Do you remember that scene in Fawlty Towers when an American guest asks for freshly-squeezed orange juice? His demand is greeted with incredulity. “Out of an orange, not out of a bottle,” he explains firmly. Later at dinner, he asks if he can change his mind and not have the fruit salad. “A bit tricky,” says Sybil Fawlty. “Chef’s already opened the tin.” The quality of our dining experience has improved a little since then, but even now, in the days of escabeche of this, tian of that and carpaccio of the other, one thing has not changed. It’s still pretty difficult to get fruit juice that comes straight from the fruit and not via a bottling plant. I know this is not the biggest privation we face in these difficult days and there was a time – not very long ago – when bottled orange juice was a luxury starter at a fancy restaurant, but I do think it is worth noticing.
I was taken for breakfast yesterday in a smart London establishment and there, on the menu was “fresh pink grapefruit juice” at a mighty four quid a pop. I asked our waitress whether “fresh” meant “freshly squeezed” or “freshly bottled”.
Rather puzzled by my question, she went away to investigate. “It’s out of a bottle,” she said. “But it’s very good.”
This doesn’t just happen in Britain. A couple of years ago, I was in California where, you might assume, there’s a ready access to fresh fruit and it was the same story. Nearly everywhere we went, fruit juice came out of a carton.
“But we are actually in Orange County,” I said in exasperation at one hotel. “As soon as it is squeezed, it is delivered to us,” was the response.
I think the trades description act should be brought into play. It’s the use of the word “fresh” that I have a problem with. The orange juice that we’re palmed off with in top restaurants and hotels is hardly any fresher than a tin of baked beans. It’s like those signs that we see in pubs that advertise “freshly cut sandwiches”. Yes, they may have been cut recently, but there’s no guarantee any of the ingredients are fresh.
You see the same weasel words employed in “home cooked meals”. This conveys an image of someone preparing dishes using fresh ingredients and then cooking them. Wrong. That’s “home made meals”.
This is more likely to be the sort of meal that is assembled in a warehouse, delivered by pantechnion and then slotted into a microwave. That is my understanding of what can constitute a “home cooked meal”.
In nearly every way, eating out in Britain today is light years ahead of the days of Basil and Sybil Fawlty, but that doesn’t mean we, as customers, shouldn’t still be vigilant. Watch out for careless – and misleading – use of the word “fresh” and don’t be afraid to ask exactly what it means in the context. We are supposed to live in an era when consumers have the power, and when we should pay attention to what we eat. People of Britain – it’s time to get fresh!