The once-ghastly fillings in sarnies are better but the bread is still a national embarrassment. Simple, wholesome bread could improve our nutritional status overnight
I'm not a fan of the British sarnie, so when I face a long journey I try to take food from home to avoid buying one. Last week though, I was stuck at Kings Cross Station in London and resolved to overcome my prejudice and revisit the category afresh.
It was quite amazing to see the strides that have been made with sandwich fillings over the past few years, during which I have operated my personal boycott. Eggs have become free-range, reasonable farmhouse cheese - cut in sensible slices, rather than grated so the bits fall out all over you - has replaced that ghastly, plastic orange stuff. Some of the sandwich fillings have even become adventurous, such as Marks & Spencer's New York-style pastrami, layered with a pungent mustard mayonnaise and appealing crunchy sauerkraut.
But, oh my, the bread! I had almost forgotten just how bad the Chorleywood pap that stands in for real bread in Britain actually is. Munching one granary sandwich, the claggy slices stuck to the roof of my mouth where, long after I had swallowed the filling, it formed an unappetising starchy ball.
I covered my mouth as I tried to cleanse my palate of it, while other passengers thought I was struggling with dentures. Clearly, the great leaps forward that the food industry has made with sandwich fillings have not been replicated with the bread.
Andrew Whitley, founder of the Village Bakery in Melmerby, Cumbria, correctly summed up the state of British bread as "sad, soggy, nutritionally depleted and adulterated with hidden additives", a devastating but entirely justified executive summary of the state of the nation's staple food. It is a major national embarrassment, one of the main reasons our food culture is viewed so negatively from abroad. No wonder all those Poles who arrive to work in the UK promptly set up their own bakeries.
We need an emergency action plan to improve bread in Britain. The majority of people who do not live near an artisan baker are condemned to eat pap, or must bake their own.
An obvious place to start would be ensuring that no teenager leaves school without being able to make a decent Irish soda bread: just mix wholemeal flour, wheatgerm, bran, bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk, then bake.
A taste for simple, wholesome bread like this could improve the nation's nutritional status overnight.n
Joanna Blythman is the
author of Bad Food Britain