I HAVE been bombarded by M&S Christmas adverts since mid-November on Twitter. “This is not just party food, this is M&S party food”. Party? What party? We’re used to being treated like prison inmates, permitted occasional privileges by our jailers in return for good behaviour but, last time I heard, Covid restrictions had put paid to parties.

Yet it’s still Party Central at M&S HQ.

Twitter’s algorithm, exposing the limits of artificial intelligence, has decided that I’m a likely customer for this stuff: I am not.

It’s not just M&S’s habitual, self-pleased assertion that its food is a cut above other supermarkets that sticks in my gullet. As someone who has researched the minutiae of the hyper-processed, factory products our food retailers sell, M&S offerings are broadly indistinguishable, in my ingredient and production method analysis, from its competitors.

I’m also turned off by the actual images.

As Dame Julie Walters drools away in classic M&S food porn style, up come the greasy, fried, battered or breadcrumbed exhibits. If I saw them on a pub’s budget funeral buffet, I’d avoid them.

First, the no-chicken mini kievs, a Plant Kitchen offering that contains no fewer than 29 ingredients. Next, the mini battered sausages that you dunk in a shimmering gloop going by the name of ‘curry sauce’. Last, but not least, the chicken doughnut dippers, a food manufacturer’s favourite. Each of these last offerings contains between 40 and 50 ingredients, depending on whether you count every component in each composite ingredient.

Many of these ingredients would only be interpretable by a food technologist. What is nutmeg "extract" exactly? How does it differ from the actual spice? Why doesn’t M&S just use ground nutmeg? Why does the soy-based, no-chicken kiev contain anonymous synthetic "flavouring"? (My answer here is that soy tastes bitter, and chemistry is needed to mask it.)

But these techno-food concoctions hit a spot. They appeal to that most stubborn aspect of the British palate: a weakness for a smidgen of anonymous proteinaceous matter, deep-fried in stodgy carbohydrate casing, and dunked in something sugary.

Yet my friend, an able cook and someone who appreciates good food, is desperate to buy some. By the end of November she was already worried about how she could stock up on items on the M&S Christmas list. Then she found that she couldn’t get an M&S delivery slot this side of New Year anyway. I’ve heard the same story about other supermarket chains.

How did she resolve this? By going to a physical store, buying what she thought she’d need, intending to freeze it, only to find that because of all the bulky packaging, it wouldn’t all fit in.

“Why did I do this?” she’s now asking herself. “It’s only one day of the year, after all.”

The explanation, we agree, is that women feel under extraordinary food, and therefore emotional, pressure at Christmas. They fret about meeting their family’s expectations, and weeks-long Christmas food advertising campaigns pump up that anxiety. These adverts work as effectively on women as the Christmas toy equivalent work on children.

And this year, the annual festive food pressure dial has been turned up to maximum setting. Memories of bare supermarket shelves during the first lockdown haunt us. The feeling that we must, against all odds, make this a successful Christmas to reassure ourselves, and our nearest and dearest, that deep down, everything is fine.

Apologies to those relatively few men who take on the responsibility for planning and providing, but this is heavy burden that mainly women feel.

Of course, this festive anxiety is divorced from reality. There are shops other than supermarkets, independent shops. They usually sell better food, and they don’t run out. There are any number of smaller producers and distributors of first-rate food who would be delighted to have our online business.

So let’s try to keep a cool head. We’ve had enough panic this year already.

Just remember that anyone who cooks, or who has any feeling for food whatsoever, can come up with something that is better quality and more delicious than those over-hyped supermarket reheats that never look, or taste, anywhere near as good as the enticing picture on the box.