YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN: We are what we eat... thankfully
PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 July 2018
Â© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP
YASMIN ALBHAI-BROWN challenges Tim Martin, boss of the Wetherspoon chain of pubs who still carries on barking and nipping at our EU neighbours.
Tim Martin, boss of the Wetherspoon chain of pubs is a choleric British bulldog, who did more than his bit for Brexit and still carries on barking and nipping at our EU neighbours, as if those nations are bandits who must be seen off to keep us safe and prosperous.
Martin wants the government to cancel all our EU debts and has embarked on his own mini-trade war.
In June he announced that Wetherspoons pubs would not sell French Champagne and German beer. But will still offer Swedish cider and Italian grub such as pasta pomodoro. The supreme Anglo-Saxon warrior should really go for it and offer only ‘authentic’ pasties, roast beef, chips, spotted dick and shepherd’s pie. But he doesn’t because that would really hit profits.
He could learn a thing or two from that great English caricaturist and writer, William Hogarth, a proper, dogmatic, food nationalist. In 1735, Hogarth and his chums set up a Sublime Society of Beef Steaks.
They fervently believed that roast beef and other hearty, plain, cooked meats ennobled the heart and enriched the blood, made Brits sturdier than effeminate Frenchmen and languid Italians.
But even back then, few took notice of the messianic, dietary messages. In the larger cities, people were scoffing exotic delights flowing in from around the world. Breweries – set up in the 14th century by the Germans and Dutch – were mass-producing a range of beers for the hard drinking locals.
Native Brits will never return to plain English grub. The most humble citizens consume pasta and tiramisu, baguettes and moules marinière, Chardonnay and Carlsberg. In the last 30 years, ever more continental-style cafes have appeared in the UK. France, Italy, Spain and Germany, like India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Lebanon, China and Thailand have entered the gut of our nation. Britain would need unending colonic irrigations to get all that out the system.
Food is a key indicator of cultural malleability, change and, also, conflict and resolution. When I first came to this country, neighbours, teachers and even bus drivers were horribly rude to us about our ‘smelly’ food and breath. And yet, at weekends, drunk and disorderly Brits habitually went for an Indian.
During the Blair years, a pungent dish, Chicken Tikka Masala, was declared England’s national food. And millions wanted pain au chocolate and cappuccino, and wine throughout the day in bright café bars. Diversity was lived and loved, and not just by ‘Metropolitan elites’.
We have now entered the age of cultural and political purification. Last week, one of the reps of an association of Bangladeshi restaurants told me several are closing down because of staff shortages. Many of them employ Eastern Europeans as waiters and managers.
White customers, he told me, get very upset when their local curry house disappears. “This is part of their lives. How to live without it?”
Among those who voted for Brexit, some dream of a time when all aliens will leave, taking with them their damned foreign ways. Imagine, for a minute, that we immigrants do that.
Will those people finally get their Eden and feel blissful? I don’t think so.
Great Britain, even to these jingoists, will seem dull, colourless, vapid, at a dead end.
The good news is that the rich and varied society that was collectively made, bit by bit, by cohabitants of all political and racial backgrounds, cannot be dismantled by a disastrous referendum result.
If we are what we eat, cosmopolitan food will deactivate Brexit nationalism. As will art, music, films, novels, poems, sports, friendship, love and sex. They will never get their country back.