A rant: an appeal for the ordinary

Hi Everyone, I am all for creating new tastes and flavours. And I am all for convenience, but I draw the line when things have reached a stage where I am being told, “We no longer stock (insert the name of an item) in that plain form. We only carry it in the flavours you see on the shelves.”

On this occasion, the item in question was a can of tuna. You see, I wanted to make a tuna sandwich (something that’s a rarity for me for I am not a fan of tuna but I just felt like having a tuna sandwich). So off I went to my regular supermarket confident that I could pick up a can of chunk tuna in oil. The shelves were fully stocked with various brands and varieties. I found the section of the shelf with the brand I was looking for; I stepped back to get a better view and let my eyes follow the rows of cans seeking out the one I wanted.

What a trip it was. I saw light tuna, flaked tuna, fillet tuna, steak tuna, tuna in water, tuna with chilli, tuna in vegetable broth, tuna in olive oil… I reached to the end of the shelf of my preferred brand and though I saw chunk tuna, there was no chunk tuna in oil, plain chunk tuna in oil, not Olive oil, not flaked in oil – chunk tuna in oil. Frustrated, I decided to check the entire section of the isle with tuna, going through all the brands just looking for a can of chunk tuna in oil. Nada, nothing, no chunk tuna in oil. I could not believe it. Sure that I had missed it, I started from one end of the isle to the other, going through each shelf and running my hand along the cans as I went by. When I reached the end with no luck, I went in search of the manager to find out if they were out of stock only to be told that they only carry the flavoured varieties on the shelf. Unbelievable. I checked another popular supermarket, no luck. I eventually found a can at another supermarket, raced home to make my sandwich only to open the can and find flaked tuna in oil! I was so vexed with myself. I swore that in my haste I picked up the can because it presumably said chunk tuna in oil. Clearly I did not look properly at the label. Guess what? The label said chunk tuna in oil but inside it was flaked tuna in oil!

A chunk of canned tuna. (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

The thing is that this flavour-frenzy does stop at canned tuna. Try finding a regular can of sardines – in water, oil or tomato sauce. No, that is too ordinary. You’ll find sardines in mustard, jerk sardines, sardines with chillies, sardines in Olive oil, sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce and spiced sardines. As I’ve said before, I am not in any way opposed to new flavourings for food, but is it too much to ask for a regular can of sardines in oil, or water, if that’s your thing?

Canned tomatoes is another item that has moved beyond the realms of being whole, diced, chopped or stewed, these days you have to search the shelves carefully, if not you can end up picking up a can tomatoes with garlic, in olive oil, with basil, with oregano, with garlic and basil, fire-roasted or with chillies.

Oh, and have you seen what has happened to a good ole bottle of Smirnoff Vodka? On another occasion, I went in search of a bottle of vodka to make the much-talked-about foolproof piecrust made with equal parts of water and vodka. I had to pass the black cherry, blueberry, citrus, cranberry, green apple, lime, orange, raspberry and strawberry flavoured vodka before I found a plain bottle of vodka tucked away at the back of the shelf.

My mom loves coffee creamer and I am always sending it for her. The other day, I went to get some and I could not find the original. They had, Amaretto, Cinnamon Bun, Irish cream, Vanilla Caramel, Hazelnut, French Vanilla, Coconut Crème and Toffee Nut to name a few. But no original. It is maddening I tell you.

You know what the worse part of this whole flavour fever is? When you buy many of these items and think that you are going to get the flavour you want, you don’t! It is often muted and you have to bump it up with more – more chillies, more garlic, more mustard, more basil, more… It is just annoying and frustrating. Instead of paying more money, let me buy the ordinary item and flavour and spice it the way I want to. Help me to be creative.

Yes, we all like short cuts, yes we all like help in the kitchen, some of us need it more than others, but let’s not neglect the ordinary that provided a platform for the extraordinary to be created. There is a still and will always be a place for both.




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