It was weeks ago now that i's sister paper The Independent on Sunday asked me to predict the food trends for 2012 (I review restaurants for them).
It was difficult to see a coherent theme when there are new places to eat opening every week (the recession having no effect on the grand plans of restaurateurs, it seems).
There's a slew of South American venues coming our way; Peruvian seems to be the prevailing cuisine.
Then again, there's an exciting array of ramen joints popping up – I'm a big fan of a bowl of comforting noodles in a time of climatic and economic chill.
The street-food phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down (yesterday I wondered whether these vibrant, healthy, yet speedy mobile eateries might be a solution to the school-dinners problem...). It may be more of a hope than a prediction, but my overwhelming desire for 2012 is less of an obsession with meat. We are in the era of the £85 steak (at London's new Cut and 34 restaurants).
Beef is fetishised; at the former, cuts are brought to the table wrapped in cloth, like very red babies, to be admired.
The provenance is listed in so much detail I feel dismayed if I don't learn whether the cow was called Daisy or Buttercup.
It's expensive and exclusive (in all the wrong ways). At the other extreme, price-wise, is the cult hit MeatLiquor, where queues snake round the block for the Dead Hippie burger. It's delicious, but healthy it ain't. This endless hawking of hunks of red meat does nothing for our hearts, colons or waistlines.
For a nation just rolling – its collective top button undone – from the Christmas dining table, the idea of more meat is wrong. My husband has been pleading for no more pork products, which I didn't think possible. It turns out that bacon sandwiches followed by turkey accompanied by pigs in blankets and then a cold ham platter for supper can make even the most ardent carnivore blanch eventually. All these thoughts came together as I considered the school dinners dilemma. Meat is too expensive, we eat too much of it and canteens can't seem to manage healthy, comforting food in the amounts needed for secondary-age children, and at an affordable price.
Wouldn't it be a dazzling feat to get meat off school menus altogether? The result would be meals that are truly inclusive, easier to prepare in great volumes (undercooked chicken nuggets, shudder), and cheaper to sell. Children are more willing to try new foods than we give them credit for.
Let's get ramen trending.