What's my favourite food? Oh God, please don't make me answer that question. Unless, that is, you're asking on behalf of Oxfam. That saintly organisation commissioned a poll in 17 countries asking people to name their three favourite foods. The survey was conducted as part of their Grow campaign, "which is calling on governments and big businesses to fix the global food system to ensure that everyone has enough to eat." The survey showed that "food prices are a common worry and that people's diets are actually changing, with many not eating the same foods as they did just two years ago."
The poll results are quite interesting. The top 10 were:
6. Fish and seafood
On one hand, the results show the increasing pull of Western diets: Italian-type pasta has become the most popular food, edging out meat, rice dishes and pizza. On the other hand, citizens of some countries still favour their own cuisine over exotic imports.
I am not in a position to judge the statistical validity or methodology of this survey, though I would welcome any input on this question from the Guardian's own Ben Goldacre or the guys on the datablog. But I am somewhat unconvinced about making comparisons between affluent developed nations, where many people have access to a range of imported foodstuffs and international cuisines, with developing economies where the vast majority of people eat their national dishes because there's little alternative. It's also interesting, not to say slightly bizarre, that for the purposes of this survey loose national cuisines like "Chinese" are labelled as "foods" and are treated in the same way as actual staples.
In Ghana, for instance, the favourite dish is fufu – mashed cassava. If they could get a good pizza margherita, would they prefer it? I don't know. But having eaten fufu, I know that I wouldn't place it anywhere on my list. Similarly, something like fufu might be the next taste sensation to sweep, say, the Netherlands, but it would have to be readily available there first.
Ghanaians are not the only people who prefer their own national dishes. Spanish people placed paella at the top of their list. And who can blame them? Mexicans like Mexican food best, while the top scorer in India was Indian food, with rice dishes of one form or another taking the other two slots.
In many places, however, the general message was ABL – Anything But Local. The Netherlands? Pasta, Chinese and pizza. Brazil: lasagne (lasagne?!), rice dishes, and pasta.
The UK results were pretty boring: steak, pasta and chicken, in that order. The USA places pizza, steak and chicken at the top – an intriguing result, given that it's very difficult to get a good pizza outside major metropolitan areas. And in both the US and UK, "chicken" means different things to different people. Is it a roast free range bird garnished with watercress and served with sautéed potatoes, or something unmentionable fried in a body bag of stodgy batter and "special sauce"? Remember, too, that most American chicken is resolutely tasteless.
There is a serious message in these results. The love of starch- and animal-protein-based foods bodes ill for the billions of people who are vulnerable to food-price inflation, which is hitting staples like wheat, rice and animal feeds particularly hard.
But that's a topic for another place. The survey asks a simple question, and I find that I can answer it pretty easily. My numbers one and two are French food and Chinese food – the first of which is a no-show in anyone else's list. On Chinese I am in good company – Guatemala, Mexico and the Netherlands. And my number three? I want to say oysters, but I hardly ever eat them. So it has to be pasta, which makes me a true citizen of the world.
How about you? If Oxfam had come knocking on your door, what would you have told them? Pasta? Porridge? KFC?
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