Are Gen Z right, is the full English breakfast toast?

Classic fry-up has lost its sizzle among younger diners but, as a millennial, I'm with the boomers

Full English breakfasts traditionally include eggs, sausages, bacon, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and a hot tea. Getty Images
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Right, that’s it. Enough is enough, Gen Z. The unrestricted annihilation of what were once morning rituals has to stop.

Tuning out of breakfast radio or “quiet” quitting were bad enough – but there’s no way a full English breakfast is toast. According to a survey of 1,000 people in the UK, 20 per cent have a full English (or one of its variants across the nation, with each country having a unique take) every few months, while 10 per cent never have one. Survey participants were aged 18 to 34, meaning roughly a half consisted of millennials, with the other being Gen Z.

But that can’t be right, because every 30-something I know goes through fry-ups with the same vigour as the sausage-inhaling green poltergeist in Ghostbusters. That leaves Gen Z – the healthy-snack-obsessed, climate-conscious, wholesome-living generation – as my main suspects.

Of those surveyed, 37 per cent said they did not eat a full English – which typically includes sausages, bacon, eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and tea – because of the calorie count, while a similar number believe the dish is too greasy and the rest think they take too long to prepare. The study found 89 per cent suffer “food guilt” after eating one.

Stick it in an air fryer if you want to gentrify it, but don’t turn your back on a fry-up entirely

Food guilt? Does anyone actually know the nutritional value of a vegan sausage once the soybeans – grown all the way in what was once the untouched Amazon rainforest – are punched and pulverised, marinated in salt and E numbers and vacuum-sealed to ship halfway around the world? Because I don't. At least meat sausages have natural ingredients, you know, tails and all.

To the generation glued to their social feeds, taking digital detox breaks from Instagram just to sit on the sofa, clawing through the web for the next virtue-signalling fad everyone else is incandescent with rage about online – put your phone down. Cook a fry-up, eat it and go run around outside. There's no race to be “the most wholesome” waiting to ambush you in the analogue world.

'Still time to save the dish'

Lydia Baker of Breville, the company that conducted the study, said: “There’s still time to save the iconic dish. It’s a beloved institution for a reason. Social media has spread an endless number of accounts giving advice on what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to eat, with the humble fry-up often falling into the latter camp. But it’s perfectly possible to create a traditional fry-up that’s a little more guilt-free, and less hassle.”

Is that where we are going wrong, falling down too many rabbit food holes online courtesy of wellness bros? Well, according to Instagram, #cake has 132 million posts, #pizza has 71 million and #burger has 27.9 million. And #salad? Well, it's 25.8 million.

Anyway, fry-ups are supposed to be unhealthy; it’s in the name, for a start. Stick it in an air fryer if you want to gentrify it or if those guilty tears sting too much, but don’t turn your back on it entirely. Puffing on a green apple vape – not one of your five a day – won’t kick-start a health mission. But grilled tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms might.

There’s also plenty of protein to be found in the meat and eggs portion of the plate, and good carbs if you opt for brown or wholemeal toast. I’m also pretty sure our doctor recommended super-fibrous baked beans to my brother to help move things along after he swallowed a Lego man. Admittedly, that was in the 1990s …

And the best part about a fry-up is it’s each to their own. You can swap out the fried eggs for scrambled, tea for coffee, or mushrooms for more tomatoes. Go wild.

Me? I’m a staunch beans-for-bread swapper. Having been forced to eat beans as a child by my Italian grandmother, I promised myself, at age five, that I’d never eat them as a grown-up. So I don’t. As for her, she's still eating a full English at 90, upping the ante by frying her bread, no less.

The breakfast may have English in the name, but it has more tribute acts than a Las Vegas Elvis Presley convention. As well as my nonna's Italian riff, there’s an Irish version, with wholemeal toast swapped for soda bread, which looks like a breeze block. It goes down about the same.

Americans love theirs with a hash brown (an increasingly common sight on plates stateside, I’ll add) and pancakes. Canadians usually go the same route, though with lashings of maple syrup. The Argentinian dish gramajo scramble is basically the same components served over grated potato.

And you can also swap the bread for a tortilla, wrap it all up and, hey presto, that’s a Mexican “burrito” version – and no washing up. There are halal versions across the Middle East, vegetarian versions in India and everything-in-between versions in South-East Asia. I had smoked prawns and bok choy on the plate once in Vietnam, drowning in fish sauce instead of ketchup. It was a riot.

Want some advice? Lighten up

A fry-up is the king of breakfasts and is about as English as the royal family. The meal was a mainstay of greasy spoon cafes that, according to reports, are heading the same way as the dodo. A 2003 book titled Classic Cafes estimated a mere 500 were still going in the UK, down from about 2,000 in the 1950s.

People loved them back then, with no food guilt in sight. Good old boomers couldn’t get enough of them. And fish and chips. They didn't worry about it and obesity was a rare thing. In fact, obesity levels in the UK have risen by as much as 20 per cent since the 1960s. Ever seen a picture of your grandparents in that era? Exactly.

They could eat whatever they wanted because it was done in moderation, not consternation (and without Ozempic). Not like my fellow avocado-on-toast millennials or the fun’s-over follow-up act.

When it comes to whether or not today’s youth should eat a fry-up or worry about calories, I asked my artery-punishing gran for her advice. “Lighten up,” she said, rather ironically. Translation: stop fretting and live life to the full English.

Published: May 24, 2024, 7:19 AM