Chicken à la Gran

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Gwen Lees

At what point would you begin to describe yourself as a good cook?

Is there a particular rite of passage involved? Does it happen when you first cook something that wouldn’t be out of place at a half-decent restaurant? When you host a successful dinner party? The first time you make a proper pie from scratch?

In the absence of an agreed definition, here’s my take on the subject.

I started to believe I was a decent cook when I realised that, instead of thinking “how do I make this dish?”, I found myself thinking, “what shall I make with these ingredients?”

As with most life changes, I’d struggle to pinpoint exactly when this shift of perspective took place. But at a conservative estimate, I’d say it took me ten years of regular cooking, and quite possibly more. And if I’m honest, I’m still learning.

Looking back, this probably isn’t surprising. Learning my cooking skills in the 1990s through reading books, watching TV and following recipes, I was in thrall to the celebrity chefs who were just beginning to take over our tellies. I’d go round to my Gran’s house and watch Ready Steady Cook with her; and as the likes of James Martin came up with fabulous-looking meals on the hoof, I’d wonder aloud how exactly they managed to do that.

As I recall, my Gran didn’t say much, if anything, in response. But on reflection, I’m sure she must have been smiling to herself. She knew exactly how they did it, because she used to do the same thing herself, every day.

By my definition of “good” cooking, my generation are indisputably lesser cooks than our grandparents – or, in most cases, our grandmothers – were. We might be able to produce pleasant enough meals. But because we’ve grown up in a time of plenty – plenty of choice, at least, if not necessarily plenty of money – we simply haven’t learned to innovate.

In the cases of my grandmother and her contemporaries, innovation was born of necessity. Bringing up four children during post-war rationing, the ability to conjur a meal from whatever happened to be around was an essential survival skill, not a lifestyle choice.

Moreover, it was a skill she had to develop swiftly. By her own admission, when she got married, she couldn’t even boil an egg. (Though as I’ve mentioned before, I have some sympathy with that.)

When I came to sample her cooking, some forty years on, it reflected the good habits she’d taught herself as a young mother. She had a seemingly miraculous ability to expand a meal to serve twice the number, or deal with an excess of a particular ingredient without wastage or over-repetition.

(That last point, incidentally, is more fundamental than it might seem. As the ever-excellent Amy Fleming explains in the Guardian this week, the urge to avoid eating the same thing over and over again is more than mere fussiness: it’s hard-wired into us for our own survival and well-being.)

So my interest in – OK then, obsession with – creative, resourceful cooking can be traced directly back to my Gran. In fact, I can see her influence in almost all of the principles I’ve discussed on this blog.

For instance, she had a tremendous appreciation of flavour and texture; and in particular, how to create contrasts of flavour and texture in order to enhance a meal. She saw any foodstuff as a potential ingredient, if the circumstances were right; to the point that various unlikely foods – crisps, biscuits, breakfast cereals – found their way into her creations, to remarkably good effect.

And while she enjoyed cooking, she saw no point in toiling away for hours for the sake of it – especially when the wine was flowing freely in the other room. So she would happily use tinned or otherwise prepared ingredients when it made sense to do so. Some might see this as cheating; to her, it was merely common sense.

These traits were captured in one particularly memorable meal – a spicy, creamy chicken casserole containing, among many other things: a tin of Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup; tinned artichoke hearts (why go through the palaver of preparing fresh ones if they’re going to spend an hour or more in a stew?); and a crunchy topping made from…Phileas Fogg corn chips.

Memorable it may have been – to the point that my sister and I still talk about it in awed tones – but like anything she cooked, it was never to be repeated in exactly the same form. There was no point asking her to recreate a dish, because she wouldn’t be able to tell you how she’d made it. In any case, the contents of the fridge and cupboards would never be exactly the same as the previous time; so the resulting meal would be different too.

As you’ll gather from the Ready Steady Cook example, I didn’t give all this a lot of thought at the time. Only in her later years, when she was too unwell to cook and I could no longer enjoy her creations, did I realise that one of my greatest ambitions – in fact, one of my only clear ambitions – was to be able to cook like my Gran.

It was, and remains, a worthy ambition, if a relatively uncommon one. Her skills, if not altogether lost, are far rarer these days, because we have so much more choice in what and how to eat than she did when she was feeding her family.

To reiterate, I’m not ignoring or denying the fact that millions of people are living below the poverty line. But in 2013, we’re presented with a huge selection of available ingredients, as well as countless cheap if not exactly nutritious alternatives to resourceful home cooking.

Under such circumstances, how do we get people cooking as my Gran did? And do we really need to?

To answer the second question first: yes we do. Even if we accept regular food scares as an inevitable by-product of our pursuit of cheap food, there’s a limit to how far costs can be trimmed. Food prices are rising overall, and will continue to do so, with the consequence that even the nastiest reformed-meat horror shows will take an increasing chunk from already tight household incomes. And if we continue to throw away the best part of half the food we produce, rather than teaching ourselves the skills and thought processes that will allow us to make use of it, the problem will only get worse.

Back to the first question, then. How do we learn – or relearn – to cook?

I don’t believe it has to be a massive undertaking. A collective lack of confidence, combined with a bewildering array of cooking and eating options, might have led us to fall out of the habit of thinking creatively; but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost the capacity to do so.

As I’ve written before, we all know more about food and cooking than we realise. Everything we’ve ever eaten has the potential to teach us something about cooking, if we only stop to think about it.

My Gran certainly understood this. Her wartime service in Italy introduced her to a range of ingredients and flavours she’d never have encountered at home. She didn’t actually do any cooking while she was there; but years later, when the relevant ingredients became available in Britain, she was able to introduce them to her meals. (On reflection, this would explain why much of what she cooked was so magnificently garlicky.)

As you’ve probably gathered, I could talk all day about my Gran and her cooking. But it wouldn’t get us all that far; and she certainly wouldn’t have appreciated an extended public tribute. So instead, here’s a real life, practical example of how cooking like my Gran – or, more specifically, thinking like her – remains as useful and relevant as ever.

Cooking “Gran-style” – a case study

Recently, I bought a chicken.

My decision to buy it was a relatively straightforward one. First of all, I wanted to eat some chicken. Second of all, the choice of free range chicken in the supermarket was typically depressing: a few whole birds for about 7 quid apiece, or countless twin packs of breast fillets for a fiver. The bits I really wanted to buy – whole legs or thighs – were nowhere to be seen. Not for the first time, looking across shelf after shelf of identical breast fillets, I found myself wondering where all the chicken legs actually go.

Anyway, I worked out that if two breasts cost £5 on their own, and if the whole chickens would almost certainly boast two breasts apiece, all I needed to work out was whether the remainder of the bird – comprising (to my mind) all the best meat, plus the skin and bones that would make a fabulous stock – was worth two quid of my money. Not a difficult decision.

So I bought a whole free range bird. As chickens go, this one wasn’t huge. But it was still more than my flatmate and I would be able to manage in a single sitting.

This left me with a few options. The first, and the simplest, was to roast the chicken whole, eat what we wanted, then think of a way to use up the leftovers.

Contrary to popular cliché, however, the simplest ideas aren’t always the best. Had I taken this option, I know exactly what would have happened. We’d both have gorged on our favourite bits – the legs, the wings, the little nuggets of juicy meat next to the backbone – and left the dry, pale breasts untouched, condemned to a future of distinctly unappetising chicken sarnies. Once we’d worked our joyless way through those, hopefully I’d have found time to make the carcass into stock before it began to smell a bit iffy. But I have to confess, my record on that is some way short of 100%.

An alternative possibility was to take the meat off the chicken before cooking. On the face of it, this had several advantages. It would have provided enough meat for two separate meals – one made with the breasts, the other with the rest – thus reducing the scope for unappealing leftovers, as well as sidestepping the problem of cooking the breast and leg meat together, when the former requires much less time to cook. It would have allowed me to make the stock that same day, and to use some of it to make tasty sauces for the two dishes. And best of all, it would have given me the opportunity to announce, “I’m just off to bone the chicken”, before bursting into fits of schoolboy giggles.

So this plan had quite a lot going for it, and only one downside: I really, really couldn’t be arsed.

I’m sure an expert butcher could bone out a chicken in a couple of minutes. Well, I can’t. Experience has shown me that it takes me at least fifteen minutes, and sometimes more, to get a significant majority of the meat from a raw chicken. It’s a messy, fiddly job, and the kitchen always ends up looking like a Hammer horror set by the time I’ve finished.

So I’d ruled out one option because I didn’t much fancy the likely outcome, and another because it failed the all-important “arsedness test”. What to do?

Fortunately, there was a third option – a method I’d come up with a couple of years back, using my very best Gran logic.

Removing the meat from a whole chicken is messy and laborious; but removing the breast fillets is an absolute doddle. (If you’ve never done it before, there’s many a YouTube clip to show you how, such as this one.)

With the breast meat removed and set aside for a future stir-fry, all I do is cut away the breastbone with scissors, so that the chicken lies flat when placed upside down, and I’m left with an ideally proportioned two-person roast.

Cooked this way, what would have been the soggy underside of the bird instead crisps up nicely in the oven. And without the breast meat to worry about, it’s far easier to cook – or should I say, far more difficult to overcook – than a whole bird. Finally, the bones – both the roasted carcass and the raw breastbone – get turned into stock, either the next day or (my preference) overnight in the slow cooker.

So. I had my chicken. I had my plan. All was well with the world, and I imagined my Gran giving an approving nod at my resourcefulness. I got home, thoroughly pleased with myself, before remembering something rather important.

My flatmate was in Portugal.

Some swift replanning was required. A chicken that would comfortably have served four – or, as I’d originally envisaged, two people twice over – now had to serve one person. Repeatedly.

All of a sudden, many of the parameters had changed – but not quite all of them. I still couldn’t be bothered to bone the chicken – especially with no flatmate with whom to share my smutty jokes. But the roasting option, with its now-inevitable excess of leftovers, had to be ruled out. And with no freezer space going spare, my primary challenge was to find a way to get through the whole bird on my own, with enough variety to minimise the risk of chicken fatigue.

There was only one question to be asked at this point: “What Would Granny Do?”

After a moment’s reflection, I decided she’d probably have done this.

I cut away the breasts as usual, bunged the rest into a large saucepan along with a couple of onions, a carrot and a few peppercorns, and brought the pan to the gentlest possible simmer.

After an hour’s simmering, the chicken was cooked and the stock, enhanced by the presence of lean meat as well as the skin and bones, was starting to look and smell very tempting indeed. But I knew that, while the meat itself was cooked through, the skin and bones had plenty left to give.

I lifted the chicken out of its hot bath and left it on the worktop to cool for fifteen minutes or so. Once it had cooled enough to handle, I picked the just-cooked meat – easily two meals’ worth of it – away from the bones, which went back into the stock for another couple of hours, enhancing its colour and flavour even further.

Here, incidentally, is demonstrated the value of the “arsedness test” – which is firmly grounded in my Gran’s principles, even if the terminology is very much my own. Removing the meat from a raw chicken, as I’ve indicated, demands a lot of skilled knife work and even more patience. Removing it from a cooked, cold chicken is easier, but still requires a fair bit of cutting, prising and tugging as the cooled-down meat clings determinedly to the carcass. But with a moist, still-warm bird, the meat comes away in the fingers with minimal persuasion. In other words, it passes the arsedness test with flying colours.

Over the course of three hours – but only a few minutes’ actual work – my single whole chicken had turned into three ingredients, each of them full of potential: breast meat (raw); the meat from the legs and body (cooked, but not overcooked, and ripe for reuse in any number of dishes); and rich, tasty stock. Yes, I’d be eating chicken for a few days to come. But importantly, I wouldn’t have to eat the same thing twice.

So I turned half the stock into a broccoli and potato soup, using the veg I’d originally earmarked for the two person roast, and topped this off with a few shreds of the cooked meat. Over the following three days, I made a stir-fry that used up both breasts (a touch excessive to feed one, perhaps, but sod it) and two meals (a curry and a pasta sauce, as I recall) from the remaining meat. Each of these was enhanced with a little of the remaining stock. And all that – four quite different meals, one of them preposterously large – from a single free range chicken.

Of the tasks I’ve just described, there’s nothing you couldn’t do yourself, whether you’re an experienced cook or a novice. I had all the skills needed to do it myself while I was still in my teens. But it had simply never occurred to me to do it

In other words, it’s taken me twenty-odd years to think like my Gran – that is, to think in terms of resources rather than process, and to respond creatively to changes of circumstances. And most importantly of all, to understand there’s more than one way to skin a cat – or, in this case, divide up a chicken.

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The Waste Land

This, on the face of it, has been a historic day.

For the first time, one of the major UK supermarkets – Tesco – has published independently verified statistics on food waste generated from its stores, at each stage of what it calls the “value chain” (producer, retailer and consumer).

Much of the news coverage has centred around the headline figure: 28,500 tonnes of produce was thrown away by Tesco over the first six months of this year. Isn’t that just shocking?

Well, yes it is. I’m amazed that the figure is so low. It’s equivalent to just 0.87% of the total produce sold by the company over the same period; and when viewed in the context of the 14.8 million tonnes of food discarded in the UK each year, the figure is so small as to be statistically almost insignificant.

So, well done Tesco, eh? Not entirely.

Certainly, Tesco deserves credit for publishing these statistics. It makes it highly likely that other supermarkets will follow their lead – it’s an unwise organisation indeed that doesn’t take note of what the UK’s largest retailer is doing – and it’s to be hoped that future reports will provide a more comprehensive breakdown of waste generation.

And, while it may be couched in retail jargon, it’s absolutely appropriate that the report should cover all three stages of the process, from production through to consumption (or not). By doing so, it draws attention to a far more relevant and troubling figure: a total of 32% of the food in Tesco’s “value chain” ends up being wasted. Leaving aside the negligible losses from stores, this wastage is divided equally between producers and consumers.

On reflection, it’s hardly surprising that an organisation as vast and sophisticated as Tesco should have become pretty good at stock control. After all, it’s the one stage of the process at which the retailer stands to lose. Throw away a loaf of bread instead of selling it, and that’s a quid the shareholders will never see. Granted, they may not much care either; but throw away million upon million of loaves, and they probably will.

But just because they’re not the ones physically chucking the food away, that doesn’t mean the supermarkets can avoid their share of responsibility for wastage elsewhere in the chain.

Producers discard perfectly good food when it doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards set by the retail giants (although the initiative to sell some of the “uglier” fruit and veg through their budget ranges is a limited but welcome one).

And the pricing policies of many supermarkets – dubious “discounts”, multi-buy offers, and/or disproportionate mark-ups for smaller quantities – can make it seem almost nonsensical to buy in anything other than bulk.

At the time of writing, for instance, a 250g pack of Tesco minced beef will cost you £1.75. Throw in another 25p – and really, what’s 25p? – and you get double the quantity. If you’re feeding a family of four, this is excellent news. But if you’re only cooking for yourself, you’re going to end up eating, freezing or throwing away an awful lot of beef. And most of the time, we take the third option, leading to the average UK family discarding £680 worth of food each year.

In fairness to Tesco, its report includes some acknowledgement of its own role in the process, along with a few positive policy changes to address the worst of the waste. Having established that 68% of its bagged salad is wasted – more than half of this by consumers – it’s announced an end to multi-buy offers on larger packs, and the introduction of resealable packs across its range. All this is positive news.

But in the context of Tesco’s wider operation, it’s pretty small beer. The end of multi-buy deals, while a laudable move in isolation, applies only to bagged salads; not to bread, fruit or any of the other waste culprits identified in the report.

And there’s no meaningful indication that the retailer’s broader approach is likely to change. Like its competitors, it will continue to entice customers through the illusion of value: buy lots, pay (relatively) little. Whether we actually use the food we buy will continue to be a secondary consideration, because the supermarkets take on neither the direct responsibility nor the financial impact.

A limited choice

So what can we, as the consumers at the tail end of the “value chain”, do about this?

In the short term, there are a number of things we could do. For a start, we could change where – and how – we shop. Take a trip back in time, to a period before 3 for 2 offers, and buy only what we need, weighed to our specifications.

If you’re very lucky, you might still have ready access to good independent butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and bakers. Failing that, Morrisons sell a greater range of loose, fresh produce than most supermarkets – in their larger branches, at least – under their Market Street brand.

But not all of us are so well served for food shops that we can choose freely and equally between them. For those without cars, proximity will continue to be the overriding factor. And the miniature urban offshoots of the big supermarkets – in which you’ll struggle to find much, if any, unpackaged produce – are rapidly taking over our high streets, driving more and more independent retailers to the wall. Increasingly, we find ourselves buying pre-packaged food, for want of a realistic alternative, in quantities determined not by the consumer but by the retailer.

And in any case, it’s not a straightforward equation of “unpackaged food = less waste”. Fresh meat sold from butchers’ counters will spoil much more quickly than its modern packaged equivalent. In other words, it’s far from guaranteed that buying food loose will lead to less food waste – as distinct from packaging waste –for either retailers or consumers.

Alternatively, we could keep buying in bulk from the supermarket, but make better use of our freezers. Take advantage of the bigger packs and the multi-buy offers, cook what we need and freeze the rest for future use. But that depends on us having sufficient freezer space at our disposal. In my rented flat, equipped with only a small fridge/freezer, it wouldn’t be a realistic option – even if I ever got round to defrosting the freezer compartment.

A variation on that theme is to get into the habit of buying and cooking in larger quantities, then freezing the leftovers as home-made ready meals. This, though, relies on us having the time and inclination to prepare and cook the larger quantities in the first place; and of course, it too is dependent on a freezer that’s up to the task.

A longer-term option, advocated today by Friends of the Earth, is to lobby our politicians, as well as our retailers, to put a stop to the 3 for 2 offers and suchlike. But in practice, I suspect this would be somewhere between pointless and self-defeating. For those who currently benefit from the incentives to buy big – those with large families and/or even larger freezers – the change would be entirely unwelcome. And for the rest of us, it would be largely ineffectual.

No supermarket CEO would be overly perturbed to be told that certain discounts or multi-purchase offers were to be outlawed. He – for it is almost certain to be a “he” – would simply instruct his company to look for ways to circumvent the legislation, ensuring that it had no meaningful impact on our over-purchasing habits.

And in case you don’t believe me, I have precedent on my side. In Scotland, it’s now illegal to offer multi-buy deals on alcoholic drinks. But go into any Scottish supermarket and compare the unit price of a single can of Tennent’s to that of a 20-pack, and you’ll soon see how much effect the legislation is having. The politicians know this too, which is why they’ve looked instead to minimum unit pricing – which the retail and drinks industries have been fighting all the way. Of course they have: because unlike the law on bulk-buying, there’d be no wriggling around it.

Hate waste, hate recipes

So if we’re not about to change the way we shop and cook, and the retailers aren’t going to alter their pricing policies significantly, what are we left with – other than a dustbin full of wasted food?

In the search for a solution, the Love Food, Hate Waste website is a pretty good place to start. It contains useful advice, statistics and videos on various aspects of food waste and how to reduce it at home through better storage practice, effective portion planning and so on.

It also contains recipes. An awful lot of recipes, accessed from a prominent link on the homepage. Some are good; some less so (the broccoli in this stock will make it smell and taste a bit, well, farty); and a few commit the classic recipe faux pas of omitting key ingredients from the list, such as the curry paste in this curry.

In fairness, there are quite a few recipes specifically for using up leftovers (including the curry-less curry I’ve just mentioned). But there’s still something of a logical problem here. If your first step towards reducing waste is to reach for a recipe, there’s a very good chance you’ll end up wasting more food, not less.

Even using the built-in search filters, you’ll be scrolling through an awful lot of recipes before you find one for which you already have all the ingredients. In other words, as long as you take an entirely recipe-led approach to cooking, you’re going to have to buy more food in order to use up the stuff you already have.

The site proposes a solution to this: make a shopping list, so that you only buy what you need. “Shopping for specific ingredients with meals in mind and taking a list helps ensure we use what we buy.”

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Well, if you’re doing your food shopping using the old-style weights and measures approach, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. If the meal you have in mind requires 250g of minced beef, two carrots, and so on, that’s exactly what you ask for. And if you need twice as much, you’ll pay twice as much. It’ll make for a pretty dull stint of recipe-reading, list-making and list-reading-out; but if that’s how you choose to shop and cook, fair enough.

But if you’re among the pre-packaged, supermarket-shopping majority, the situation isn’t so straightforward. You might only need 250g of mince; but when you find that you can get twice as much for virtually the same price, do you stick to your guns and buy the smaller, marked-up pack? Almost certainly not. And if you do, the only beneficiary is the supermarket.

Not only that, but you’re effectively ruling out the prospect of finding an alternative bargain on the day. You might arrive at the supermarket to find that there’s no attractively-priced mince on sale at all, but the free range chickens are half price. There’s little doubt which is the better deal; but if you’re sticking determinedly to your predetermined shopping list, you’ll have little choice but to stick to your original, now disappointingly expensive plan.

And most significantly of all, it’s highly unlikely that your various ingredients will all be packaged up in the precise quantities you require. You might find the 250g of mince you need – expensively or otherwise – but be forced to buy a bag of a dozen carrots when the recipe only requires two. Without that vital but much underrated cooking skill – flexibility – you’re still going to be faced with leftover ingredients, and potential waste.

It’s notable, incidentally, that most of the big supermarkets are listed as partners of Love Food Hate Waste. This is none too surprising; after all, if you’re a major player in the food industry, it’s good PR to say you’re anti-waste, however accurate or otherwise that description might be.

But let’s be realistic here. For the supermarkets, all that really matters is being seen to hate waste; they don’t actually have to hate it. Tesco might have announced a few small changes this week, aimed at reducing consumer waste on a few headline products; but ultimately, it barely matters to them whether we buy a little food with a large profit margin, or a lot of food with a smaller margin. If the unused food ends up in a domestic dustbin, it’s hardly their fault, is it? We’re the ones who left it to rot, not them.

I’m not enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe that the supermarkets exert a direct and malign influence on campaigns such as Love Food Hate Waste. What I would contend, though, is that many of their stocking and pricing policies are fundamentally incompatible with the “only buy what you need” mantra. As consumers, we’re faced with a choice: either we pay a substantial premium to buy what we need, or we pick up an apparent bargain in buying what we don’t. In reality, that’s no choice at all.

An alternative (and a plug)

There is one further option, however: abandon the recipe and the shopping list, and make the supermarkets’ pricing policies work for you.

For starters, get your cupboard and fridge stocked up with versatile, non-perishable (or at least slow-to-perish) foods: rice and pasta; tins of tomatoes and pulses; longer-life vegetables (onions, garlic, squashes); salted meats (pancetta, chorizo); salt, sugar and spices; oils and vinegars.

When you find these ingredients on bulk-buy deals, fill your boots (or, more accurately, your trolley). Unlike the multi-buy salad offers, these are to your advantage as much as the supermarket’s. You know they’ll get used before they go off; so if there are economies of scale to be had, you’d be daft not to make the most of them. Moreover, it’ll leave you with enough food to make a broad range of meals from scratch, so you won’t find yourself trudging to Tesco Metro on a grim February evening when you don’t want or need to.

But when you do come to shop for fresh food, my strong advice would be to take a good look at the shopping list advice on the Love Food Hate Waste website, and do the opposite. Don’t plan your meals before you go: instead, walk into the shop (supermarket or otherwise) with an open mind, work out what you like the look of, and see where the value is.

You’ll need a rough idea of how much food to buy in total, of course; but, just as importantly, you’ll also need the skills and confidence to turn a few core ingredients, Ready Steady Cook-style, into a coherent and tasty meal. (Or – if you’ve been obliged to buy in larger quantities than you’d have liked – several coherent and tasty meals.)

Of course, if you’re a lifelong list-maker and recipe-follower, this is going to mean reversing your perspective. Instead of thinking “what do I need to make this meal?”, you’ll need to think “what can I make with these ingredients?” And the potential problem with this is that you might feel you don’t know how to.

If I can, I’d like to help.

I’ve written a book, The No Recipe Manifesto, all about how, why and when to cook without recipes. It sets out to reconnect the reader with some of the lost skills of cooking – resourcefulness, flexibility and creativity – while also bringing out the sheer pleasure of making things up as you go along: a pleasure that is enhanced further by the knowledge that you’ve just made good use of ingredients that might otherwise have ended up in the bin.

The book will be coming out next year – I’ll let you know exactly where, when and in what format(s) as soon as I’m able – but in the meantime, I’ll be posting here on all aspects of non-recipe cooking, aimed in particular at the inexperienced or nervous cook.

Will it address all the iniquities of our supermarket-dominated food industry? Of course not. But it will offer plenty of ideas on how to spend less, waste less, eat better and have more fun – even if, through obligation or choice, you end up doing most of your food shopping among the pre-packaged, multi-buy temptations of your nearest supermarket.