Food Hell

Let’s start with a song, shall we?

Amanda Palmer has, I think, nailed the experience of food hate. We all have one. That foodstuff that you don’t just dislike (sprouts), or refuse to have on your plate (sprouts) but will actively force you out of the room. Marmite have built an entire advertising strategy out of this, positioning their product as one that neatly divides the nation. I fall into the hater camp, I’m afraid. I will, on occasion, use it in a stew or casserole to give some of the deep, rich umami tang for which it’s rightly known. But spreading it on toast seems such a ridiculous concept to me. You may as well dollop gravy browning on your morning slice. Or a turd.

Marmite are now trying it on a bit, I think, by launching the Marmite Bar. This is a cereal bar, one of those sticky, oaty slabs that can sometimes do the job if you’re up late and don’t have time to put milk onto a bowl of cereal in the morning. Most cereal bars have some manner of fruit in them to lighten the mix. Marmite Bars, and my gorge is actively rising as I write this, remove the fruit, and replace it it with Marmite. It’s a savoury cereal bar. Just what you need to smack your tonsils awake on a Tuesday morning. It’s a product that Marmite are actually pitching as a dare. “Have we gone too far?”, the posters cry. It’s a bold move, but I can see it backfiring. I know I’m not the target market (probably the opposite, in fact) but I can’t see anyone wanting to buy the horrid things. I have trouble conjuring up a more revolting prospect.

Oh, who am I kidding? Let’s talk about my own personal food hell.

(Digression. I’m a fan of the BBC cookery show Saturday Kitchen Live, which shows archive food shows alongside live cookery skits and a spectacularly pointless omelette race. One silly feature is Food Heaven, Food Hell, in which the token celebrity of the day is quizzed on their favourite and least favourite food, and then subjected to a vote in which they will eat a dish based on either. No-one yet has dared to pull the bullshit alarm on this trite concept:

“So, (B-list celebrity with something to plug) , what is your Food Hell?”
“Well, (avuncular host) , my Food Hell is prawns.”
“Oh, really? (initiate flirt/banter mode, dependent on gender of guest) And why, pray tell, is that?”
“Because I’m violently allergic to them, and if I eat one I will go into toxic shock and die.”

It’d be nice to see that once. Don’t you think?)

Aaaanyway. My food hell. The humble egg is a cornerstone of world cuisine, a foodstuff as versatile as it is loved. Millions of people go to work on one every morning. They are cheap, nutritious and the foundation of the Great British Full English Breakfast.

Put a fried or lightly scrambled egg in front of me, and I will run out of the door. My lovely wife, my deary darling, will sometimes indulge in a breakfast of scrambled eggs soused in ketchup, which will send me to the bottom of the garden with my hand clamped firmly over my mouth. I have a friend that will send me photos of any particularly runny fried egg sandwiches he manages to get hold of. I’m not kidding here, the thought of it is making me feel a bit sick.

It’s partially a texture thing, partially a smell thing. I do have a problem with gelid foods, which I think is a common problem with Food Hell in general. Many people I know will cite tomatoes or mushrooms in their spit list, because of the squishy, half-set texture. It’s notable, I think, that I don’t have a problem with eggs per se. I’ll happily cook with them. I make a mean pancake, will happily eat a quiche or even a Spanish omelette, and will even whip a just cracked egg into fried rice. But the concept of runny yolk does not fit well in my gut. And I honestly have no idea where it’s come from. As far as I know, I have always hated eggs. There must be a memory I’ve blanked out somewhere, of a particularly runny soft-boiled egg and soldiers that just flipped a switch in my tiny head. In his memoir Toast, Nigel Slater writes of how his mother’s insistence of forcing him to eat runny egg put him off them for life. I think I’m the same.

This made me a particularly miserable vegetarian, of course. In fact, it was eggs that turned me away from the righteous path. On a driving holiday through France, it soon became clear that the only thing that was available for salad-huggers like me and TLC was omelettes. Even the salads had hard-boiled egg in them, which tainted them completely. I tried to man up, and ordered a cheese omelette one night. I managed one bite, and that tiny morsel ended up back on the plate. I spent a week eating bread and cheese, and the occasional bowl of frites. It was horrible.

Finally, on the last night of the trip, I cracked. We went to a seafood restaurant in Le Havre, and I ate cod with puy lentils. It was a magnificent, Proustian moment. I can still taste the meal now. It was back down the slippery slope for me from there. I lasted barely a year as a vegequarian, and am now a rabid, unapologetic carnivore.

Some years after that trip TLC and I went to Paris, and found a decent vegetarian restaurant. it was fantastic. The food was simple, pure and delicious. If there had been more places like that in Brittany in the spring of 1992, I’d probably still be a courgette-muncher today. (I still am, but not exclusively.)

So, let me know, Readership. I’m intrigued. What foods really don’t do it for you? Are you a Marmite lover or a hater? More to the point: would you eat a Marmite Bar?


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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