You are what you eat? Why Food Choices Shouldn’t Be A Class Indicator Jonathan nunn
TBrits like to think they have a unique and deep understanding of the classroom. In truth, it is the opposite. The obscure rules of the country’s class system mean that we have a deranged understanding of our divisions, an understanding that does not depend on whether someone owns financial assets or capital or employs people, but by their accent, their positions. hobby and her choice of supermarket.
It is perhaps in the realm of food that the British class sentries stand guard most severely, accusing people of perceived culinary transgressions and delineating what could, in a nod to Nancy Mitford, s’ call W (working class) and non-W. food. Over the past few years, I have seen the following innocent foods accused of being middle class markers: quinoa, polenta, sundried tomatoes, coffee, loose tea, coriander seeds, gnocchi, kidneys, goji berries, hummus, falafels, lentils, croissants, muesli, wine, tofu, soy milk, oat milk, almond milk, avocados – and indeed growing your own food. Added to this list, as former trade unionist and class leader Paul Embery helpfully suggested last month, amid a discussion of food shortages on Twitter, are lemons, parsley, spring onions, eggplant and risotto rice. It all looks like a pretty solid box on Ready Steady Cook.
“Food in England,” novelist Huw Lemmey recently wrote, “very rarely concerns food, and that might be half the problem.” You can understand food border control in a number of ways unrelated to food – the most charitable of all is that for a certain type of political commentator it is extremely convenient to portray the working class as a cohesive, socially conservative and incurable bloc. , whose vision of food corresponds to a kind of political nativism. It’s a strangely infantilizing view, which assumes that an interest in better or different foods is class betrayal and puts people in clearly defined boxes, just as much as the identity politics these commentators are supposed to complain about. .
A less kind, but perhaps more precise, analysis is that attributing the middle class to cheap staples from other cuisines – hummus, soy sauce, cumin, for example – usefully conceals the reality that the class working class is much more diverse than these commentators. understand. The point is that if a similar inventory of “working class” foods were to be undertaken throughout contemporary Britain, it would be less “gammon, pie and mash and ale”, and more “ackee, pierogi and shatkora”.
All of this is being supercharged by post-Brexit politics and its annoyances. The identification of the “liberal elite” with extremely everyday but European foods was perhaps more easily achieved thanks to the popularity of London restaurant River Café in the 1990s. Its choice to sell cucina povera (peasant food) at exorbitant prices – and its subsequent popularity with the whole New Labor – meant that, to the amazement of Italians around the world, eating lentils and munching polenta had become associated with wealthy people and well connected. This despite the fact that these foods are easily affordable (and in the case of lentils, already widely consumed in the UK by South Asians). When Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson dined there in late 2016 for a supposed anti-Brexit strategy meeting, all the right-wing press had to do was point out how much the pasta cost.
The disapproval of a shopping list or what other people eat these days is ultimately to insinuate that anyone affected by Brexit-induced food shortages is a paying member of the Ocado elite; reinforcing a narrative that Brexit itself was only about the divide between working class cities (one Waitrose per 100,000 people) and middle class urban centers (one Waitrose per person). Even that old warhorse that is the “milk liberal” (a misnomer – liberals know not to water the slats because it messes up the cream) starts to make sense when you don’t see it. as a marker of wealth, given that even in London it rarely crosses the £ 3.50 mark, but as a symbol of neoliberal globalization, from Melbourne to New York.
While the right and the self-proclaimed “anti-awakened left” associate certain foods with an urban, multicultural leftist politics, many liberals are guilty of fetishizing food solely for their Europeanness (the concept of 90% of BBC cooking shows appears to be “guys traveling through Italy”). Meanwhile, the Left is happy to label anything slightly more expensive than the baseline – Green & Black chocolate, Tyrrells crisps – as Tory. But the truth is, food is a completely inadequate signifier for class, politics, or even town planning. Sixteen years ago, a cafe was created in Soho to respond to the fact that it was almost impossible to buy a white dish in London; last week I had one on Iona in the Inner Hebrides (population 177). Today, all the foods that have been associated with a pro-European elite – lentils, quinoa, avocados, hummus – are part of the national cuisine on a daily basis, and presumably consumed voraciously by those who denounce them.
That’s not to say that what we eat isn’t heavily influenced by class and wealth. However, the particularly British tendency to view food as a class or political avatar is doomed to blind us simply because the way we eat is changing and evolving at a high rate, absorbing the influences of immigration, a greater pool of shared knowledge, and a growing desire to experience things beyond our local and national borders. Politics is partisan, but food should be for everyone.
Except the grouse, that is to say. It will always be Tory.