This piece also appeared in The Guardian's Word of Mouth food blog.
When civilisation has disintegrated entirely, and the fruitful fields of England, the African savannah, the great plains of the United States and the undulating steppes of Eurasia are all laid waste by flame and war – the remnant of humanity will stand up, dust itself down and ask the question: Where did it all go wrong?
And I could answer. Pinpoint the moment we'd gone too far. The beginning of the end, the first unwavering step towards annihilation.
It was the Happy Boiled Egg.
Yes. Some company has hard-boiled an egg, flayed its shell and stuck it in plastic. Does anything else so epitomise the indolent sloth, the splattered-shirted, fat-arsed torpor of modern living? The manufacturer claims this abomination is designed for people who 'don't have the time or knack to prepare a boiled egg'.
Who are these hard-pressed halfwits? There's no 'knack' to boiling an egg: you only need a watch. And it takes less time (and is usually easier) than having a shower, getting dressed or copulation, and you wouldn't believe someone who told you they didn't have the 'time or knack' to do those.
Eggs are the ur-ingredient. Cooking isn't cooking without them. To a chef, nothing is more vital (a word, like eggs themselves, that embraces life). A puffed and bubbled soufflé, sunset strips of fresh fettucine, the crisp fudge of a meringue - eggs hold the magic molecules of gastronomy. If we shut the kitchen door on the humble boiled egg, we lose one of cookery's most critical rites of passage.
Some years ago, Delia Smith posed for the cover of the Complete Cookery Course clutching a single egg and gazing - with a hint of naughtiness, if we're honest - down the Vaselined lens. Her point is as clear today as it was then: you can't make a cook without breaking eggs. If we're to do anything about obesity in this country, and save our streets from seas of wobbling, nyloned buttocks, we must coax people into the kitchen. Cooking can be a fulfilling joy, but the Happy Boiled Egg would mire us in culinary poverty. It would keep us down. It is a Bourbon of a product.
In the spirit of doughty adventure, I readied myself to try one of these things. But they're not in the shops yet, and neither the company responsible nor their PR agents (and what a gig they got) could or would send any out to me, despite a couple of days of waiting – which hardly suggests a surfeit of confidence. Still, even if – by some miracle – the Happy Boiled Egg had turned out to be in any way edible, it remains a weepingly ridiculous, hysterically contemptible idea.
Today, I hatch the Boil Your Own movement. Join me. Stand up for patience, decency, craft and civilisation. Fight for the yolk of yore, the albumen of Albion. Boil an egg, put it in your child's lunchbox, or in a salad, or go to work on it. Because if you don't act now, my friends, the consequences will be serious. Sure as eggs is eggs.