Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Very Mean Numbers

I have a theory that if you make a statement and attach a number to it, some people will be impressed, , even if the numbers really aren't impressive, simply because you've taken the time to make the statement.

Or, to put it another way, people think that if it's worth mentioning, it must be worth mentioning, even when it isn't. If that makes sense?

This blog gets over *100* visitors EVERY SINGLE DAY!

See what I did there? It's true, it has a number in it, and it's made to sound impressive even though it really isn't.

But I guarantee there'll be someone somewhere not even reading this sentence properly because a part of their brain is still going 'ooh, hundred visitors, eh, that's not bad, is it? Bully for him'

Let's try and send a few more of you off into the realms of bemused agreement, shall we...

"Houses in this street go for upwards of £100,000!"

"Look at that bloke over there - he must be well over 5 foot tall!"

"You'll be generously remunerated with a five-figure salary package!"

All technically correct, yet all absolute wanky, misleading nonsense. Most of the time, you won't hear people extolling such modest virtues, because, well, it sounds ridiculous, but it happens a lot in the food and drink industry. Probably more than I'm comfortable with.

Look at all the cheap whiskies on an off-license shelf. 'Aged 8 years' they proudly proclaim, as though it's a mature old gentleman, in comparison to all those two and three year old whiskies out there.

'Seven whole days' (not one in seven, apparently...)
The truth is that - outside of the specialist market for young whisky, which isn't particularly cheap - you'd be hard-pressed to find a malt aged for fewer than eight years, and most Scotch will be blended from similar stuff. It's pretty much the lowest of low end. The youngest of the young.

You can see why an 18- or 25-year-old malt would want to proclaim its age, in order to distinguish it from the 8s, but the selling point of whisky is almost always age, not youth, so why do they do it with the youngest ones?

Greene King's ad campaign for Abbot Ale used to boast of how the beer was matured for 'seven whole days' and I have no doubt that there were some Abbot drinkers who considered this a very long time simply because they'd been told about it. To put it into a more realistic perspective, Cantillon in Brussels typically mature their beer for a year to 18 months and often quite a lot longer than this. A week is fuck-all.

Damning with faint hyperbole. Shouting about modest numbers. Unshrinking Violet Theory. This thing really should have an official name.

I have a beef

It's the same deal with 14-day aged steak, a familiar sight on pub menus. Imagine that! A whole fortnight! How impressed we all are...

Except that 14 days is pretty much the minimum maturation period for any cut of beef marketed as 'steak'. 35- and 50- day aged steak is not hard to find, and you can get stupid beef that's been hung for three months or so, though experiments show that peak taste is achieved at around 45.

Back to the supermarket, let's have a look at the packaging for ready meals:

'Be good to yourself' Lasagne - only 397 calories!!! 

 Buyers will think that's a low calorie count because the packaging proclaims it. Yet, a couple of items downstream towards the frozen aisle, there's a different lasagne ready meal, rather understated and not branded as lo-calorie that has a calorie count of 394. Fractionally lower than the diet version.

I don't know what we can do to stop this phenomenon, after all, they're essentially telling the truth, which, in advertising, is a feat in itself.

I just wish people would be less gullible and look at the numbers in context rather than isolation.

After all, we're always told that just because someone says something, it doesn't make it true. How about 'just because someone says something that is true, it doesn't make it impressive'?