Pickled fish and rotten oranges

"£150,000 wrapped up, please"

"Yes, hello, I’d like to pay off my mortgage with a pickled fish" isn’t the most likely of banking requests, but then it’s not everyday that somebody has a Damien Hirst trevally-in-formaldehyde worth as much as their house. Darren Walker, a childhood friend of the Leeds-born artist, hopes to make £150,000 from the fish, a gift Hirst made to the Farsely chippy where Hirst’s brother worked, when it is auctioned later this year. Ever-concerned that art should not be about privilege, this follows on from last November when Hirst donated one of his sketches as a prize in a £1 raffle for Heart Research UK. At least the fish should help his humility rating, which plummeted last year when he created a diamond-encrusted skull.

Delia’s Bread and Butter

In the unlikely event that nobody fancies the Hirst fish at auction, perhaps Delia could pop it between two slices of long-life bread. Her 'How to Cheat' cookery series may have been denigrated by just about every food writer and TV critic with senses, including the New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke, but sales of the accompanying book soared last week, and saw Delia take the top slot for the best-selling UK title.

Oranges are not the only fruit

Ahead of the Orange Prize, Whitbread First Novel Award-winning author Tim Lott has dared to venture into the lionesses’ den by suggesting that the women-only writers’ prize is "discriminatory, sexist and perverse." Feminism has long-opposed the argument that women-only arts prizes actually increase the gender inequality gap in writing and publishing. In a rhetorical question, Lott debated whether a men-only prize might actually be more justified, "given their level of relative exclusion in schools and the marketplace." He might have immediately dismissed the idea, but Lott’s planting the seed suggested that secretly, he quite liked the idea. His statement that "pupils are taught reading mainly by female teachers promoting mainly female writers" was proved factually inaccurate by the F Word, where blogger Sian pointed out that Lott had neglected to heed the predominance of men in the English literary canon: "we had lectures entitled 'women in modernism'; next to lectures entitled 'ts eliot'."

Blogger Caitlin reiterated this, and criticised the poetry booklets the Guardian and Independent gave away last week: “in the Guardian series, Sylvia Plath is apparently the only 'great' female poet from the 20th century, out of the seven chosen (and while she was amazing, that is beside the point) while the Independent fairs slightly better with Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Mew and The Bronte Sisters - out of 38 poets! THIRTY EIGHT!”.

Meanwhile John Sutherland, A S Byatt and Anita Brooker have rallied round Lott. Considering the Orange Prize winner won’t be announced until June, there is of course still time for judge Lily Allen to pen a suitably anthemic pop song about it.

Anthony Minghella

The untimely death of British writer and director Anthony Minghella was met with unanimous regret and reverence this week. Alan Yentob called him “a great champion of British cinema, an elegant advocate for the craft and a marvellous mentor for new talent” and Tim Walker summed up Anthony’s significance on IndyBlogs – “Say what you like about The English Patient (and I know it gets right up some people's noses), but it put Britain back on the cinematic map.” Although there was debate at the BBC about whether screening was still appropriate, his final directorial effort, ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’, will be shown on BBC 1 this Easter Sunday. Check out the next issue of the New Statesman for a full review. The tribute that Anthony Minghella wrote to Samuel Beckett here in the New Statesman suddenly seems all the more poignant.

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

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 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser