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

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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end