elizabeth David and she explains how there is a shop or two in Soho where you can find this exotic ingredient, you realise how far we have come.

You are right that it is the attitude to food that is the key factor -- the liberal consensus that it is all the fault of the big bad supermarkets seems to me to have it backwards.

since the bad old days when elizabeth david had to scurry around soho searching for this or that special ingredients, british eating habits have gone in the supermarket direction. they could have gone in a more specialist direction, but you're right that supermarkets did offer a force for the good. i remember when the first safeway opened on edgeware road in london, a long long time ago, it was really the best place for good quality. (that, and selfridges which sold excellent bacon).

supermarkets were a step up from what was on offer. and as life changed and everyone got so busy, supermarkets became very alluring.

interestingly, i did once meet elizabeth. she was quite elderly, and it was in an italian restaurant in san francisco. she and i ended up somehow drawing pictures of cats and olives while a lot of pretentious people swanned around.......but that is by the by.

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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You are right that it is the attitude to food that is the key factor -- the liberal consensus that it is all the fault of the big bad supermarkets seems to me to have it backwards.

Supermarkets both form and follow public opinion. When there is a demand for quality, they will supply it, so long as it lasts. But their biggest profit lies in rapid turnover of uniform products, and their advertising is concentrated on appealing to their customers' laziness, indifference or preoccupation -- buy this because it's cheap, it requires no work, it presents no challenge, and all your friends are eating it.

Organic? Locally grown? "Taste the difference"? Window dressing.

To quote Krugman again -- because I think he has it right:

...even on so basic a matter as eating, a free-market economy can get trapped for an extended period in a bad equilibrium in which good things are not demanded because they have never been supplied, and are not supplied because not enough people demand them.

If we look only at range and quality, I find it hard to assign much guilt to the UK supermarkets. The selection of good things -- and I mean genuinely good things, not faddish items or tricked-out foods made from petrochemicals -- is far better than it was 10 years ago, and still better than in all but a few very fancy supermarkets in the US. Sainsburys have sponsored Delia Smith and the obnoxious Jamie -- who at least promotes the use of fresh herbs, olive oil and other good things. Waitrose has provided quality food for some time. Asda and Tesco have followed the "pile it high and sell it cheap" model; if you are a wealthy gourmet, you might fault this, but if you are the provider for a poor family, it could be a good thing.

There are other things you might criticise the supermarkets for. It isn't clear how truly competitive they are; price fixing was common in the UK not that long ago. The recent DTI enquiry did find them "not guilty", and no UK supermarket has been turning in outstanding profits in the way that the banks have, but I suppose some doubt remains. A trip to a supermarket in the hyper-competitive US is a reminder about the cost that internal trade restrictions impose on UK consumers.

But on the whole, although I do a good proportion of my shopping at small shops or stalls in Northcote Road and Borough Market, the supermarkets (Waitrose/Ocado especially, but also Sainsburys) have been A Good Thing. And the small shops are absolutely a luxury -- were I not reasonably well off, the supermarkets would get most of the business.

My guess is that the gross margins on products like organics and Sainsburys' "taste the difference" products (some of which are very good) are considerably greater than on toilet rolls, soap powders and the products John seems to be categorising as "mediocrity". So I don't see the point about Window Dressing.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I am no admirer of what WalMart have done to small retailers in the US.

But it's important to get the facts right. Wal Mart is not the world's biggest corporation, except perhaps by revenue (sales), a measure so economically irrelevant that in some industries it isn't even provided in press releases. Microsoft's last reported annual sales were $32 billion with net income of about $10b; Wal Mart's sales were $256b with income of $9b. Oil companies, for example, hardly report sales, since the only relevant fact is income.

Wal Mart's current market capitalisation -- a far better index of whether it is the "world's largest corporation" -- is less than that of Exxon, GE, Microsoft, among others.

Wal Mart's sales grew by 12.5% per year over the last 5 years; earnings grew at 14.5%; the shares increased by 7.5%. Respectable, especially for a retailer in some tough economic times, but hardly "exponential" (well, a very small exponent).

(Source for these numbers: Reuters)

Wal Mart's UK business (remember the subject of this thread?) is ASDA, which have arguably had far less impact on retailing than Tesco. One reason for this is that ASDA didn't start out with the giant store "footprints" so essential for operating mega-retailers. Given the density of the UK, it's hard to get these "boxes" if you don't have them already.

In France, the dominant players are groups like Carrefour. Wal Mart isn't a player. They have a small position in Germany.

Wal Mart has been a powerful demonstrator of what is possible -- in that sense, I guess they aren't a "passenger", though groups like Carrefour and IKEA led similar revolutions in Europe, independently of Wal Mart.

A lot of Wal Mart's philosophy, starting from its founder and continuing today, is about so-called every day low pricing (EDLP), i.e. constantly lowering the cost of living for middle America. Do they have more sinister objectives? I don't know.

I think the story is more convincing as an example of how well intentioned actions -- making more goods available to more people at lower prices -- can have adverse consequences.

In any event, I can't see how Wal Mart have negatively affected food in the UK, which, if I recall, was what we are talking about here.

First, I'm not sure that sales are an irrelevant figure, at least in the context of this conversation. Certainly they're not what investors are interested in, and since the financial press is largely targeted at investors, sales -- as opposed to earnings -- tend to get short shrift. But from the POV of the consumer, sales have real significance, since they provide a snapshot of the extent of the impact of the company in question on our daily lives. On the basis of sales -- and speaking as an American living in NYC -- WalMart has an enormous impact.

For one, the company's purchasing choices are a hugely decisive factor in determining what products are and are not available to the consuming public. WalMart has a well known history of putting small players out of business, so for many people, WalMart's line of goods is the only option. Additionally, WalMart's ability to purchase in bulk "helps" determine which products manufacturers and producers will bring to market: If WalMart is interested in buying X from you, but not interested in your hand-crafted, locally sourced Y, odds are that Y will go by the wayside. So even if the handful of smaller, individually run shops that still exist in your area WOULD be interested in carrying your Y, you're probably not going to bother supplying it.

While I have no background in groceries, other than as an enthusiastic consumer, I do own an independent bookshop, and the chain bookshops, like Barnes & Noble, have had an equally profound affect on publishing: What sells at B&N largely determines which books get published, and which go out of print and thus become unavailable.

As for the notion that WalMart -- used lazily here as a proxy for enormous, category-killing chains of various sorts -- has reduced the cost of living for consumers...I'd like to see some numbers. Certainly, the statement has logical appeal: WalMart has vast economies of scale, and can thus sell goods at lower prices than its smaller competitors. But cost-of-living isn't really a single-factor concept. You can't look solely at the amount (or the percentage of income) spent on food, for example, to determine whether cost of living has gone down, because the quality of that food also plays a role. If consumers are buying nothing but jelly beans -- say 2000 calories per day worth of jelly beans -- their cost per calorie will be less than if they are buying organic meat and produce, but the quality of those calories will be substantially lower.

Finally, while WalMart does have a history of putting small shops out of business, that's not the only affect it's had on local retail environments. WalMart also has a history of going into relatively small locales, closing down the town shopping district (by forcing the local grocer, hardware store, drugstore, etc.) out of business....and then closing up shop itself. With no local options, and now no WalMart either, consumers are forced to drive sometimes 20 or 30 miles -- usually to the nearest WalMart -- to buy their basic necessities. The cost of those trips (gas, time, depreciation, and so forth) also has to be factored into any analysis of WalMart's impact on consumers' cost of living.

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But on the whole, although I do a good proportion of my shopping at small shops or stalls in Northcote Road and Borough Market, the supermarkets (Waitrose/Ocado especially, but also Sainsburys) have been A Good Thing. And the small shops are absolutely a luxury -- were I not reasonably well off, the supermarkets would get most of the business.

I think the fallacy is in trying to claim that the rise of supermarkets has been entirely A Good Thing OR A Bad Thing. I lived in the UK for a few years in the early 80s, after having grown up in New York. There were no supermarkets anywhere near where I lived, and while I was charmed by buying my meat from the butcher, my bread from the baker, and my produce from the nice greengrocer who got in two aubergines a week just for me, this was also -- according to my Manhattan-honed sensibilities -- a highly inconvenient way to shop. None of the stores in my area -- I was living in Clapham -- were open on Sunday, and they all closed at 1 in the afternoon on both Saturdays and Wednesdays. I was able to buy olive oil, but only because I placed a special order with the grocer. When Sainsbury's opened at the Angel, my entire block -- and I'm serious about this -- took a field trip up to Islington to marvel at the wonder of bread piled just steps from the lamb chops, five different kinds of dish-washing liquid, and all of it available till 8 at night.

But pendulums almost always over-correct. And while the rise of enormous supermarket chains, in both the U.S. and the UK, has had some very beneficial results, it has had some decidedly less-than-desirable results as well.

Edited by mags (log)
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while the rise of enormous supermarket chains, in both the U.S. and the UK, has had some very beneficial results, it has had some decidedly less-than-desirable results as well.

I agree entirely with this assessment. And note that I didn't say "entirely A Good Thing" but "on the whole" -- I find the positive effects outweigh the negative. But there are negative impacts of UK supermarkets.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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As for the notion that WalMart -- used lazily here as a proxy for enormous, category-killing chains of various sorts -- has reduced the cost of living for consumers...I'd like to see some numbers.  Certainly, the statement has logical appeal: WalMart has vast economies of scale, and can thus sell goods at lower prices than its smaller competitors.  ...

Finally, while WalMart does have a history of putting small shops out of business, that's not the only affect it's had on local retail environments.  WalMart also has a history of going into relatively small locales, closing down the town shopping district (by forcing the local grocer, hardware store, drugstore, etc.) out of business....and then closing up shop itself.  With no local options, and now no WalMart either, consumers are forced to drive sometimes 20 or 30 miles -- usually to the nearest WalMart -- to buy their basic necessities.  The cost of those trips (gas, time, depreciation, and so forth) also has to be factored into any analysis of WalMart's impact on consumers' cost of living.

If we are going to argue, let's argue with what the other person actually wrote. I never claimed that Wal Mart had reduced anyone's cost of living, though my guess is that the numbers would support this. As you say, it depends on one's requirements for "living": washing powders? barbecue grills? organic tomatoes?

What I did say was that Wal Mart's corporate philosophy is about reducing prices, selling more goods at slimmer margins, and that, as a matter of corporate philosophy or intent, they believe they are "doing good" at the same time they are "doing well".

I've seen the claim about small businesses closing down after Wal Mart locates near a town. But the story is often told as though this is an explicit and premeditated plan: "We'll locate a mile from Donkelburg, then we'll close down the druggist and the grocery store. Then we'll close the store and relocate 10 miles away." Is there any evidence that this is the case? Just as mags would like to see some numbers on Wal Mart's impact on the cost of consumer goods, I would be interested in the facts on its impact on small towns.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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This is the first time I've heard anyone say that Walmart has a corporate strategy of opening in a particular location solely in order to run small local stores out of business, then deliberately closing their big box. My observation is that Walmarts are located so as to do maximum business, and I have never seen one shut down.

Local stores I have seen shut down have been badly run and/or marginal to start with. When a Walmart opened in the next town, a hardware store in my town closed up, blaming it on the opening. The owner then opened a computer consulting business, which he had intended to do all along. All the other hardware stores in the area seem to be doing fine, thanks to the fact that knowledgeable customer service at Walmart is nonexistent. The local Vietnamese grocery (that sells mostly Western foods) just moved into a larger space, and is busy constantly, in spite of the fact that it's within 3 miles of 5 supermarkets.

If I had my druthers, I'd just as soon shop closer, but when Walmart has something that closer supermarkets don't stock (it's the only department store in 1/2 hour's drive), I brave the traffic.

It's the only place to get packer briskets ($1.48/lb) or veal breast ($1.38/lb) at any price.

Edited by Katherine (log)
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Waitrose has provided quality food for some time.

One should bear in mind that Waitrose is part of the John Lewis Partnership. It is not a corporation, it does not have shareholders who demand that profits be maximized. Those I know who have worked for supermarkets in various capacities tell me that there is an enormous difference between Waitrose and the rest, in the way they treat their suppliers, their relationship with freelancers, the promptness with which they pay their bills.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Actually, Waitrose and the John Lewis Partnership do have to make profits. They are a corporation, just not a public corporation. Their duty is to their members -- the company's employees. To quote their own literature:

Purpose

The Partnership's ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business. Because the Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards - profit, knowledge and power.

...

Profit

The Partnership aims to make sufficient profit from its trading operations to sustain its commercial vitality, to finance its continued development and to distribute a share of those profits each year to its members, and to enable it to undertake other activities consistent with its ultimate purpose.

The "members" referred to are the partnership's permanent employees.

They need profits, as the excerpt above suggests, to finance growth (e.g. to build businesses like Ocado) and to pay a profit share to their members. The Partnership isn't a co-operative like the Co-Op/Spar, which still has some grocery business in Britain. It isn't a non-profit. Like many law firms, John Lewis is a profit-making corporation owned by its employees.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I've seen the claim about small businesses closing down after Wal Mart locates near a town. But the story is often told as though this is an explicit and premeditated plan: "We'll locate a mile from Donkelburg, then we'll close down the druggist and the grocery store. Then we'll close the store and relocate 10 miles away." Is there any evidence that this is the case? Just as mags would like to see some numbers on Wal Mart's impact on the cost of consumer goods, I would be interested in the facts on its impact on small towns.

There is very good evidence that Walmart's corporate strategy is to kill all competition by underselling it until the competition has to fold. Individual Walmarts can absorb the temporary losses because the chain is so huge. The goal, obviously, is not to then close the Walmart - what would be the point? - but to have a Walmart every 10 miles wherever there are enough people to support them.

I had a very good & detailed article on this which unfortunately I've misplaced, so I can't give any cites right now.

It's frightening though, if you're on a low-sodium diet, the choices (or lack thereof) at Walmart will kill you. I am deadly serious about that.

Back on the original topic - in several trips to the UK in the early/mid 1970s, we found very good food in the Lake District and various places in Scotland. You had to look for it sometimes, but it was there. Broke my stereotypical vision of English food early on.

London was more problematical due to budget restrictions. Generally ate lots of curries in London. Didn't mind that a bit!

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Jonathan Day:

I've seen the claim about small businesses closing down after Wal Mart locates near a town. But the story is often told as though this is an explicit and premeditated plan: "We'll locate a mile from Donkelburg, then we'll close down the druggist and the grocery store. Then we'll close the store and relocate 10 miles away." Is there any evidence that this is the case?

From:

One Nation Under Wal-Mart

How retailing's superpower--and our biggest Most Admired company--is changing the rules for corporate America.

FORTUNE

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

By Jerry Useem

• Wal-Mart's sales on one day last fall--$1.42 billion--were larger than the GDPs of 36 countries.

• It is the biggest employer in 21 states, with more people in uniform than the U.S. Army.

• It plans to grow this year by the equivalent of--take your pick--one Dow Chemical, one PepsiCo, one Microsoft, or one Lockheed Martin.

• If the estimated $2 billion it loses through theft each year were incorporated as a business, it would rank No. 694 on the FORTUNE 1,000.

What this means for Wal-Mart's low-profile CEO, Lee Scott, is that he runs what is arguably the world's most powerful company. What it means for corporate America is a bit more bracing. It means, for one, that Wal-Mart is not just Disney's biggest customer but also Procter & Gamble's and Kraft's and Revlon's and Gillette's and Campbell Soup's and RJR's and on down the list of America's famous branded manufacturers. It means, further, that the nation's biggest seller of DVDs is also its biggest seller of groceries, toys, guns, diamonds, CDs, apparel, dog food, detergent, jewelry, sporting goods, videogames, socks, bedding, and toothpaste--not to mention its biggest film developer, optician, private truck-fleet operator, energy consumer, and real estate developer. It means, finally, that the real market clout in many industries no longer resides in Hollywood or Cincinnati or New York City, but in the hills of northwestern Arkansas.

With power like that, you don't have to plan to close down the competition any more than a steamroller has to plan to squash a bug.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I first went to the UK when I was in college in the mid-90's. I was quite impressed by supermarkets at that time - their similarity to U.S. supermarkets in terms of convenience and hours of operation, but yet their offering of a lot of premium products like other European grocery stores I visited. I remember reading some Telegraph article a few years ago that said the profit margin for UK supermarkets is actually quite good - the profit margin in the U.S. and the rest of Europe outside of the U.K. is extremely thin. Not sure why that is the case, but the British are doing something right... I've developed a lot foodwise since that trip buying the god-awful processed cheese and sliced white bread from the Safeway in Durham. But, as an American, I loved the selection of foods in British supermarkets. Even as an "uncultured" (at least in the food sense) American college student visiting, it was the best of American and European grocery retailing.

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Bread

My first winter in London, almost 18 years ago, I remember a bakery on the high street in Barnet, North London. It had the most fantastic Malt Bread. Don't know whether the bakery or the same bread still exists, but the image in my memory bank is of a very dark loaf with a crunchy-yet-sticky crust and rich, fruity bread within. The sweetness was tempered with the bitterness of burnt raisins. Best eaten with cold butter.

My mother visiting us (from Malaysia) during the holidays. She loves English bread so much we would usually have 3-4 types in the flat at any time of the day.

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