Thursday 1 November 2007
All Lost in the Supermarket
Do you like baked beans? I mean, do you really like baked beans? Do you love baked beans, adore them in all their leguminous glory, revel in the luscious mouthfeel as your teeth meet each pliant kidney-shaped carapace? Then have I got the place for you. It's a little country I like to call "England."
Here is the baked bean section of an Asda Superstore I shopped at the other day:
A quick can-count suggests more than two dozen different varieties of baked beans. Of course, much of this is the same basic product offered by different companies. But there is a noticeable diversity in the product line. For example, there is the mildly fortified, as in the contents of this can:
Baked beans (or "beanz" in the jokey parlance of bean-king Heinz) with pork sausages. That's surely in keeping with the traditionally porcine nature of the product. (Other Heinz offerings include baked beans with vegetable sausages, Cumberland sausages or chicken nuggets. I didn't know what a Cumberland sausage was. It's made of pork but must differ in some critical way to a plain pork sausage.)
Then there's this:
Heinz Italian beans, or what the label describes as "baked beans with herbs." The serving suggestion shows a slice of Italian bread smothered in beans and what appears to be mozzarella cheese. A single uncooked bean, its head adorned with the laurel wreath of the Caesars, surveys his boiled, sauce-slathered legions. Beani, Beadi, Beaci.
This surely must be the zenith of the bean-maker's art:
"The Full Monty" is an entire English breakfast--bacon, sausage link, button mushroom, beans--in a single can.
You'll note that this is not a Heinz product. I'm sure that deep in the bowels of Heinz House, lab-coated scientists are even now concocting a response to this latest salvo in the bean arms race. Their mantra: If you can put an entire bean-centric breakfast in a can, why not, say, a complete dinner: shrimp cocktail, rocket salad, poached Chilean sea bass, tiramisu, beans.... Or, better yet, a cream tea: scone, strawberry jam, Devonshire clotted cream, beans....
I can see the slogan: "Heinz Mean Cream Teaz."
A Consumer Reports
I'm not going to be one of those Americans who kvetches about the lack of selection in British grocery stores. I'm in a different country. I should expect that I won't be able to find my particular U.S. brand of low-fat, salt-free, baked, sour cream-and-onion potato chips. The trade-off is that I will be able to find roast lamb-flavored potato crisps, something I've never seen in the States.
I am annoyed by one thing, though, and that's how hard British supermarkets make it for consumers to compare prices. Many shops have a little shelf label indicating the unit pricing, a staple at the Giants and Safeways of my homeland. But how how helpful are they? Here's one for a box of dishwasher soap tablets:
The box costs 6.78 pounds, or 22.6 pence per tablet. I wonder how that compares with another brand:
It's 9.72 pounds for a box. How much is it per tablet? Well, it's 10 pence per 100 grams. I'd have to take out my triple-beam balance and determine how much a single tablet weighs, then do a quick calculation. And even then I'd get it wrong, since I was an English major.
This was at Asda (owned by Wal-Mart, by the way) but I've seen the same obfuscating hijinks at other British supermarkets. Though Asda employees have the coolest uniforms (black and electric-green outfits that make them look like minions from a Bond film) my English friends tell me the chain is at the bottom of the barrel. I think the order, from top to bottom, goes something like this:
Marks & Spencer's Simply Food
Feel free to make your own suggestions. Where, for example, does Waitrose belong?
What a Treat
And how was Halloween? Great, actually. More trick-or-treaters came to our Oxford door this year--41--than came to our Silver Spring door last year. They were mostly dressed in homemade costumes. They were polite, fawning over our decorations (three flickering jack o'lanterns and a crepe-paper spider; modest by American standards), petting our dog and saying "thank you." A few of them didn't quite get it: They said "Happy Halloween!" after we opened the door rather than "Trick or treat!" But My Lovely Wife set them straight.
And I didn't see any overturned cars, burned-out rubbish bins or crucified Old Age Pensioners when I walked the dog this morning. Could the media have over-reacted?
One last thing: Check out this story from The Washington Post on how dentists dread the day after Halloween. This year they've dubbed it "Black Thursday" for all the damage it inflicts on braces.