As a company headquartered in London, we at Mediolana have got used to being unusual in caring about what we eat: the dining culture of the UK’s capital is dominated by pre-packaged or cheap takeaway convenience foods, with high streets the length and breadth of the capital (though ironically not our very own Kensington High Street) dominated by fried chicken, sandwich, sushi and burger outlets – shrines to our desire for speed.
Of course, some are better than others – there is a big difference between gnawing down the pork hormone-infested chicken (‘chork’) proffered in the cheaper dives specialising in industrial meat products and tucking into a premium, pan-fried masterpiece of the kind available at Gourmet Burger Kitchen – but nevertheless, London is a city where food is outsourced and where many people’s idea of cooking stretches no further than the nearest microwave.
So it was with some shock that our Creative Director & CSO digested some recent figures on microwave ownership (.xls file) from Euromonitor: while a predictable 92.5% of households in the United Kingdom possess one of these devices, and this figure rises to 94.2% in Japan and a stunning 95.8% in the United States, not everyone has concluded that the microwave oven represents the pinnacle in culinary excellence. Only 67.5% of households in Singapore vaunt a microwave; under half of all Chilean residences have one; while nearly two-thirds of Brazilian households do not have a microwave. Most strikingly, nearly 94% of Turkish households are microwave-less.
Microwave ovens are ridiculously cheap devices, with a branded one available for around €50.00; therefore, they are not beyond the reach of any middle-income household virtually anywhere in the world. But these figures serve as a reminder that culture determines the uses of technology far more than we tend to realise.
Italy, a country which is not included in this set of statistics but which also has legendarily low microwave oven penetration levels (nearly 80% of Italian households do not possess this device), is presently experiencing a boom in home cooking – bestselling titles in Italian newsagents now include Cucina Economica (‘Economic Cooking’) and Cucina della Nonna (‘Grandmother’s Cooking’) – which would be unthinkable in London. But given that the Italian food resurgence is driven by economics, will even convenience-defined cultures be forced to change the habits of a lifetime?