I know, the irony of a food blogger writing about being a food snob…but I’ve been thinking a lot about the food we eat and the way it’s used to judge us.
Jamie Oliver found himself on the receiving end of some backlash recently, after launching a new campaign against junk food advertising. While much of it has been humorous, with many joking that Oliver can pry their Two For Tuesday pizza from their cold, dead hands, there’s also been a much more serious push-back. Plenty of low income families have been pointing out that this campaign, and others like it that target deals on ‘unhealthy’ food, completely miss the reason why many families eat this way. It’s what they can afford.
These campaigns seem to think that parents are feeding their children oven chips and chicken kievs because they genuinely don’t understand that fresh vegetables are more nutritious. This is very often not the case; there are thousands of families across Britain struggling to get by, either using food banks or just buying the absolute maximum amount of food they can for their small budget, who know perfectly well that they should be eating better meals. However their priority is quite rightly on filling tummies. You can’t solve this by making junk more expensive; the better stuff needs be more affordable.
I think too, it’s hard to picture having to make those kind of decisions until you’ve had to do it. Growing up, we definitely had lean periods as a family, and I’ve had them as an adult too, thanks to times of low income, and a period without work. There’s nothing to make you go cold inside quite like standing in the supermarket aisle clutching the last fiver you’ve managed to scrape together wondering what the hell you’ll eat that week (spoiler, a lot of pasta and tinned tomatoes…). It’ll never cease to make me angry to see people who’ve obviously never had to do that, dictating to the poor that they ought to be making Lasagne from scratch at triple the price for which they can buy the Tesco Value version.
At the same time, there’s some insane snobbery about the food you’re ‘allowed’, and the food that makes you a worthy person. A few years back, food writer Jack Monroe took a battering over a recipe for Kale Pesto. The recipe called for kale, cheese and oil, and was priced at a tiny 15p a portion. But kale is for middle class people, and Monroe found themself on the radar of angry internet commenters, outraged that it be suggested that you could, and should, eat kale while on benefits. There’s no winning. If you do manage to afford some nicer foods, you’re knocked back for getting above your station.
It’s also assumed that if you can’t afford the very best, that you must know nothing about food. Ask any parent who has struggled to pull together a meal to feed fussy children, while not breaking the budget, and I’m certain they’d disagree. Knowing how to cook, and knowing about ingredients isn’t something you gain by osmosis when your salary hits a certain level. You can know about food by trying new foods, exploring what you can afford, and getting creative in your own kitchen.
I’ve seen this aimed as a criticism at bloggers, which is frankly insane. The idea is put out that you can’t possibly know a thing about the industry if you’re not in the incredibly privileged position of being able to splash out on lavish dinners at restaurants from the Michelin Guide or do your weekly shop at Waitrose. Money can’t buy taste, unfortunately, and personally, while I love a good aspirational read, I also prefer reading reviews from people like me. People who earn enough to get by, with some treats, but who also can’t spring half a month’s rent on dinner.
Putting it better than I can, Freesia McKee, wrote for the Huffington Post about the classism behind being a foodie, and said, “Calling myself a foodie would signify that the duck nachos, the seven dollar cocktail with pounded basil in the bottom, the gluten-free tater tots made with local sweet potatoes are experiences that anyone could choose to take instead of monetised privileges that are gifted to some and not others. It would imply that these hipster foods are inherently more valuable than the foods that are eaten outside of those gentrifying restaurants.”
I hope I never become so blinkered that I forget what it’s like to not be able to afford to eat much at all, and even if I reach the giddy heights of switching Aldi for Waitrose every week, I never forget that good food doesn’t make you better.