World food cup: a stallholder at São Paulo’s Mercado Municipal, June 22. Photo: Getty
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Felicity Cloake: Brazilian cuisine is the original fusion food

Nigerian peanut sauces, Japanese pastries and German sausages, Portuguese salt cod and an Amazonian duck dish made with the cyanide-laced juice of the wild cassava root.

It’s hard to feel sorry for men paid £300,000 a week for prancing round a pitch, but even I pity the England football team, travelling 5,000 miles to eat scrambled eggs and pasta in a country that packs four continents into one cuisine.

Gone are the glory days of 1966, of Jimmy Greaves’s match-day feasts of “roast beef and Yorkshire with all the trimmings, or pie and mash, followed by blackcurrant crumble and custard”, or even the great Raich Carter’s rather simpler take on the energy bar in the 1930s: six sugar lumps.

Football sounds like it was more fun in those days; indeed, most players once had great faith in the medicinal power of a pre-game whisky. But the England team’s tournament boozing probably came to an end with Gordon Banks’s ignominious exit from the 1970 Mexico World Cup, after drinking what he claims was a “spiked beer”.

Instead, the ominously named current team chef, Tim De’Ath, has catered for a strict protein- and carb-heavy diet: rice, white meat, salad. I’d rather have had a place in the US squad, which scored the two-Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola.

But the best spot of all has to be in the stands, eating beans sautéed in bacon fat and garnished with crackling and fried eggs, or great slabs of bolo de rolo, a huge Swiss roll filled with sweet guava jam – two of the local favourites on offer at stadiums in Brazil along with the usual hot dogs. Quite a step up from London 2012’s greatest gastronomic achievement, the world’s largest McDonald’s.

And though few England footballers play abroad, if their shopping list from the 2010 South African cup is anything to go by they, too, have cosmopolitan tastes: 24 bottles of piri-piri sauce, 12 tubes of wasabi, 25 bags of pine nuts and 30 packets of custard.

I reckon once they’d got over the lack of Bird’s, Rooney et al probably enjoyed a bit of Brazilian food. Certainly the country’s churrasco grills – where the cooks will stuff you with skewers of cow until you beg for mercy – would have proved popular with men so long starved of red meat.

You’d have thought a helping of the celebrated feijoada stew might have brought the striker a bit of luck: pre-match beans seemed to work for Alan Shearer, a prolific scorer, even if he famously preferred his own baked and served with chicken, rather than pigs’ tails and fried bananas. But this is all tame fare, the kind of stuff Steven Gerrard could find at a Brazilian grill in Liverpool, should he be so minded – definitely at the less interesting end of a cuisine that’s gobbled up European, African, Asian and Amerindian traditions, only to regurgitate them in a rainbow riot of tropical flavour.

Nigerian peanut sauces, Japanese pastries and German sausages, Portuguese salt cod and Italian pastas, and an Amazonian duck dish made with the cyanide-laced juice of the wild cassava root – Brazilian cuisine is the original fusion food.

And this country that stretches from the equator to the Uruguayan pampas offers cooks an impressive range of flora and fauna to play with. The Amazon region boasts an ancient armoured fish, the arapaima, that can grow up to 15 feet (though commercial fishing of it is banned in Brazil; the arapaima is farmed in neighbouring Peru). Then there are ants sweet enough to eat like candy, a mouth-numbing “toothache plant” and a dizzying array of rainforest fruits that make acai berries look pedestrian. Out of the running, despite the oatcakes and cottage cheese, perhaps the England team can take comfort from thinking that somewhere, deep in the jungle, there lurks a plant to dull its pain.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage