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2016: the year in food

Emily Beswick and Sam Purnell pick their five most unforgettable food moments

1. Bye bye Bake Off

This season of the Great British Bake Off was full of highs and lows, as viewers were simultaneously confronted with an amazing cohort of bakers and also the bitter news that this would be the last season to air on the BBC. This was an occasion for national mourning as we all watched the tragedy unfold—first Mel and Sue left and then Mary and we all knew it was the end of an era. Let’s face it, Paul was always the worst person on the show and has let us all down by staying with this knock-off, under-baked version.

Some highlights from the season include the unbelievably relaxed Selasi, who not only refused to panic when his bakes looked bleak but also formed perhaps the cutest friendship of the show with Benjamina, and Val’s touching goodbye that perfectly summed up both the season and the series as a whole. Although some are still holding out hope for the Channel Four version, for most of us the only leftovers are the original series reruns, the Christmas specials and the sweet memories of six years of the best-tasting TV show in recent memory.

2. Wasabi launches in Oxford

A story that unsurprisingly did not travel beyond the city boundaries, but was probably our local food moment of the year. Expecting an uneventful launch for the latest addition to Oxford’s extensive selection of moderately upmarket lunch places, students were left amazed at Wasabi’s ingenious publicity drive. For two glorious lunchtimes between 12 and 1, everything—yes, EVERYTHING—was free. It didn’t make a difference whether you chose a seaweed salad or chicken katsu curry, you didn’t even have to bother getting your purse out.

Inevitably, word spread like wildfire on group chats, Twitter and JCR Facebook pages, and the queue became quite a social meeting point. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the news that Leon would only offer a measly 10 per cent student discount at their launch a few weeks later was greeted with great disappointment.

3. Veggie Pret stays open – for the conceivable future

Although perhaps not of as much interest to vegetarians outside London (apologies), it was announced in September that the pop-up Veggie Pret in Broadwick Street would stay open—for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Pret’s vegetarian and vegan food in general improved across the board: a special mention must go to the vegan Christmas sandwich, which (whisper it) was much more flavoursome than the turkey one. Fingers crossed, Veggie Pret can go on to take over the country (and why not the world?) in 2017.

4. Food, Trump and Brexit

In a year of political convulsions, one unpredicted trend was the interaction between food and politics. Donald Trump’s son bizarrely compared Syrian refugees to Skittles sweets on Twitter; his father attempted to redeem previously offensive comments about Hispanic people by taking a selfie with a taco bowl. When Hillary Clinton revealed in an interview that she always carries hot sauce around with her, many drew parallels with a line in Beyoncé’s hit song ‘Formation’—#HotSauceBagSwag duly became a trend.

Meanwhile, the fallout to the second worst political event of 2016 featured a bitter dispute between Unilever and Tesco over the pricing of many food items. Unilever blamed their 10% price rise on the fall in sterling’s value after the vote for Brexit, while MPs accused the company of exploiting the referendum result. Regardless, ‘Marmitegate’ showed us the debate between ‘Bremainers’ and ‘Brexiters’ was far from over.

5. Shortages of ‘essential’ food items

Like many, we found out about the Great Avocado Shortage 2016 through memes and clickbait being shared on Facebook. Fortunately, it soon emerged that the problem was most acute in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, where signs informed the public that “No Cash or Avocados” were kept on shop premises for security reasons. A much more sobering issue for Britons was the Great Biscuit Shortage, caused by damage to the McVitie’s factory in the Cumbria floods. Custard creams, water biscuits, ginger nuts and, devastatingly, bourbons were all in short supply. By the end of 2016, however, many looked back in nostalgia to the biscuit shortage, which seemed reminiscent of a happier, more innocent time.

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