Joanna Blythman: Britain has gone daft for national ‘food days’
Days, weeks and even months are devoted to celebrating everything from pies to peas. But are they just a marketing ploy?
How busy is your food calendar? I don’t mean knowing what foods are in season when, but keeping abreast of the astonishing number of ‘food days’. On the traditional front, we’re all familiar with Shrove Tuesday and Burns Night, annual prompts to eat pancakes and haggis respectively, but what about National Hot Cross Bun Day (bizarrely held on 11 September, not Easter), British Yorkshire Pudding Day (the first Sunday in February), National Spinach Day (26 March or National Biscuit Day (29 May)?
Food days are a phenomenon that has spread from the US, where there aren’t enough days of the year to accommodate these would-be national institutions. You may think that such initiatives pass you by – although come to think of it, do you vaguely remember listening to a radio discussion or reading an article that mentions them? And when we escalate from food ‘days’ to ‘weeks’ and even ‘months’, you’d have to be very absorbed by other things not to register, even subliminally, events such as British Sandwich Week, British Pie Week, National Vegetarian Week and Veganuary, because the message behind them has even longer to sink into our consciousness. Add a hashtag – #NationalCreamTeaDay #Ginuary, #GBPW (Great British Pea Week) – and the concept gains traction on social media and trickles into our minds.
What’s the point of these food days, weeks and months? Most are driven by companies or trade bodies to promote awareness, and therefore sales, of their products; they are attempts to imbue products with the status of an iconic national institution in the consumer's mind. I’m tempted to inaugurate my own ‘Nothing To Do With Food Today Day’ to mark the rapidly diminishing days left in the year not yet claimed by some company trying to sell us something.
Now you can take the view that such hackneyed marketing efforts are pretty lame. Consumers aren’t as passive as Pavlov’s dogs; we do have the capacity for independent thought. In the unlikely event that I became the PR supremo for some dynamic food company, I’d not be impressed by ad agency ‘creatives’ who could come up with nothing more original than this ubiquitous marketing strategy. But perhaps I’m being naive. However naff these food days might be on paper, they could be more effective in shaping our shopping and eating behaviour than they might initially seem.
Editors face the daunting task of coming up with a constant stream of good ideas that appear to have some current relevance. And there’s nothing more comforting for them than to see the news diary filling up with potential food stories throughout the year, so annual events with catchy names tick that box.
Covering such a story is also easy and cheap because the companies and organisations pushing the concept can be relied on to put up free ‘experts’ who will fill up airtime and column inches.
So clock the ‘revelatory’ headlines prompted by these annual days by all means, but don’t feel they deserve a diary entry. Just see them for what they are: disguised advertising.
The world's most random food days:
- Bloody Mary Day (1 January)
- World Tripe Day (24 October)
- Roast Dinner Day (14 November)
- Gummi Worm Day (15 July)
- National Chocolate Milkshake Day (12 September)
- Liquorice Day (12 April)
- International Hummus Day (13 May)
- International Coq au Vin Day (29 May)
- Chocolate Chip Day (15 May)
- National Pizza with Everything (Except Anchovies) Day (12 November)
- National Roast Pheasant Day (15 October)
- Popcorn Lover’s Day (14 March)
- World Porridge Day (10 October)
Read more articles by Joanna Blythman...
Wonky veg isn't second best
Cheap processed food comes at a high cost
A sandwich is not a proper meal
Can no-death meat replace the real thing?
Enough with the supersized sweets
Stand up for British seasonal fruit and veg
Stop giving children choices at mealtimes
Will the coffee bubble ever burst?
Good Food contributing editor Joanna is an award-winning journalist who has written about food for 25 years. She is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4.