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Adventures in Aldi-land

Emancipation, disappointment, and the meaning of life

Cambridge food Lectures shopping university University of Cambridge

With the idyllic age of free donuts and brunches officially at an end, I have finally (and somewhat reluctantly) taken the courageous leap from the safe haven of happiness that is Medwards' Dome into the treacherous seas of Aldi's canned peas, an experience which has been liberating, disappointing, and life-affirming all at once.

Am I reading too much into an average food shop? Probably. But I needed subject material for a column, so here we are.

Being let loose in a supermarket

For some, the freedom of university means the ability to stay out until the early hours of the morning, for others it's the freedom to keep as a bed companion whomever one pleases. For me, on the other hand, it means liberation from the shackles of the familial weekly shop.

Gone are the days of having to trot at my parents’ heels in the supermarket, begging them to invest in the long ribbons of joy that are spaghetti (a pasta shape highly underrated in the Christenson household). Now I can simply snatch them from the shelves and boil my own scrumptious strands of delight.

Equally, I’m no longer subject to the usual seasonal constraints. I’m utterly free to hurl hot cross buns into the trolley, and pinch the chocolate coins that pose tantalisingly by the tills.

Spaghetti: happiness in a bowl

To bagel or not to bagel?

However, the transition from petis pois to grey textureless peas from a can has been a rather unsettling one. So after a severe lapse in organisation forced me to write a full essay in under an hour last week, I decided to creep surreptitiously into Sainsbury's and buy a large bundle of New York bagels in order to commence a system of rewards whereby, for each stressful ordeal I get through without tossing someone out of a window (I’m never short of contenders), I am allowed a celebratory bagel.

The results of this experiment have been somewhat mixed, so I’ve constructed a short list of pros and cons, in case anyone else is contemplating taking this step.

The humble bagel: what dreams are made of

Con: Buying bagels of the chubby, fluffy, heavenly New York variety means that said bagels are in fact too chubby, fluffy, and heavenly to be squashed into toasters. (What ever happened to embracing all body types? Now I have to put Meghan Trainor on to console the forlorn bagel as it's being toasted.)

Pro: If one does succeed in exerting enough muscle power to smash, squeeze and scrunch the bagel in, a dramatic flash of green light will burst forth as it's toasting, to the amusement of all fellow lunch-makers.

Con: In trying to retrieve the toasted bagel after smashing, squeezing, and scrunching it in, the scorching of all fingers is utterly unavoidable.

Pro: By the time I leave Cambridge and find myself – naturally – tortured for information by the secret service (how else will they get access to my Waterstones Rewards card?), not even a hot iron will intimidate me because after getting bagels in and out of an undersized toaster for three years, I can guarantee I won't feel a thing.

Con: When establishing a rewards system based entirely upon bagels, one inevitably eats too many, to the extent where one worries one might have become a human bagel.

Pro: The consequent weight gain from the excessive consumption of bagels is a convenient visual benchmark, from which to measure how much work has been done.

However, as any fellow bagel-fan will know, the inner conflict of "to bagel or not to bagel" is immediately resolved when your teeth first cut through the crispy top of a freshly buttered bagel and then sink into the squidginess below, which incidentally brings me onto my fleeting moment of soul-searching.

Discovering the meaning of life

If I’ve learnt anything from three week's worth of history lectures, it is the importance of keeping people fed. Indeed, it seems all violent uprisings, although dressed up in the fancy clothing of democratic progress, boil down to a severe case of hangriness.

It even makes sense. At 10am, large clusters of tourists and students are only mildly infuriating. By 1pm, I’m quite prepared to run over any obstacle barring my way to a bowl of succulent spaghetti. Up with the pitchforks!

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Cambridge crowds: what dreams are *not* made of

In fact, I'm sure far more progress would be made in international peace talks if there were someone to provide freshly buttered bagels at regular intervals. And the same goes for negative feelings of any sort. After all, it's quite common knowledge that one bite really can turn that frown upside down.

In this way, I’ve discovered the meaning of life to be as many bagels as you can fit into it. I would love to call this a universal truth, but someone will inevitably become offended, so I’ll say instead: it’s certainly my truth, and I can't be the only one.