Tough Times Demand Cheap Food

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

feboIn the ongoing chronicle of winners and losers from the current economic difficulties, while there is an overwhelming preponderance of the latter, it is interesting to see McDonalds among the former, actually reporting increased sales over the past year. As the nutrition-professor’s quotation in that linked article says, “It’s cheap and full of calories, and you know what you are getting.”

The same thing is happening over here in the Netherlands, it seems – although not necessarily with McDonalds. As an article by Wouter Keuning now appearing in De Volkskrant puts it in the headline, Dutchman fights through the crisis with bitterbal and kroket. Not familiar with them? To cook up these two quintessentially-Dutch delicacies (found nowhere else) you essentially take blobs of animal fat (usually from beef) – and fry them! The basic difference is that the bitterbal is small – of 3-5 cm diameter – and the kroket is somewhat larger and more cylindrical in shape. The most notable manufacturer of these is the Amsterdam firm Van Dobben (which Keuning identifies as currently reporting particularly improved sales-figures, just like McDonalds), and you can check out their website if you still need help in visualizing what we’re talking about here. (That’s a kroket in a bun in the center there, and the bitterballen are those round things on the plate to the right. But watch out, because if you click to go further into the site you’ll find that everything is in Dutch.)

It has long been shown in opinion surveys that it is these two delicacies which Dutch people living outside Holland’s (or Flanders’) borders most miss from their lives back home, where in most cities you can usually quickly satiate any craving for them at a near-by fast-food-in-the-window-type outlet (such as pictured; photo credit Kees Jonker, from Flickr). But now it is also apparent that this is the sort of food that Dutch people still back home are down-shifting to financially, now that money for many has become somewhat too tight for a visit to a restaurant. And for the sheer comfort of it as well (perhaps recalling Mama’s bitterballen?): the financial director of Royaan, a firm which works with Van Dobben to distribute such concoctions, is quoted that “I think that people in these times are looking for a bit of solace in this sort of product.”

That’s one theory, but I can think of another. Obviously, these chunks of deep-fried pieces of fat are tremendously unhealthy to eat on any regular basis over the long- and even medium-term. Could their sudden increased popularity rather bear witness to a sort of widespread death-wish among the Dutch population, to some drastic loss of confidence in the utility of a long, healthy life? (And I pose the same question when it comes to McDonalds’ improved sales, for that matter.)

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