Thursday, 5 November 2015

Writing - A snack happy society

We are always having to field 'information' about food, our bad eating habits and obesity. Well there is a history to snacking.

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Roman snacks

A leading contender for the earliest snack has to be the Roman oyster. (Would put me off snacking forever!). They were cheap and readily available a couple of thousand years ago.

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Hazelnuts (cobnuts, filberts)

During Shakespearian times there was evidence of the shells of cobnuts or filberts - hazelnuts - at the sites of the Globe and Rose Theatres in London. The discovery suggests that those nuts were a snack eaten at the theatre.

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So what about the ubiquitous popcorn? 

It has been eaten for thousands of years but mass consumption didn't take off until the 1890s. Charles Cretors from Chicago, built the first popcorn-popping machine during that decade. It had a number of advantages in that you don't need a kitchen and it was fun to watch. Nowadays you can purchase different flavours and choose between salty or sweet. 

Personally I find it must unsatisfying in that it leaves sections of husks in your mouth, if you are unfortunate enough to buy a pack that hasn't been cooked properly you could break a tooth, and its smells like sweaty socks!

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However, it didn't take off in cinemas to begin with as they were trying to emulate the theatre goers experience. The owners of cinemas didn't want their expensive carpets covered with the sticky bits that tend to spill from the boxes, and mouths, and also the noisy crunching could be a distraction if you were watching a silent movie. Popcorn was available from street vendors but the cloakroom attendants at the cinema collected your popcorn as well as your coat. This pertained until almost 1945 when the owners realised that there was considerable demand for popcorn, therefore extra profit, and so installed popcorn concessions in their lobbies and the rest is history as they say.

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Then there is the sandwich. A snack or a meal? You dictate the answer to that question in the way you use sandwiches and it is a matter of personal taste. There is no limit to the versatility of the humble sandwich.

Did the Earl of Sandwich invent this manner of presenting food?

He was probably not the first to eat food between slices of bread but it does seem that John Montagu 4th Earl of Sandwich did lend his name to the snack in the 18th century when he called for beef between two slices of toast. In 1762 Edward Gibbon wrote in his journal that he saw '20 or 30 of the first men in the kingdom ... supping ... upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich.'

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Where would we be without writers recording what they observed going on in the world? We are a little more sophisticated about it these days. Yesterday I decided to take part in the BBC's #weatherwatchers. To put it simply it is a way of collecting 'real' weather data from people observing live and depositing their findings on a website designed for the purpose. A sort of collective weather diary. It is the fact that we are presenting subjective written information for educational purposes which I feel is a positive indication that writing is not dead.

God Bless