Chips on our shoulders; Class Food and the Jilted Generation
This is a cross post from our new spin off recipe blog 101 ways to cook mushrooms – where it is the introduction to an excellent curry recipe.
I read a previous post on this blog about food and memories and the sort of wonderful experiences in our lives that are punctuated by tastes and meals. I am a total foodie – were you to set me a ’30 day food challenge’ I could probably tell you a food that reminds me of a place (Dosa breakfasts in Andhra Pradesh as a gap year type), food that reminds me of a person (my sister, cheese with cranberries in it), food that reminds me of a time (period in previous flat where I went through a phase of making home-made tempura drunk, turns out cheese tempura is very delicious but the batter is murder to get off your Kitchen units the next day), and food that I feel guilty about (toss up between fois gras or Big Macs).
And so on, and so forth. However, one of the things that first strikes me when it comes to food is the interaction of our eating habits and the ever – present (but perhaps less frequently referred to or understood) class system that pervades UK society.
I’ve always been a big eater, and a fairly adventurous one – but I didn’t really learn how to cook until I went to university (of Edinburgh) where the influence of more middle class flat-mates combined with the appeal of cooking (it’s like, creative and you get food at the end) prompted me to learn. My eating habits and my northern accent changed to mirror more closely the people I found myself around in those first few years of flat sharing.
I maintain that my ability to cook is something that I have learned as a result of class privilege – having the time and influences to learn and appreciate food and cooking are ways in which you are socialized. The Media are quick to blame the poor for eating junk food, put the burden of obesity on the NHS etc. but they are far slower to look at the fact that cooking healthy food, and the capacity to do so is a privilege that not everyone has.
There’s something about class, cooking, junk food diets and the poor, which is peculiarly British (via the USA). The other night I was a little tipsy and quite hungry walking past a famous global food corporation, where I bought processed meat and cheese filled sandwich for £1.39. I ate it sat at the bus stop and it tasted like childhood. It was comforting but at the same time sad that what is essentially the biggest food – based symbol of capitalism had co-opted one of my food memories. I had a reasonably healthy childhood, but we still ate our fair share of microwave meals and takeaways; life in Britain for workers does not facilitate from – scratch cooking. Though I am a believer in sustainability and organic food and the environment and all that stuff, I am suspicious of the notion of ethical consumption is any kind of solution because it valorises those with the ability to buy more expensive ethical food.
This blog has been partially promoted with the words ‘that bit of politics which is about cooking’. What’s my point? I guess that food is political, both in production and consumption. Come Dine with Me is compulsive viewing as a result of the deliberately different class backgrounds of the contestants who would otherwise not be in a position to break bread. Food, drink and status remain closely entwined; we still judge others by their consumption – there have been times when despite my structural position I have felt like an inauthentic working class person as a result of the way that I eat.
Of course, this is all nonsense – and we need to move away from viewing class status as something can be judged solely through patterns of consumption. Still, the politics of class and food fascinate me .