Tesco Versus Time

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by Tom Lee

Via my friend and colleague Kerry, you should really head over to the Times of London and check out this flash visualization doodad.  Based on supermarket data, it shows the changing composition of British eating habits over time.  Some of the stories that emerge are ones you’d expect: the declining consumption of fat and our collective indecision about margarine; the rise of convenience foods; the fall of the British whitefish; the variety enabled by global shipping; and of course the hilarity of British names for things (“Turnip and swede”? “Suet and drippings”? It’s fantastic).

But other changes are more mysterious.  Why is the popularity of oranges waning as apples and bananas hold their own?  Is it really the case that no one drank juice before 1980?  And — one that hits home for me — is the explosion in chicken consumption a byproduct of concern over more identifiably unhealthy meats?  Has that process gone too far?  How bad for us are mutton and pork, anyway?  Is this self-imposed culinary homogeneity still a net positive if we consider the arguably morally relevant fact that a chicken’s inner life is likely to be less rich than that of a pig?

It’s a fascinating tool and certainly worth a few idle minutes.  Play around, then come back and tell us what stories you’ve found.

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