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Food in Britain/ British Food - attitude survey results


These images show some of the most common responses to the question What comes to your mind when you think of British food? Do you agree - do they give a true picture?

The following survey was undertaken with two groups of teachers on INSETT courses and several groups of students on college courses. The survey was anonymous and completed before the theme was tackled, indeed it was used as an opening activity.

 

Total number of questionnaires - 111 of which 36 had visited the UK (is this a typical proportion for teachers of English?). Those who had been to the UK gave fuller and more confident answers with more decided attitudes but not very different in substance. Many of the responses were grouped and there were a number of ambiguities - e.g. did ‘tea’ refer to the drink or the meal?

 

The Questions

What comes to your mind when you think of British food?


What comes to your mind when you think of food in Britain?

(for both consider such things as dishes/ ingredients/ attitudes/ manners/ meal patterns/ eating out etc)


These two questions were distinguished before the questionnaire was begun. British Food being that thought to be culturally ‘British’ and Food in Britain as what people in Britain actually eat.

 

Where did you get your information from?

(e.g. visits/ contacts/ reading/ film-TV/ common opinion in Poland)

 

If you found out by visiting Britain - what surprised you? (36 responses only)

 

What do you consider similar or different to Polish food/food in Poland?

 

The Responses

What comes to your mind when you think of British food?

(consider such things as dishes/ ingredients/ attitudes/ manners/ meal patterns/ eating out etc)

 

Dishes

A very small range was given with only a few items receiving more than 5 mentions


Fish & chips - 59

Pudding - 45

Toast - 34

Tea - 38

Bacon & eggs - 43

Fried/ scrambled eggs - 12

Cereals - 21

Marmalade - 6

Turkey - 12

Potatoes - 6

Beer - 12

Haggis - 6

Sausage - 7

Pies (sweet/savoury) - 16


Other such ‘typical’ dishes as custard/ gravy/ beef/ pancakes/ scones/ Yorkshire pudding rarely got more than a single mention

 

Attitudes

These were interpreted by everyone as ‘Polish attitudes toward British food’ and were almost universally negative - 108 out of 111(can it really be believed British people think this about their/ our own food?). What was remarkable was the great variety of negative comments with few being repeated.

 

Tasteless – 12

Unhealthy

Lot of fat

Overcooked

Little experimentation

No good bread

Not spiced

Not sophisticated

Cheap

Industrial

No traditional food

Rather traditional

No specific cuisine

Not nutritious

All the same

Awful

Simple

Not very good

Nothing special

Dull

Rather boring

Not many vegetables

Just plain


Some more ambiguous responses:


Very cold milk at breakfast

If soup it’s mixed vegetable

Sliced bread

Unusual combinations of taste

Teatime all the time

Boiled vegetables

Surprising ingredients

Not many vegetables

English cuisine is in a minority

Manners during meals at Buckingham Palace

I once experienced kidney pudding


More ‘dramatic’ were:

·         No passion

·         What comes to my mind is all the worst

·         The same breakfast 365 days a year

·         Polish food is eatable - English food is not

·         The British don’t pay close attention to what or where they eat

·         British people don’t really know what good food really tastes like

·         If British people can survive their cooking they can survive anything

 

The positive:

·         Great shops selling all kinds of sandwiches

·         Food wasn’t plain at all

·         Shortbread biscuits - delicious

 

Meal patterns/ eating out

Comments generally revolved around breakfast (the dominant meal in terms of typical dishes) Also


Eating out common - 23

Big evening meal - 9

‘5 o’clock tea’ - 9


What comes to your mind when you think of food in Britain?

(consider such things as dishes/ ingredients/ attitudes/ manners/ meal patterns/ eating out etc)

The following all received more than 5 mentions


Chinese - 34

Indian - 26

Fast/ junk - 31

Convenience - 10

Italian - 21

‘Worldwide’ - 15

Pizza - 15

Pasta - 9

McDonalds - 8


Where did you get your information from?

(e.g. visits/ contacts/ reading/ film-TV/ common opinion in Poland)


Visits - 36

Contacts - 21

Reading - 48

Film/ TV - 55

‘Received opinion in Poland’ - 42


The most remarkable response was An Englishman in New York by Sting

 

In addition 30 mentioned studies/ coursebooks, two the internet and two guesses. This suggests these should have been given as options and ‘Reading’ probably hides a number referring to coursebooks.

 

Film/ TV proving to be the most common was a surprise and shows the power of the visual media in communicating other cultures even for such a theme as food. How effective it is, is less obvious - how can you form judgements of tastiness via TV?

 

If you found out by visiting Britain - what surprised you? (36 responses only)

A great variety of very specific responses with only 7 mentioned more than once


Tea with milk

No soup

Unsalted vegetables

Cold milk with cereal

Lamb

Bread

Too many eggs


Individual comments

Dishes/ ingredients


·         They don’t eat normal bread only tosty (Polish English for thin white soft sliced bread)

·         Hard to buy ingredients for Polish dishes

·         Vinegar flavoured crisps

·         Tasteless sausages

·         The taste of marmalade

·         Chips were different to frytki

·         Suspicious food - GM labelled

·         Mince pies

·         Tap water drunk

·         No cabbage

·         Cottage cheese not solid - couldn’t make pierogi


Meals


·         Small breakfast and sandwich for lunch wasn’t enough for a busy day

·         So many people eat out

·         Drinking tea any time

·         Dinner very late

·         Breakfast all day

·         Popularity of ready-made food

·         Variety of places where you can eat lunch

·         Lot of vegetarian food

·         Lot of foreign restaurants

·         Little shops with sandwiches

·         Tinned beans for breakfast (known in the UK as ’baked’ beans)


There were also other comments on poor quality

 

What do you consider similar or different to Polish food/ food in Poland?

This turned out to be a very unsatisfactory question, with much repetition from others and difficult to analyse. Many felt they had already answered it - 13 refused to complete this part. Although similarities and differences were separated they were often answered in the negative thus in fact indicating the other.

 

The primary similarity was the rise of fast food - 30, and the difference that of meal times - 24. In general many more differences were given than similarities.

 

Some other differences grouped together


Lack of home cooking in the UK - 14

Eating out in the UK - 15

More traditional food in Poland - 9

Lack of variety in the UK - 8

No lunch in Poland - 8

Bread - 7

Soup - 7

Convenience food - 5

More variety of restaurants in the UK - 5

Poles eat more - 4


Some responses were superficially contradictory but probably indicated different ‘pictures’ in the respondents minds e.g. 7 felt fatty food was a similarity whereas 5 felt it was more typical of Polish food. Tea was a similarity to 3 and a difference to 8, unhealthy food a similarity to 7 and more common in Poland to 3. Potatoes were also noted as a similarity and a difference. The response of ‘just like the West’ revealed a more complicated root coming after a series of differences all favourable to Polish food.

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