How a culinary backwater like Britain became a nation of foodies

You're never quite sure what you'll get with Will Self, but he's right about this

Share
Related Topics

Despite the studied impression he gives as one of Britain's
grumpiest old men, I know for a fact that the novelist Will Self is
an entertaining, generous soul. His erudition and command of the
English language are not in doubt: I usually need a dictionary at
hand for a conversation with him, and he once seemed to have a
one-man campaign to bring the word "plangent" (loud, with a
plaintive sound) into common usage.

You are never quite sure what you'll get with Will – I was once in his company when he used a banana to measure distances on a street map of London – but you can be sure he has thought things through before committing himself to an opinion. So his latest counterblast, about the unhealthiness of Britain's obsession with food, fuelled by TV cookery shows, demands consideration.

It would have struck a chord with many of a certain vintage, who can recall a time when The Galloping Gourmet (aka Graham Kerr) was the only telly chef, and a Berni Inn was as good as it got in terms of dining out. "Over the past 30 years, " he wrote in a blog for the BBC, "we have, as a nation, been transformed from a culinary backwater... into a foodie's paradise". He welcomes this change, but believes that we have become food-obsessed bores. I would go even further: there is something fetishistic about our interest in food.

Every minute of the day, your TV is showing a cookery programme, or a cooking-based reality show. Each of the grande fromage chefs – Jamie, Gordon, Nigella etc – has an army of middle-class disciples aching to put on the Cath Kidston pinny and get cracking in the kitchen.

When I hear my 23-year-old daughter and her friends discussing the relative strengths of upmarket burger restaurants, I have to resist the urge to break in and say: "It's only a bloody hamburger!" Self bemoans (the standard verb of the grumpy old man) the way that food has not only become part of our culture, but now dominates it: "It [is] no longer necessary to read Boccaccio, only to munch on focaccia."

Even those who wish to preserve British culture, he added, would be "appeased by a truckle of highly palatable Dorset Blue Vinny, in lieu of folios full of indigestible Warwickshire Shakespeare".

Just how far we have gone was illustrated yesterday by a survey by Waitrose. It found that most people have a repertoire of 10 dishes they can cook without reference to a book, but what struck me was this: "Only three in 10 people knew how to prepare risotto unaided." Only? Only? Doesn't that tell you something?

A good risotto requires a relatively high level of skill, and it's not an indigenous dish, so why should we be expected to know it off by heart? Better, perhaps, to be able to recite a poem by Wordsworth.

Yes, I'm with you, Will. Your views resound, plangently.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
 

My shameful failure to live up to the spirit of Christmas

Howard Jacobson
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all