London — It was a Frenchman who suggested that the best way to survive English cooking was to eat breakfast three times a day. But there is bad news for those who consider the British breakfast to be an oasis of delight in an otherwise featureless culinary desert: It is well and truly in decline.
To secure a morning meal that sports the full trappings of porridge, kippers, eggs, sausages, bacons, mountains of toast with marmalade, and tea, one is wise to quit southern England altogether and head north.
There are two threats to the English breakfast: the continental penchant for getting by with a crust of bread and a cup of coffee, and a more insidious assault by items of food popular in other countries.
Continental breakfast is now standard in most London hotels, and to move beyond it the visitor must be prepared to press hard and pay up. To make bacon rashers, fried eggs, and "bangers" appear on the breakfast table you may add L2 or L3 to the bill.
But this development is less devastating than the intrusion of foreign foods. Muesli from Switzerland, yogurt from Poland, croissants from France, orange juice from California -- all are now commonly found being consumed by Britons who formerly preferred their own breakfast fare.
Sainsburys, one of the large food chains, has released statistics strongly suggesting that the British breakfast may be on the way out.
Twenty years ago, half of Britain began the day with a cooked breakfast. Now the figure is 18 percent, and falling.
Cereal is making startling inroads into the breakfast habits of the nation. Nowadays 40 percent have cereal at breakfast -- well over double what it was two decades ago.
According to the statistics, one-quarter of the population make do with a bread roll or piece of toast each morning. One Briton in five has no breakfast at all.
Why is the English breakfast losing ground? Part of the reason is the pace of life. Commuters are reluctant to spend time preparing a cooked meal before they head for buses and trains.
But many people have switched from manual jobs and entered service industries that do not require them to burn up large quantities of calories. They simply do not need the solid fuel that a cooked English breakfast provides.
To track down a breakfast with all the trimmings you must head to the cities and counties of the north, where tradition holds fast. Places like York, leeds, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen still offer breakfasts fit for real people.
But if you do manage to find a morning meal that meets traditional standards, don't shout the word "traditional" too loudly. It seems that the genuine English breakfast became common as recently as the 1920s. Before that, many Britons ate quite sparingly -- just as they are beginning to do again today.