English food deserves its morbid reputation. Not because England doesn't have any good restaurants or the English landscape doesn't make good quality 'produce' - England has both excellent restaurants and if you go to an English butcher or deli you can find delightful locally produced ingredients. No English food deserves its moribound reputation because of the English spirit towards food.
Nowadays the English believe that their food is quite good; it has 'changed' from the bad old days and their is a real 'food culture' in England. As if an arty-farty interest in food in cultured papers and a few Michelin stars make for good national cuisine. Whilst England has its Heston Blumenthals and its Gordan Ramsays, a small English town like Letchworth is whole-heartedly provided for by Morrisons.
Sainsburys, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Morrisons ready-meals are the order of the day in most English larders. Green beans are air-lifted from Egypt and Kenya, topped, tailed and wrapped in plastic in single-person portions where they sit on supermarket shelves. Shopping trolleys are filled with fish-fingers, ravioli and 'ready-to-go' vegetables to be steamed. It's hard to find couscous that doesn't have Ainsley Harriot's face on it - and although it's nice the first time, soon the heady smell of artificial stock becomes too much to bear.
Teaching at a local high school, a "healthy" school no less, I am daily offered a new variation on a tried and tested English theme: "goo". Two slices of some roast meat drowned in gravy with mash and two vegetables, even lasagna with mash and two vegetables, shepherd's pie with more mash and two vegetables; an occasional English treat is 'Yorkshire pudding' to be drowned in gravy and had with yet more mash - gravies, mash, stock and stew, the essential elements of English cuisine. Another regular at the school canteen is 'jacket potato with beans' - doesn't sound too bad you think? Well it's not green beans or French beans you know - it's an enormous jacket potato, with a cross cut into the centre, covered in baked beans from a tin and chedder cheese pre-shredded from a packet - mm-mmm!
Add to this cuisine the English climate which maintains a respectable distance between every individual's body-image and actual body through layers of warm woollen clothing, and you find a nation of sallow-skinned, porky, lard-lads. Friendly, good-natured lard-lads, to be sure - solid, hearty food is a joy to eat and an antidote to the cold and gives red-nosed English "old codgers" their happy disposition. But lard-lads nonetheless. My girlfriend uses 'becoming English' now as shorthand for growing man-boobs and a pot-belly; which she threatens me with if I don't remember to exercise every day, push-ups, rows and carrying her up and down the staircase once or twice ;)
Which is why English food deserves its reputation. Hearty food; hearty, goo-ey, thick, stodgy English food.