In the media’s Yuletide “Silly Season,” when legislatures close and there is precious little which to make people upset, reporters, as starved for controversy as bears hungry after hibernation, yearn to eat a few campers. Yet there is wisdom to be gleaned from the recent UK savagery against Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, and her ritualised humiliation. Still she survived intact, despite her other, less solvable, problem.
Related to famous scientists and political grandees, by descent and marriage, she was a Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) before being ennobled to a seat in Britain’s House of Lords; and her husband, Sir Bernard Jenkin, MP, is a stalwart foe of European Union bureaucracy, and a Thatcheresque statesman. Both were notable successes in business and industry. So they have “kick me” signs pasted all over them—quality, brains, achievement, statesmanship, conservatism, eloquence, dedication, manners, and success in both public and private sectors—just what makes Britain’s typically leftist mediacrat don bed-sheets and burn crosses on their lawn.
Worse yet, she reached the top by her own skill and effort. This presents another dilemma for any leftist critic. Should she be celebrated as a feminist victory? Or denounced as a Conservative reactionary? Is she a modern meritocrat, or an aristocratic oppressor of the toiling masses? Such are the conundrums; as well as her good looks—she would have fewer problems were she fat, dressed in cast-off granny-dresses, and bisexual. Some obvious facial hair would help as well. (But she need not aspire to the full Hillary Clinton-look, as if she has a shoplifted ottoman wedged into the back of her pantsuit.)
The noble lady, in her 50s and her prime, entered the debate on Britain’s burgeoning charity food banks, observing that some of the poor lack cooking skills. Ready-made food is expensive, she explained, thoughtfully suggesting that, in addition to feeding the hungry, we might help them to learn how to economise at home. As an example, she said that she had cooked her breakfast of porage (oatmeal) for six cents, while a bowlful of sugary cereal costs around forty cents. We discuss this momentarily.
Instantly, the leftist hacks began renovating tumbrels, erecting the guillotine, and asking Madame Defarge to start knitting again. Even the supposedly conservative press began to bark and scratch; preferring a lucratively sensationalist headline to any principle or sense. She had insulted the poor, they bawled. She must apologize, they declared–which was problematic because the poor were either queuing at the food banks, or had gone to pizza parlours with their smart-phones switched off.
It helps that leftist mediacrats tend to be uneducated, apart from ideology and celebrity. So they can tell you, down to the millimeter, the present size of Miss Kim Kardashian’s growing backside, but not of how Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, was made to hike over the Alps and spend three days grovelling in the snow, before Pope Gregory VII condescended to see him. That was a real apology! Nowadays, merely ritualised humiliation suffices. That is good, because the baroness may lack alpine snowshoes, and have other plans for the holiday.
Lady Jenkin duly apologised, saying she really meant that “society” forgot how to cook.
What did she mean? Surely the celebrity chef, Miss Nigella Lawson, as high-society as one needs to be, can still fry an egg. Certainly the billionaire entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, need not worry about the cost of his morning bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Neither frequents the food banks, unless they send their servants, which I doubt, since they rarely stock Beluga—usually it is the lesser Sevruga caviar, or working-class tins of tuna.
Obviously, the problem is limited to that portion of society that is insufficiently well-known to make reservations at Scott’s in Mayfair (where Nigella’s ex throttles his wives); too impecunious to have sushi delivered at home; unable to wolf down a pub meal and too helpless to fry a beef-burger, as so many competent poor people do already. That leaves, um, those whom Lady Jenkin mentioned originally. All other segments of society either cook or manage somehow. But it satisfies the mediacrats, when Baroness Jenkin apologizes that “society” cannot cook, rather than just the poor welfare recipient with a grocery cart full of Doritos and bastard children. Somehow, Baroness Jenkin supposedly insulted all the poor—including those workers braising monkfish goujons at Scott’s—when offense was neither given nor intended.
A successful professional publicist, Baroness Jenkin understands the feigned outrage, a fig-leaf covering otherwise buck-naked class-warfare, and how ritualised apologies need not make sense. She knows, from wisdom and experience, that this is human sacrifice; just as Spaniards know that bullfighting is ritual killing, rather than sport. She recognizes the equivalent of hurling the odd Christian to the lions, in our decadent and bored society too lazy to build a proper Coliseum. And so I doubt that the good lady gets upset.
Remember that you read it here. She was right the first time. Some poor people are infrequent cooks, or incompetent cooks, or both. I have compelling circumstantial evidence.
The late Richard Smyth, a close friend and US diplomat, conducted a test. His family agreed to spend a month eating from a strict budget, equal to what the needy receive in government Food Stamps. They wanted to learn how their poor countrymen live–and maybe lose some weight. He found that they could survive—barely, and with difficulty.
Frozen pizzas, boxes of donuts, and such, were off-limits; so very expensive that only a few such family indulgences drained the coffers before the week was out. To eat and be satisfied, they had to cook everything from scratch—make pie-crusts, rehydrate dried beans and boil rice. Making stews from cheap cuts, they could still only afford meat perhaps twice or thrice a week; so, macaroni-and-cheese was often the main course, or vegetarian chilli. They had to learn where to buy in discounted volume, where to find bargains, and how to make broccoli stalks taste nearly as good as the florets. They learnt to eat the less popular types of fish that often require unpleasant preparation, but that are quite edible afterwards. Posh boxes of sickly-sweet breakfast cereal were replaced by delicious and nutritional porage (among my favorite foods), of which the good baroness approves. My friends survived, and eventually grew fairly satisfied with such basic, healthy fare. Every penny was made to count; every luxury taken with care, only after thorough consideration. But there were other problems. It took knowledge and planning, time and skill. I know this, first-hand, from failure.
Come home late and tired; then what? Dried beans, selfish little things, will not oblige one by rehydrating on command. Operating the pressure-cooker, to prepare them faster, is not easy, as the man who repainted my ceiling can attest. Frozen chickens never object to being thawed hastily in warm water, but neither, said my medical internist writing the prescription, do their travelling-companions, the salmonella bacilli. Wolfing down the ingredients of a meat pie never tastes quite as satisfying as if you assemble and bake it first; and gobbling uncooked flour does unpleasant things to one’s necktie, as I learnt after a very late night in a pub. Knowledge and planning, time and skill, were my main missing ingredients. Fast food and homemade food, while cousins, are not on speaking terms; and the latter is far more affordable than the former.
Some Food Stamp recipients, my friend explained, are insufficiently literate to read recipes, often through no fault of their own. A cookery lesson would help to stretch the family budget. Single parents, often busy either working or looking for jobs, may lack the time in which to prepare meals. So, either they learn culinary short-cuts, or else it is frozen burritos now and hunger at the weekend.
If the parents came from broken homes, they may never have been taught how to cook from scratch and lack the culinary skills to pass down to their children. So ignorance, beyond their control, may keep them undernourished, and make them poorer than necessary, incrementally, year after year. The money that might have retrained the single parent, as an employable hairdresser or welder, is needed just to keep the children fed–again, through no fault of their own but a lack of information.
Then, my chum added bluntly, some of the poor may be lazy and dim; too much to bother even trying to cook, especially when tasty, costly, prepared foods beckon from the freezer in their over-priced corner shop. Planning a menu, walking the extra blocks to the cheaper supermarket, buying ingredients to cook from scratch, then not making an inedible mess, may altogether be just too much. This justifies no condescension; it is merely a fact for some few.
For the troubled poor, especially, current levels of government assistance may well be insufficient. So Baroness Jenkin, good and sincere, despite her worthwhile advice, may have understated the problem. Yet, just as the 19th Century poor were taught to drink safe water and avoid cholera, they can learn to operate a saucepan. A surprisingly large percentage of our species can be made to boil an egg or to make porage—even I. Baroness Jenkin’s notion could be undertaken by private charities. Meanwhile, the media-jackals circle, slaver and froth.
Lesson One: cancel your newspaper subscription.
What initially provoked the lynch-mob is a marked increase in charitable food banks and their beneficiaries. The chief problem, from the perspective of politicians and mediacrats, is that there is no problem on which to capitalise. So they invent some.
Food prices have soared worldwide, chiefly because of crops subsidised for fuel production. So, mostly one British charity, presumably using private donations, has opened many food banks. Most of the beneficiaries are one-off visitors, compensating for incompetent bureaucratic delays in their state pension or welfare payments; which government has diminished, but not yet enough. This is explained by Professor Eamonn Butler here; and the news is good but the news coverage is not.
Political hacks, mediacrats, and the occasional idiot, make mischief for fun and profit. Leftwing politicians rant that people go hungry due to rightwing budget cuts, neglecting to mention that the Conservative-led coalition government is still spending Britain ever-deeper into debt. The Archbishop of Canterbury brays that government must take over the food banks; even though that will discourage private charity. (Despite his footlocker full of good intentions, the alleged former Captain of Industry is, in Mark Twain’s words, a prize ass). Scribblers travel with jerry-cans of kerosene, to pour over this small fire. Even conservatively-inclined media have finally recognized that their profits come from sensationalism; and that they can buy their preferential interviews with only one party endorsement at election-time. So they join the unholy choir.
Thus a news story, that is codswallop, begets another that is balderdash, leading to a nonsensical retraction, on to, most likely, a tommyrot rejoinder, that protracts the Brueghel-esque media-peasant folk-dance, until some new diversion comes along. Come it will, Silly Season or not, because that is the Western world’s modern democratic culture, or what remains of it.
Lesson Two: review Lesson One.
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