Charles Campion, food writer and critic, takes on today’s fine food issues

“Happy New Year?”

What did you get for Christmas?

As we rely more and more on the magic of the internet the processes involved in buying and selling get faster and faster. The first mince pies hit the supermarket shelves in mid-August last year and they will cling on into the start of the New Year.

If there is no legitimate festival to make a fuss about, the marketeers will make one up. Just before Christmas we were told that there were stellar bargains to be had on Black Friday. The nine-day “Black” shopfest came hard on the heels of another import from America - dressing up to trick or treat for Halloween. Then, as with the January sales, which now crop up anywhere between November the 5th and the New Year, the received wisdom is that a spoonful of spurious feeding frenzy will keep the tills ringing.

But hang on a minute, whether or not it is top of mind even the most ardent customers have a budget. The amount of money in the retail system is finite and shopkeepers cannot take money from customers if they have already spent it the week previously. Many retailers find themselves in January with customers nursing a maxed-out credit card and no real excuse to push things forward. It doesn’t help that January can be gloomy, and when you have seen off the New Year’s revels there isn’t much to look forward to, unless you like haggis, whisky and tartan – Burns Night falls on January 25th.

It is no coincidence that a good many restaurants set aside January for maintenance and refurb. Take the money on New Year’s Eve then close until Valentine’s Day without missing much. The statistical boffins were alarmed when 2017 saw food prices rise and they developed all kinds of complicated explanations, but whatever the reason prices rarely slip down as smoothly as they go up. As we go into 2018 we must face the effects of 2017’s 70% rise in the wholesale price of butter. As any classical chef will tell you that butter is king and the current shortage (some attribute the price rise to a growing demand for croissants and pastries in China) will have to be faced. It’s a case of what can’t be cured must be endured and the French are particularly hard hit with some empty shelves in the run up to Christmas.

For shopkeepers of all sizes the target for the year must be to smooth out the peaks and troughs in the sales figures, it’s no good relying on artificial stimulus such as the Black Friday, the customers must be helped through uncharted waters. It would be nice to think that the old adage “eat less but eat better” will come to the fore and that both retailers and customers will start to put more emphasis on quality.

Looking back on 2017 it’s hard not to nominate an outstanding candidate for Politician of the year - Graziano Delrio, Italy’s Transport Minister. In the autumn Mr Delrio was supposed to join his parliamentary colleagues on a symbolic hunger strike. But when he noticed that the dates clashed with the Alba truffle fair he put off the hunger strike. He sounds like the kind of chap who has his priorities right… I wonder if he could be seconded to the Brexit team?

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