In general, Scrote thinks it is a mistake to try to buy too cheaply, even if you are fairly poor It is better to adopt a diet that contains more foods that are naturally cheap and less foods that are inherently expensive, but those that you buy should be good. If you can, buy real olive oil from Italy- so little is used in each meal that you can afford to. If you are going to eat meat, Scrote thinks you should buy free range meat if you can. Scrote says he personally can live with the animals being killed for food he finds torture and suffering more distressing than death. Finding half-healed broken bones in supermarket 'oven-ready' chickens was very upsetting, but it was finding a blood-streaked tumour that actually made him switch to free-range birds. Real food is safer, Scrote thinks. He says, use the less popular cuts and don't make expensive ingredients the main filler in the meal. Free range food often tastes a lot better anyway. Learn to be discerning.
Prepared foods come in anonymous, sanitised packets- they distance you from what actually went into making them. So long as they taste reasonably OK, you don't have to think about what actually happened to make them. You just eat the stuff and you don't enquire how it was produced. This means you can avoid any moral responsibility for what you eat. On the other hand the manufacturer can also avoid the moral responsibility- he says (for instance) that he has to pack hens in cages and fill them with antibiotics because this is what customers want. So- as long as you are prepared to buy chicken nuggets or whatever, you will go on eating adulterated rubbish made from ill and cruelly-treated animals. No-one will be responsible for anything, and anything, no matter how revolting, can and will be done in your name. You really do need to see the food made that you are eating, to see what goes into it, and to know what it took to make it.
Prepared foods are worthwhile to the manufacturer either if he can do something in the preparation much better than you can (because of his skills, his machinery or the scale of his operation) or if he can make something cheap appear similar to the real thing. The problem with prepared food is that generally you won't be able to tell which is the case by looking. The manufacturer has an awful lot of costs to cover apart from the ingredients, like the investment in his factory. Your skill and preparation costs you nothing, so how do you think the manufacturer is going to keep the price down?
Our instant coffee is "carefully blended from three different varieties" because two of them are much cheaper than the one that tastes nice. Our milk chocolate adulterated with vegetable oil and our icecream with no cream in it has somehow become, according to our newspapers, an inalienable British freedom and a right to be upheld against the perfidious interfering europeans. A famous burger chain's 'extra thick shake' was made with tallow (beef dripping to you and me) until the public got hold of this information. Margarine looks and tastes like vaseline until it has skimmed milk powder, yellow dye, emulsifier and the vitamins it lacks added to it. Cheap ham is just offcuts glued together with 'edible' gum, pressure-cooked with a water-absorbing chemical and sliced very, very thin.
Scrote reckons you should be particularly wary of cooked products containing minced meat. If you are lucky the meat pie may merely contain rather more textured soya protein than you bargained for. If you are unlucky then the meat may be real but from parts of the animal you wouldn't normally eat even if you were paid to. If you are very unlucky then the meat could have been condemned originally as unfit for human consumption, but then quietly re-sold instead of being destroyed. It has happened, apparently.
There are several good reasons for cultivating your local shops and being a discerning buyer. First of all, you surely do not want to be an undiscerning buyer? By trying different types of shops and comparing different foodstuffs you are developing your knowledge and taste and asserting yourself as an individual. Are all olive oils the same? If you get a teaspoon and conduct a blind tasting you will find the answer is, no. If everyone shops at the same supermarkets then we are all pretty well going to end up buying, eating and serving the same food. How is your food going to be interesting, if every one else buys exactly the same ingredients?
Secondly, there are many discoveries to be found by the diligent shopper. Near where Scrote lives there is a health food co-operative which supplies half the health food shops in the region. Scrote gets real Japanese shoyu there by the litre at a fraction of the price of supermarket soy sauce. When we were students together, Scrote & I discovered that the food-hall of the most expensive department store in town sold remarkably cheap bags of slightly foxed cheese-pieces and 'ends' of salami and ham, which we then industriously sorted back into the original, excellent varieties.
Genuine soya sauce is made from Soya, Water and Sea-salt. It may contain a little barley or wheat flour. Real soya sauce does not contain Sugar Caramel, Emulsifier, Colouring, Flavouring, Flavour Enhancer or anything with numbers in it, no matter what the manufacturer says. Real Prawn Crackers are made from Starch, Prawns & Salt. That's it. They do not contain Stabilisers, Flavouring, Anti-oxidants or anything else, ever.
Read the labels- they have to list the ingredients in order of weight by law. The packet has to give the weight, so you can compare prices of different sized packets if you take the trouble. Food has a sell by date so read it, and feel around the back of the shelf. Supermarkets put the oldest items at the front so they get used up, but you don't have to take them- you can take the freshest ones from the back.
For the most part additives are not there for your benefit, but the manufacturer's. First they put extra fat in to make the product taste richer, then they put in anti-oxidant so the fat won't go rancid. Scrote's personal view is that you should avoid anything that contains an ingredient that was not in common use before World War II if you can. Scrote knows it says 'edible gum' or whatever, but do they really know it's edible? or are they merely reasonably certain that it doesn't actually poison people immediately? Let someone else find out.
Real horseradish sauce is made from grated horseradish root, sugar, mustard, a little vinegar and plenty of fresh cream. Unfortunately raw grated horseradish discolours rapidly on exposure to air and fresh cream does not keep. So to prevent it turning into a brown mess before it even leaves the factory, commercial horseradish sauce is supplemented with grated turnip, stabilisers, anti-oxidant, titanium dioxide, guar gum and carrageen. (The titanium dioxide is to whiten it )
A reputable packet of savoury snack biscuits tells me that it contains "wheat flour, vegetable oil including hydrogenated vegetable oil, sugar, salt, glucose syrup and lecithin". They taste salty, but surprisingly rich. The ingredients tell us why- they have sugar in them, more sugar than salt and glucose syrup as well. Simply by reading the list of ingredients we can discover that they are actually a sweet pastry made from margarine with salt on top.