Heather's Monthly Articles
Fish and Chips, preferably in paper
March 2014

First they ban newspapers and now it looks like plain paper is also under attack. When The New York Times predicted in 1975 the advent of "A Paperless Office" the optimum word was "office".

At no time was it ever implied that society would welcome a paperless fish and chip shop. But that's exactly what's being proposed by the Liverpool City Council to prevent customers from dropping used paper in the street.

The council's "Enterprise Chief", Nick Small, has requested that "all businesses with pavement cafes to start issuing plates and cutlery voluntarily." What?! You can't eat fish and chips outside on a plate! And what's with the "cutlery"?! The simple two-pronged wooden fork is as traditional a utensil in the U.K. as chopsticks are in East Asia.

The proposed ruling apparently does not apply to fish and chips you might purchase to take home, where it's probably assumed you'll be emptying the package onto a plate. Do they not realize that part of the pleasure of fish and chip night is not having to do the dishes? And what if you decide to consume the contents of the neatly wrapped package before reaching your destination? Given the fact that Britain has one CCTV camera for every 11 people there's a good chance you'll be spotted and reported to Mr. Small.

Fish and chip shops have been around long before the word take-out, or as they say in Britain "takeaway", was invented. Chips got their start in Belgium when in the 1680s, after the Meuse River froze during winter, resourceful housewives fried fish shaped pieces of potatoes and served them up in place of fish. A hundred and fifty years later they had become the imported staple of the impoverished Londoner's diet.

The first "chippie" was opened around 1860 in London's East End by young Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin. To supplement his family's income, the enterprising 13-year-old began frying chips at home and marrying them with fish from a local fried fish shop, which he then hawked in the streets. Most likely from a tray hung around his neck. Eventually he opened up his own shop, which stayed in the Malin family for over a hundred years, before closing down in the early 1970s.

Many dispute the fact that something so profoundly British could have been invented by a "foreigner". Instead they contend that John Lees was the first to combine and sell fish and chips in 1863 out of a wooden hut at a market in Mossley; a small town in Lancashire. Regardless of their origins, fish and chip shops proved popular and by the 1930's the number of shops totaled 35,000. Fish and chips were so interwoven into the British way of life that during World War II they became one of the few foods not to be rationed.

To keep prices down - and to keep the food warm - portions were wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thick layer of newspaper. An added immune building element, for which there was no charge, was provided by the spittle that went onto the server's forefinger as they peeled off the sheet of greaseproof paper. This was a practice that lasted until the 1980s when it was deemed unsafe -- the newspaper that is, not the spittle. The fear of the newspaper ink coming into contact with the food lead to it being replaced by plain unprinted paper. No word yet as to the health risks caused by spittle.

The number of fish and chip shops in the UK has dropped off a lot since the 1930s. Currently there are about 11,000, but reports show that the industry is experiencing a revival. Curries are out. Cod is in. At least for the time being. Should Liverpool City Council implement their ban on paper though, the idea might catch on and lead to a downward trend in the number of places you can eat your fish and chips outside without a plate. Let's just hope that what happens in Liverpool stays in Liverpool. In the meantime, make mine a cod and chips with mushy peas, but kindly hold the plate - and the spittle!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

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