Apologies for any convenience caused


Posted by in March's Magazine

Ever alert to new developments in the world of grub, I was intrigued to read that Waitrose is about to take customer service to a new level with its pioneering “break into your house” facility. Using a cunning combination of smart locks, secret codes and blind faith, you’ll soon be able to grant your delivery driver access to your home, where they will unpack your shopping and pop it into the fridge or freezer, or wherever else you might decide to specify.

If this idea had come from any other supermarket, people might be understandably wary about the security implications. But this is Waitrose, whose staff would surely be less likely to ransack your home than to give it a quick hoover and stack the dishwasher for you. Nonetheless, for those who might have misgivings about allowing total strangers unfettered access to their worldly goods, the drivers will be fitted with body cameras and the footage of their visits posted to a secure site that only you and the Russian secret service will ever be able to view.

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Market research indicates that a surprisingly high proportion of us are happy to let random people into our homes as long as they leave sufficient goodies behind. After all, we’re happy enough with these arrangements for Santa Claus, so it’s only logical that Waitrose – an institution that seems to inspire similar levels of brand loyalty – should be granted the same degree of access.

The potential advantages of this ‘reverse burglary’ system are obvious. Gone is the need to wait around at home for a full hour either side of a lengthy and entirely fictitious delivery window, before eventually establishing that your shopping did in fact arrive bang on time, albeit to a similarly named street in São Paulo. And because the driver will dutifully unpack and put away your groceries for you, that should free up a good ten minutes for more productive pursuits such as reliving the entire visit over the internet. Admittedly, you’ll spend half a day prior to the delivery tidying the house and trying to cover up the human remains in the deep freeze, but you’d been meaning to get around to that in any case.

If I sound at all cynical about the merits of this system, it’s certainly not my intention. On the contrary, I’d say I’m marginally more likely to invest in smart lock technology than I was before, now that I’m aware of its existence. But it does strike me that in the information age we are increasingly being encouraged to buy into an illusion of convenience. Online shoe shopping allows us to find a pair of perfectly fitting boots after no more than a couple of hundred cycles of ordering, trying on, sighing and returning. And online food shopping saves us the time and hassle of trooping to the supermarket in person, and would be better still if it turned up at the right house on the right day, if the bananas and chicken we ordered didn’t arrive bright green, or if every order didn’t include at least one surreal substitution (‘we ran out of KitKats so we sent you an oven-ready ostrich’).

But the finest pseudo-time-saver on the web has to be the recipe box – a miraculous invention that combines the stress, unreliability and washing up of home cooking with the cost of a high end takeaway. The ingredients of your predetermined meal arrive in the appointed quantities, pre-chopped and vac-packed. All that remains is for you to cook it all exactly as directed, eat it, compare it favourably to a 1980s boil-in-the-bag curry and wonder why you can’t afford the rent this month.

One selling point of the recipe box is the absence of waste, unless you count all the non-recyclable plastic wrap that will rapidly work its way to the bottom of the ocean. And of course, if you’re presented with a near-complete meal that requires a minimum of intervention but still somehow manage to make a complete arse of it, you end up with all the expense and joylessness of the intended process, but with added hammer blows to your taste buds and self-esteem.

Reviews suggest that several of these boxes are thoughtfully created and (potentially) delicious. But if you’re in the habit of buying them regularly, I have to ask: what exactly is the point? If you can afford a recipe box, you can afford a well-chosen takeaway that will arrive at your house in exactly the same way, but with that bonus microsecond of unparalleled glee as you hear the doorbell and realise that in thirty seconds you’ll have your face in a lamb tikka biriyani. And when you do come to cook for yourself, perhaps it should be more than a means to an end. It can also bring economy, satisfaction, liberation and possibly even a little bit of joy. But since none of those are to be found in a recipe box, you’d better ask the Waitrose housebreaking team to bring you some proper ingredients instead. Or – whisper it quietly – you could even try visiting an actual shop.

Twitter: @norecipeman

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