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15 February 2023

The surprising delights of monotonous meals

For an entire university term I lunched on jacket potatoes with beans and cheese, as why change a winning formula?

By Felicity Cloake

During William and Dorothy’s Wordsworth’s years of “plain living and high thinking” at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Cumbria, they ate porridge twice a day – or so hungry house guests complained.

Presumably oats made up both breakfast and the smaller of the subsequent two repasts, because these are meals at which monotony is not only acceptable, but, for many, desirable. I once lunched on jacket potatoes with beans and cheese for an entire university term because there seemed no good reason to change a winning formula.

This lack of imagination not only gives me something in common with the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, who is said to eat the same chicken caesar and bacon baguette every lunchtime, but many of the respondents to my nosy tweet on the subject.

My friend Elaine claims a woman in her office ate “tinned mackerel and sliced, raw, white cabbage salad… for lunch, every day for six years” adding, “the smell was appalling”.

Someone else admits his record is three months, “and I always have the same breakfast on weekdays”. For most, such repetition is about saving money or time – batch cooking makes economic sense, plus “it’s quicker not having to think”, as another reply puts it.

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Yet dinner is a different matter; a large number of people said they’d never repeat a meal in the same week. That’s surprising to me: when recipe testing, I can happily exist on the same dish for days on end.

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A friend who works in a hotel’s Michelin-star kitchen was incredulous recently when guests ordered the tasting menu two nights in a row – but why, I said, if they liked it so much the first time, wouldn’t they want to eat it again?

“It’s £190 per person for a start,” she replied. Even I had to concede that was a pretty strong argument.

[See also: The science behind why we always pick the same meal deal]

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This article appears in the 15 Feb 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Why the right is losing everywhere