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This is what I do all day

March 5, 2010

Half of my undergraduate degree was in linguistics, and after four years of explaining that, no, that isn’t a pasta dish, I was totally prepared for the fact that doing an MA in ‘The Anthropology of Food’ was going to lead to some blank looks and tedious explanations. I have my spiel down now, subtly adapted depending on who I’m talking to ;-), but sometimes I think of an exciting new way of trying to explain to people just what I am doing with my life (aside from having an enormous amount of fun).

In this vein, I invite you to consider why I found myself eating two cheese and onion pasties from Sainsbury’s, which I had purchased for 55p, for my dinner, at 10 p.m. on the number 29 bus home. I probably couldn’t make two cheese and onion pasties for 55p, definitely not if I factored in the cost of my time – though in exchange for my time I would have got much nicer pasties. Heaven knows how much of that went to the people who grew the onions, or made the pasty, or were working in Sainsbury’s at 10 p.m. The mind truly boggles.

On the other hand, I could have made copious cups of tea and muffins for what I paid for my ‘I need to get out of the library!’ snack in the Wellcome café earlier today. This says a lot about the assumptions made about Sainsbury’s customers and Wellcome café customers.

So, why the pasties?

(Anyone who says ‘because you’re disorganised’ goes straight to the bottom of the class, btw.)

Was it:

a) because I live in London and don’t earn very much (added to which I freelance, which is a bit precarious),* so my main incentive is to maximise my earning potential? I was, in fact, running about an hour behind schedule, having taken an hour’s work at short notice in the morning. This meant I hadn’t had time to go and buy onions and make soup earlier as I’d planned, but while I spent more on prepared food while I was out and about than I would have done if I’d cooked, it was still less than I earned, so overall it was a net gain. This kind of convenience food is really cheap (subsidies; supermarkets selling it at less than cost price and making massive profits on e.g. fruit and veg to compensate), demonstrably cheaper than making it myself, and quicker than waiting an hour till I got home. It was the easy choice in terms of my time, and the rational one financially (even if the system is totally irrational).

b) because food in our culture has certain moral connotations – I’d been working really hard in the library, I’ve done lots of reading this week and (hopefully!) responded to it in a reasonably mature way, written my response paper in good time and was going to get a reasonably early night before my concert tomorrow, so I felt I deserved to have food prepared by someone else, I deserved a ‘treat’ as a ‘reward’ for my hard work and particularly felt like some ‘bad’ food?

c) both of the above?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much what I spend my time thinking about. At this point, I think the answer is c. YMMV.


* NB – I am well aware that I’m comfortably middle class and my financial problems are largely self-inflicted, in that I don’t need to do a MA, and a couple of years of being strapped for cash is so not the same as actually being poor. Still, it’s been eye-opening.

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