Can Less Choice Be More?

Great Britain


“Coming to visit, dear? I’ll het the sprouts on.’ The downside of visiting my mum was knowing she’d allow an hour for the cooking of vegetables. She was a classic postwar English ‘3 Ps’ cook – puddings, pies and pastries, all superb. Everything else was like chewing boiled rope. Then in 1965 supermarkets arrived and she never cooked properly again.

I was so disgruntled with poor service in British supermarkets that I once wrote a bizarre story called ‘Dale and Wayne Go Shopping’, which perversely went on to win an award. This was shortly after the Tesco heiress and former Conservative leader of Westminster City Council, Dame Shirley Porter, fled London following appalling corruption scandals that left her with the title ‘High Priestess of Tory Sleaze’. Plans to strip away her title were mysteriously shelved by John Major.

Now Tesco profits are down because in a straitened economy shoppers are going to cheaper shops with better service. Or actual service at all. My local Tesco is almost entirely automated. Its foodstuffs are terrible. Its prices are insulting. No wonder it failed in America, land of the high-service supermarket.

But after standing in a Dubai store and looking at four aisles full of breakfast cereal, the answer to the problem became obvious; shop fresh and accept that you have less choice, and make it work in your favour. Having seen – and tasted – what a Vietnamese chef could do with two eggs and a handful of herbs, I’m now limiting my choice deliberately.

Yesterday I bought a small amount of brown tuna – the fatty tuna sushi chefs use – and seared it on a bed of sorrel and calcots. Three ingredients, three minutes to cook, and simply unbelievable. I’ve started applying the idea to other things. While I’m not about to become a monk (I love box-sets too much for that) it simplifies life and makes it a pleasure again.

4 comments on “Can Less Choice Be More?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Good news, Admin. It always pays to get out and away for a time. As my Mother used to say: “Open the windows, change the air, walk the shore or woods, and blow the stink off..” (She had some great sayings.) Had some fine, but pithy sayings.
    And eating well, simply, and cooking light with modest adventure can be great. We are fortunate to have a lot of Asian supermarkets around us, Yes!, and they have good – excellent often times – fresh fruit, veggies and fish for great inventive combinations. The wife and I have been doing things with cooked fruit, and squash with onions and fresh herbs over long grain rice.
    Get well, shop, cook, get out, minimize the keyboard time, as it will call come more easily when the London molds and musts are blown away. We your readers depend on your health, too, you know.
    Today is the ancient day of Spring Day One.So enjoy..

  2. pheeny says:

    We are all brainwashed into believing that more choice = better but honestly do we really need 100+ brands of shampoo in the supermarket?
    No. At the most all you want is mild shampoo, greasy hair shampoo, dry hair shampoo, and medicated shampoo, all the rest is smoke and mirrors (especially considering they are all probably made by the same two companies once you unravel the chinese boxes of ownership).

    Ditto IMHO schools and hospitals – I do not want a choice – I just want one decent one within a reasonable distance that can be reached by public transport.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    Choice means you don’t have to take it, I tend to mix and match. There is a local butcher’s I use but depending how I feel sometimes I’ll keep very simple, other times I’ll have several things on the go.

    Choice can be good, but try getting your shampoo without perfume or Parfum as the labels like to say.

    Just picked up a copy Film Freak, must finish the book I’m reading before I start, actually I’ve already read the first 30 pagers but I must be strong.


  4. Rich says:

    My mother is the same. Her cakes are fantastic but her veg is usually boiled into oblivion. I think in her mind this means the veg is cooked.

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