On Food and Politics
There is a General Election on don't you know but the entanglement of food writing & politics has preceded it for some time now. First up let me put my cards on the table or "check my privilege" I'm a 40 something man, who lives in a nice part of West London and intends to vote conservative. This puts me odds with about 90% of the fooderati. I find this odd as the whole process of paying someone else to cook and serve you a meal is the very embodiment of the free market economy. There is no reason why you shouldn't cook for yourself but you use money you've earnt working to pay someone else to do it for you (this depends of the blogger though #freebie). Also the whole ritual and process of the meal is predicated by you wanting your meal served in a certain way, at a certain pace and with a sunny, friendly attitude. Even the restaurants themselves are organised along the lines of a rigid hierarchy which has died out in most other industries. This way of working is obviously very effective in the kitchen & dining room but can lead to bad behaviour and bullying. Most food writers put this all to one side and several embark on onanistic orgy of virtue signalling and inverted snobbery...it really shouldn't be like this.
First up the virtue signalling is extremely irritating. There is this constant search for authenticity in food. We've come a long way since I was a kid in 80's and the only exotic food choices were Indian and Chinese. The way the world has opened up in past 20 years has seen an influx of different cuisines from all the corners of the globe along with the availability of a multitude of ingredients. The punter is the winner here with more choice of better food than ever before. However some people aren't happy with this especially as the boutique/exclusive has gone mainstream. There seems to be a sentiment going round that food is not valid and in fact immoral if it isn't cooked by someone from that culture. This ignores the great lesson from history that a nations food & culture changes all the time as it trades with others. No society willingly stands still and you can often measure the wealth and wellbeing of a nation by the diversity of its food offer. So I haven't got a massive problem if a couple of middle class white guys want to open a place selling 'authentic' ethnic food. The fickle and demanding consumer will soon decide if it is worthy of custom we don't need the virtue police piling in.
The inverted snobbery takes many forms but for me personally it boils down to how restaurants in West London are treated compared to everywhere else. There is a perception out there that the whole of West London is full of braying Made in Chelsea types frequenting ruinously expensive joints serving terrible food. This view was hardened by the fact that both David Cameron & George Osborne hailed from the Mordor of our times Notting Hill. It means that most reviews have a backhanded comment about the supposed wealth & privilege of locals. Contrast this to the hipster Hive of Hackney, Dalston and Hoxton where the cool egalitarian vibe can mask all sorts of deficiencies in the food served. Don't get me wrong there are some terrible places in my neck of the woods but there is a lot of good too. High property prices here make it difficult for new places to open but those that do and make it through the first year tend to be very good. I've been to far too many places elsewhere where the comfort of the diner comes a distant second to a message about the food. Maybe I'm showing my age but I feel that a comfortable seat and 3 good courses is much preferable to ruinously priced small plates perched on uncomfortable bench in some tiny dining room.
Of course the character and prejudices of the writer spill over into a review this is after all an exercise in the subjective. However I often find highlighting the easy political point is lazy writing. I've always got more time for a writer who can make a politically useful point like challenging places that take staff tips or hit you for double service charge (an old Chinatown favourite). There is a healthy appetite for good food writing. At its best it is informative and fun to read, it can inspire you to try somewhere and something different. What we don't need is savage boring reviews of Trump eateries which seemed de rigeur a few months ago after the US elections. No doubt in the aftermath of our own election there will be series of hot takes decrying the provincial small minded cuisine of Maidenhead eateries versus the cosmopolitan buzz of Islington. I hope not though, it would be nice to load up a review and just read what someone thought of the food and its environs. With food & writing keeping it simple is often the hardest trick to pull off