Mythically naff

Observations on Pot Noodle

Underneath the "hallowed hills" of Crumlin in South Wales, miners are hard at work, blasting the rocks to find rich "noodle seams". A voice-over from the valleys intones that Pot Noodle is the "fuel of Britain, isn't it". With this new advertising campaign we are entering the third age of Pot Noodle - and the first two are a lesson in social history.

Golden Wonder launched Pot Noodle in 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher came to power. The concept came from Japan, where Cup Ramen has none of the slobby connotations of its British cousin. For a while we were confused. Pot Noodle seemed to belong to an earlier era of space-age, dehydrated food (Vesta curries, Smash), while embracing a new trend for "pit-stop dining". Since it had similar rivals, such as Knorr's Knoodles and Batchelors Snackpots, it took some time to enter the national psyche as a mythically naff snack.

By 1988, however, the writer Philip Norman was complaining about "the patriotism which, after Pot Noodles, must rank as the Eighties' great synthetic triumph". Early Pot Noodle commercials were defensive - it was always tastier and more sophisticated than you imagined.

In 1993, the second age began when Pot Noodle moved its advertising account to HHCL, which produced a dozen years of postmodern campaigns. Terry, a nerdy, camcorder-carrying Welshman, asked: "How can Pot Noodle be faffy food? It's too gorgeous." Real Pot Noodle-eating men got into fights with weedy men in T-shirts emblazoned with "Rocket" and "Brown Rice". These campaigns were aimed at young consumers who were irony-literate but felt excluded from middle-class, metropolitan cuisine. They came at the same time as the core ingredient of Pot Noodle was moving upmarket, with the arrival of trendy noodle-bar chains such as Wagamama.

The problem with all this "constructive negativity", as advertisers like to call it, was that there was only one way to go: downmarket. Pot Noodle campaigns became more extreme. Only a year ago, men with bulges in their trousers were admitting to having "the Pot Noodle horn".

Now the third age has begun. According to the new ads, Pot Noodle is part of our heritage and even of the earth itself.

But none of this seems to make any difference, as Pot Noodle sales have remained remarkably consistent over the years. In a recent survey for Marketing magazine, Pot Noodle was voted Britain's most hated brand, yet a quarter of the population has bought a Pot Noodle in the past year. As Joanna Blythman shows in her recent book Bad Food Britain, the nation's so-called "foodie culture" is a Potemkin village - a beautiful edifice of farmers' markets and gastropubs, behind which we are all stuffing ourselves with microwaveable chips and pot snacks.

Some clichés are true: the main consumers of Pot Noodles are teenagers and students. On a recent residential weekend with my students, I was given the task of buying the food. When I arrived loaded with shopping bags, the students castigated me for not buying any Pot Noodles. They were stranded in a remote part of the Lleyn Peninsula without their staple food. They persuaded me to drive to the nearest garage to buy some, and there I was confronted by a phenomenon I had never noticed before: a themed shelf full of Pot Noodles, in subtly different shades, like a Rothko painting. There was even a hot-water dispenser for people who could not wait to get to a kettle.

The world since 1979 has changed totally beyond recognition. But some things in life remain the same: death, taxes, and Pot Noodle.

Joe Moran lectures at Liverpool John Moores University

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

It's time for the government to think again about Hinkley Point

The government's new nuclear power station is a white elephant that we simply don't need.

Today I will welcome Denis Baupin, Vice President of the French Assembly, to Hinkley.

His own choice to come and visit the site of the proposed new nuclear power station reflects his strong desire to prevent the UK disappearing up a dangerous dark alley in terms of energy policy. It also takes place as France takes a totally different path, with the French government recently adopting a law which will reduce nuclear energy in the country.

Greens have opposed Hinkley ever since the government announced its nuclear strategy. Hinkley, with its state aid and an agreed strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, has always been financially and legally suspect but it is now reaching the level of farce. So much so that George Osborne is required to be economical with the truth in front of a House of Lords committee because he cannot find anything honest to say about why this is a good deal for the British people.

Mr Baupin and I will join hundreds of protestors – and a white elephant – to stand in solidarity against this terrible project. The demonstration is taking place under a banner of the triple risks of Hinkley. 

First, there are the safety and technological risks. It is clear that the Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) – the design proposed for Hinkley C – simply does not work. France’s nuclear safety watchdog has found multiple malfunctioning valves that could cause meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US.  The steel reactor vessel, which houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity, was also found to have serious anomalies that increase the risk of it cracking. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the problems experienced by the EPR reactors being built at Flammanvile in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have pushed the projects years behind schedule.

Secondly, Hinkley poses risks to our energy security. Hinkley is supposed to produce 7% of the UK's energy. But we now know there will be no electricity from the new nuclear plant until at least 2023. This makes power blackouts over the next decade increasingly likely and the only way to avoid them is to rapidly invest in renewable energy, particularly onshore wind. Earlier this week Bloomberg produced a report showing that onshore wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in both the UK and Germany. But instead of supporting onshore wind this government is undermining it by attacking subsidies to renewables and destroying jobs in the sector. 

Thirdly, there is the risk of Chinese finance. In a globalised world we are expected to consider the option of allowing foreign companies and governments to control our essential infrastructure. But it is clear that in bequeathing our infrastructure we lose the political control that strengthens our security. The Chinese companies who will be part of the deal are part owned by the Chinese government and therefore controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. What a toppy-turvy world globalisation has created, where our Conservative British government is inviting the Chinese Communist party to control our energy infrastructure. It also seems that China National Nuclear Company is responsible for the manufacture of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Of course it is the Chinese people who suffer most, being at the hands of an oppressive government and uncontrolled companies which show little respect for employment rights or environmental standards. By offering money to such companies from British consumers through their energy bills our government is forcing us to collude in the low human rights and environmental standards seen in China.  

Research I commissioned earlier this year concluded we can transform the South West, not with nuclear, but with renewables. We can generate 100 per cent of our energy needs from renewables within the next 20-30 years and create 122,000 new quality jobs and boost the regional economy by over £4bn a year.

The white elephant of Hinkley looks increasingly shaky on its feet. Only the government’s deeply risky ideological crusade against renewables and in favour of nuclear keeps it standing. It’s time for it to fall and for communities in the South West to create in its place a renewable energy revolution, which will lead to our own Western Powerhouse. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.