I thought some of you Hounds might enjoy the following e-mail I received from a friend living (and eating) in Britain for the year:
But enough about the fate of our nation, let's talk about foodstuffs. I should say upfront that my fascination with this subject may be more related
to supermarkets than to Britain. I went grocery shopping with my mom once last summer and ended up staring in awe at a pile of pluots (a cross between
a plum and an apricot) until the produce lady finally came over and suggested that I move along.
I don't want to paint an inaccurate picture of the type of products available at the local Sainsbury's supermarket. There definitely are some
familiar American brand names on the shelves -- Heinz ketchup, Hellman's mayonnaise, Newman's Own salad dressing, Old El Paso thick and chunky salsa,
Uncle Ben's, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Kettle Chips, M&Ms, Pringles, NutriGrain bars (I eat about 30 a week), and Spam (I eat none a week). They also have
Tropicana orange juice, but it costs about three times as much as in the U.S. I buy it anyway as part of my scurvy prevention strategy. I've basically become resigned to the fact that I'm going to develop rickets, but there's no way I'm letting myself get scurvy too.
Despite some brand overlap, UK grocery stores and grocery items definitely are different from their American counterparts. For example, half the
produce section, which is pretty small to begin with, consists of two products: potatoes, which barely qualify as a vegetable, and parsley, which
I'm pretty sure is just used to decorate a dinner plate that would otherwise contain only various shades of brown. It's the same story in the cereal
aisle. Half the space is taken up by Weetabix and it's fun-loving cousins Fruitibix and Bananabix (with a Chicken Run toy in every box). I know they
have Weetabix in the U.S. too, but nobody there actually eats it. Another featured cereal is called 'Choco-riffic Weetos.' They come
with a 'free Watership Down model inside.' Huh? This is something that happens to me all the time here: I understand individual words, but together
they mean absolutely nothing. To be fair, I guess it does work both ways. As I was trying to figure out (unsuccessfully) what a 'Watership Down model'
is, I overheard one British woman say to another, "did you know they have a cereal in America called Grape Nuts, which contains neither grapes nor
I think the cookie equivalent of Weetabix is the 'Digestive.' They may not have an Oreo in the entire country, but the cookie section has Digestives as far as the eye can see. If you've never encountered one, it's just a sweet biscuit-type thing that sometimes also has a thin layer of chocolate. And
it seems to be more than a snack; I think it's one of the main sources of fibre in the British diet (hence the name). In fact, I'm still trying to
figure out how a cookie that weighs 15 grams can contain 18 grams of fibre. The slogan of Sainsbury's brand digestives is 'Be good to yourself.' I'm
assuming 'yourself' means 'your colon.' One of my other favourites on the cookie shelf is 'Jammie Dodgers', which bills itself as being 'Really,
really jammie.' I've decided that either the field of marketing is far less advanced in the UK than in the US or that I have absolutely no understanding of what appeals to the typical British consumer. Did you know they have facial tissues here called 'Kleenex for Men'? They feature 'Mansize strength, Mansize softness, Mansize reliability.' What was Kimberly-Clark thinking?
The snack food area is full of this sort of thing. Who could say no to a product called 'Skip's Fizzibly Melty Crisps' available in either 'Prawn
Cocktail' or 'Smoky Bacon' flavours? And what about 'Haribo Tangfastics'? They're 'sweet, sour, and fizzy.' Or if you're like me, always craving a
member of the dried pork family, why not try 'Pork Crackles' or, better yet, 'Pork Scratchings.' I actually bought the latter because I figured it would
be the only way to convince any of my fellow Americans that it actually exists. The bag features a picture of a glee-filled pig wearing what appears to be a prison uniform and holding a butcher's knife. The first three ingredients are 'pork rind, pork fats, salt', and it comes with the following instructions: 'Only recommended for people with strong, healthy teeth [Id think that would rule out most of the population right there]. Store in a cool, dry place away from bright lights and strong odours.' Away from bright lights? What's the deal with that? I think I have some experimenting to do.
Then there's the word 'kidney.' It pops up everywhere, and rarely in reference to the bean. Tropicana may cost £4 a quart, but you can get three
steak and kidney pies (or, if you prefer, three economy pork pies) for just 99 pence. Oh, and the pieces of pulp in orange juice aren't called pulp;
they're 'juicy bits.'
It's in the canned food aisle though where the grocery store really gets exciting. I know we have canned pasta in the U.S., but I don't think it
comes in the shape of Teletubbies. I can 'look for the Noo-noo, the magic windmill and other delicious Teletubby pasta shapes.' For parents who worry
that feeding their kids miniature Tinky-Winkys might send the wrong message, 'Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends' is also available. And what better to
serve with canned pasta than canned hot dogs. That's right. If it's just too much of a hassle to keep your hot dogs in the refrigerator, why not try
'Ye Olde Oak 8 Premium Hot Dogs in Brine'. The can claims theyre the 'Best Ever!', and 'Captain Hot Dog says free from genetically modified ingredients.' I've heard they taste great tucked away in a nice 'crusty white bread baton.'
Canned peas also seem to be a much bigger deal here than back home, maybe because the British consumer has been blessed with following choice: regular
or mushy. 'Bachelor's Mushy Chip Shop Marrowfat Processed Peas' proudly features a larger than life stylised mushed pea on the label. With a name
like 'Mushy Chip Shop Marrowfat Processed Peas', you might think the good people at Bachelor's have the market cornered. Think again. 'Farrows
Giant Marrowfat Processed Peas - Salt Added' also have a loyal following. In fact, I saw someone buy two cans during my stakeout of the canned pea
area. "Are you sure you dont want the Bachelors Mushy Chip Shop Marrowfat Processed Peas instead?" I asked her. "No," she replied with a horrified
look on her face before quickly darting away. Competition is obviously fierce for the coveted title of 'Britain's Mushiest Pea.'
I need to mention just a few more random grocery items. Keep in mind that I'm only reporting what I saw and bear no responsibility for anything you
may read into the product names that follow:
1.) Bassett's Booty Bag (which I think is some sort of candy). There's a 'free sticker in every bag.'
2.) Horlick's. It's 'light malted goodness.' 'Just take your time to enjoy
the creamy taste of Horlick's, helping you sleep better, feel better and wake up refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Sit back, relax and enjoy
the delicious creamy Horlick's taste.'
3.) 'Sainsbury's Spotted Dick with Custard.' The package gave no indication whatsoever of what this is. All I know is that it was in the dessert
section and is 'suitable for vegetarians.'