|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
Across the developed world, people are enjoying better food than the world has ever known. Regardless of where you live, how you live, and almost regardless of your income, you are able to access the recipes and ingredients for anything you could possibly imagine.
Some are inspired by Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, some by friends or family, and some just love cooking entirely for what it is. Whatever the reason, we live in an age where dinner at a friend’s house may well feature a perfect pasta puttanesca, delicious Finnish pastries or a classic reindeer stew.
What this does not explain is why so many people live off Kotipizza, turnip casserole and McDonalds.
For although 10 per cent of the population eat better food than anyone could possibly have imagined 30 years ago; the other 90 per cent of the population eat worse. Worse in terms of nutrition, of value for money, and particularly in terms of flavour.
This does not only apply to food. Ten percent of the people in the Western world are more highly educated than any generation in history. For the first time, many of us can study in whatever country we feel suits us best, in whatever language, city or faculty we choose. There are no longer barriers to education.
And yet a visit to any discussion forum reveals that even greater number of people exist in a haze of poor literacy, ignorance and prejudice. This is perhaps particularly true in the US, where knowledge of geography, politics and grammar seem to be in a perpetual tailspin.
Income is not the issue here. Takeaway food is almost always more expensive than homemade. Nor is it about class, at least not in Finland, where education is available to everyone, anywhere, always.
Society seems to be dividing along lines less defined by class or income than by parenting. Many Finnish children are lucky enough to grow up in humble homes in which they are taught to read, think, cook and perhaps most importantly, to imagine.
Next door to them live middle class families in which very little knowledge is passed from one generation to the next. Too many children leave home at age 20 unable to wash their own clothes, let alone produce a basic meal or change a set of winter tyres.
Children are growing up in homes where reading is not encouraged, and where an enthusiastic interest in anything at all, be it fashion, poetry, yoga or architecture, may not be welcomed as much as ridiculed or ignored. Worse, parents are not always teaching their children the skills and traditions that they were raised with.
This is a global trend, but one that surprises me less in cultures that have long been divided by class, as in Britain, or by income, as in the US. In Finland, parents do not have the same excuses. While Finnish schools remain as good as any in the world, it may be Finnish parenting that needs to do better.