Middle-classy tucker

John Hall 10 November 2007

John Hall

I like my food. I like eating. I like cooking – although that’s often not terribly easy with college cooking facilities. Still, you’d be

surprised what you can do with a George

Foreman, a toaster, a kettle and microwave

combi-oven. But I digress. I like my food, but I would emphatically never describe myself as

being serious about food. As much as you can say that you are what you eat I don’t hold with the middle-class obsession with food. Eating well is important, of course, but that doesn’t mean that you need to pay seven pounds for high-class

yoghurt. I defy anyone actually to be able to tell the difference.

Living in Cambridge, there isn’t an awful lot of choice of supermarkets to shop in. If you live anywhere near the centre and, like most of us, don’t own a car, it really is a question of Sainsbury’s, Sainsbury’s or Sainsbury’s. As you might have guessed I’m a bit of a Sainsbury’s basics fan (though only for certain things: I do have a bit of a weakness for Robinson’s high juice orange squash; you really can tell the difference there) and for the most part I’m no great fan of Taste the Difference. And even Sainsbury’s isn’t the best for, as they say in the trade, quality produce at low, low prices. I can’t say how much I miss my Morrisons when I’m in Cambridge. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted Morrinov, Morrisons’ own premier vodka. And don’t even get me started on the joys of Aldi.

There are plenty of very good reasons for objecting to the rise of the supermarket and its discount produce – concerted pressure on food producers damaging rural economies, excessive food miles, the desertification of town centres as shopping becomes more and more centralized – but harping on about only being prepared to buy the best, and how only the highest quality ingredients make good food smells more than a little of good old fashioned food-based snobbery.

Seriously, you do not necessarily need fresh, organic, Italian-grown garlic from that tiny little place near Daddy’s house in Tuscany to make a nice spag bol. I may be coming across as a complete philistine, but really, garlic puree out of a tube will do fine. You really cannot taste the difference, whatever Jamie Oliver might try and persuade you to the contrary. When Marco Pierre White announced that one of his favourite ingredients were basic stock cubes and Worcestershire sauce, I gave a shout for joy. He came out and said that to make tasty food you do not need exclusivity in your ingredients.

The philosophy of “this isn’t just any food; this is food for special people” draws on the principle of “you are what you eat.” There aren’t many things more fundamental to being human than eating, and in the market of special food the implication is that that food is for special people. In the market for

exclusive food, the implication is that better people eat better food. And this is a dangerous view to

promote.

We are in a very scary situation that in the developed world, obesity is no longer a signal of high social status, but rather of poverty. The idea that

eating well is reserved only for the wealthy and privileged is absolutely wrong. It need not be expensive to cook a healthy and nutritious meal – one of the great social changes of the last forty years is how we spend a much smaller proportion of our family incomes on food – and it needn’t be all that difficult either.

I’d like to think that even when I’m not a poor lowly student, I still won’t go mad for wild mushrooms from the south of France or hand-cured Italian prosciutto. But I will continue to cook nice food, because I take a lot of pleasure in it. And I will also continue to be as evangelical as I can about own-brand tinned tomatoes (very nutritious, don’t you know) and garlic puree (it’s just so convenient, and just as tasty to boot!). It’s important to remember that just because you haven’t bought the most expensive ingredients, you can still make a very pleasant and nutritious meal (excuse me while I slowly morph into Mrs Beeton). And of course the opposite is also true – exclusive ingredients don’t always make a good meal. And to prove that point all too graphically, I’m going to hall. It’s swordfish tonight, but I’m sure they can ruin that too.