The offcuts conspiracy: from sausages to sweets, are we all just eating discarded scraps?

An acquaintance is convinced that almost every product in the shops is the detritus of some elite product we can’t afford. Could they be right?

I’m not allowed to write about my mother any more, in case she has enough and decides to protest against the injustice of 25 years of me doing it. It’s a risk, I guess. There comes a point in most people’s lives when they wake up thinking their neighbour has stolen their paying-in book. This would be like that, except true: I have been stealing her best material for a quarter of a century.

Anyway, someone else I know from the prewar generation – born before 1945 – has a new conspiracy theory. (Gen prewar is different from boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – even though society tends not to distinguish between one pensioner and another, which happens either because society is ageist or because boomers are greedy and want the category to themselves. But we can discuss that another time.)

Gen prewar have different concerns, chief among them being that whatever they are consuming at any given moment is made from the factory-floor offcuts of some other, unnamed product. So, my prewar acquaintance has recently switched from Fruit Pastilles to Randoms and is now convinced that her confection of choice is made from bits of sweets left over in the manufacture of other, better sweets. That is why they are called Randoms.

I should probably just roll over to the proposition, as I was in the habit of stealing her sweets and I preferred Fruit Pastilles. But I’m reminded of the time she told me that sausages were made from the residue of other meat processing and were mainly spine and eyeball. “How come they’re so delicious, then?” I demanded to know. “If spine and eyeball are this delicious, why aren’t we eating them on their own?”

Someone else I know thinks teabags are made from the floor sweepings of another, superior tea process. Anthony Burgess once described the sad, sad smell of “cheap gaspers [cigarettes] made of floorsweepings, floors swept with the aid of damp tea leaves”.

This generation’s conception of the industrial process – for everything – is wild: factory workers wading around knee-deep in the detritus of some product that only elites can buy, while the rest of us mindlessly consume something we think is scotch egg but is actually two parts hoof, one part tea and a ball bearing left over from a car.

It left some scars, the second world war, is all I’m saying. Even for people who experienced it as babies.

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A year of emotional eating? Don’t feel guilty. We need comfort, not ketosis | Emma Beddington
Many of us will leave lockdown a few pounds heavier than we started it, but there is no shame in finding pleasure in food, writes Emma Beddington

Emma Beddington

05, Apr, 2021 @11:42 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: ‘I won MasterChef – and finally learned to believe in myself’
Life as a retired banker bored Irini Tzortzoglou, so she decided to enter MasterChef. She trained hard, won the competition and now works as a chef, writer and public speaker

Emine Saner

18, Apr, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: catatonic depression left me unable to walk or talk. Now I teach cookery – with laughter
In her 50s, Zeenat Fayyaz lost three years of her life to a breakdown. Her recovery began with electroconvulsive therapy – and continues with the classes she runs at a community cafe

Emine Saner

07, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
What I learned about Russia and sanctions from eating cheese with an oligarch | Zoe Williams
The restaurant empire of the Russian billionaire Arkadiy Novikov taught me that you should always pay attention to how rich people are spending their money, writes Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

28, Feb, 2022 @1:52 PM

Article image
I do love getting older. Here are five infuriating reasons why
A new scientific study has revealed what we all knew, deep down – you can’t stop the ageing process. But it does come with some serious benefits

Emma Beddington

22, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘Accidental meat’: should carnivores embrace eating roadkill?
My parents have been eating pheasants killed on the roads for years and encouraging me to try them. Is this the most ethical approach to meat-eating?

Daniel Lavelle

27, May, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
The young fall over, older people ‘have a fall’ - and my stepmother is none too happy about it | Zoe Williams
She broke both her knees after tripping on her way back from the shops. But it is the terminology that is really getting her down, writes Guardian columnist Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

14, Jun, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Should I worry about eating too many takeaways?
We all know they tend to be full of salt, sugar and additives – but when does an occasional treat become an unhealthy habit? We separate the fat from the fiction

Joel Snape

21, May, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
We’re told not to bottle up bad experiences – but a stiff upper lip can be for the best | Adrian Chiles
As an inveterate over-sharer, I learned a lesson this week from a former army nurse. Perhaps airing our worst moments gives them too much space to grow, writes Adrian Chiles

Adrian Chiles

30, Sep, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
If plants are so intelligent, should we stop eating them? | Emma Beddington
Recent research suggests plants may be able to learn and communicate. This really put me off my baked potato, writes Emma Beddington

Emma Beddington

16, Jan, 2023 @7:00 AM