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Wilfrid

Britain's food history

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Cabrales-I'm not sure what you mean? Is your point that the Roux brothers are French and the Brits needed the French to help guide them from their malaise? Or is it the opposite point and do you think that the point is the Roux brothers were able to find ingredients of a sufficient quality within the U.K. in order to create 2 star cuisine?

Steve -- My question was whether members viewed the Roux brothers as guiding the Brits on culinary matters other than those specific to French cuisine (and yes, also implicitly, whether the Brits needed that guidance). I don't know enough about British culinary history to take a view on issues in this thread. I read Life is a Menu a number of months ago, but Michel Roux seems to suggest that the state of British cuisine was deplorable, using peas as one of the examples (?), when he arrived from across the Channel.  

On the ingredients point, I think the Roux's experience would tend to support the theory there were ingredients sufficient for 2 star cuisine (at least during time periods applicable to them), despite Michel Roux's descriptions of how much effort was expended to secure ingredients.

Separately, what do members think about the current apparent widespread interest on the part of the Brits in food? Could the interest be viewed as an informed one (not that it has to be), Naked Chef evidence aside?

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I feel confident when  I say that no matter how you want to describe British food culture during the last century, the Brits have eaten much worse than they had to. And as to the quality of what they have eaten and whether it has been any good or not, to outsiders, the quality of the food has been pretty horrible.

I said at the top of the thread that British food has its failings, and I agree with much of what you say, although I am not "confident" you are right about the first decades of the century (and I don't like the phrase "than they had to" - but let's not get stuck on that).

I was objecting to the theory that behind all this was a malign plan by the British governing classes; to the notion that you can even begin to explain the problems with British food from the 30s to the 70s without reference to, I submit, the most important factor - the Second World War; and to the generalisation of the "spam marmite" label to cover the entire British gastronomic experience, without qualification, and apparently without chronological limitation.  But maybe I misunderstood you on all that.

Can I focus on something I was considering over lunch?  You said, "the general quality of [british] food stank until about 1995 when it started turning around."

It dawned on me that I was essentially an ex-patriate from the end of 1996.  Was all my good eating confined to such a short period of time?  Of course not, and I think your claim is demonstrably unfair.  (Note:  I am not querying your own experience, Steve.  You know what you ate and whether it was any good.  I am querying the generality of your statement.)

Let's start with London restaurants, and if you didn't mean that, we can at least narrow your statement down.  Firstly, a couple of generations of French chefs were well-established in England and running their own restaurants well before 1995:  Guerdin, Koffman and the Rouxs; Blanc, Loubet, Chavot and Novelli.  Now, we can strike them because their French, but you have to consider the quality British chefs who were coming through their kitchens, and their huge influence on London dining standards.  

Turning to British chefs, I find that most of the names one would associate with the improved standards of London restaurants (I think we all agree the improvement took place) to be established, well-known figures long before 1995 - back to the early '80s in most cases.  I don't rate all these chefs equally highly, but here's a list:  Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes, Anthony Worrall-Thompson, Alistair Little, Philip Britten, Philip Howard, Richard Neat, Richard Corrigan, Sally Clarke, Stephen Bull, Simon Hopkinson, the guy who cooked at High Holborn...memory going now - there's plenty more, but surely that's enough.

Incidentally, I think St John - much beloved of this Board - was open by the end of '95, but in any case, Fergus Henderson was cooking remarkable food at the French House before he moved there.

I know you aren't going to tell me these chefs only learnt to cook properly around 1995, and you can't deny that they were running restaurant kitchens some considerable time (in most cases)  before the date you picked.  Do you want to qualify the scope of the "stinking" you mentioned?   :raz:

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Wilfrid-We are getting bogged down in the accuracy of my choice of 1995 as "the" year. I have just used that year as if to say "around." You might be correct in that it might be 1994, or 1993 or even 1988 that was the pinnacle year. Whatever year it was, my use is symbolic of there being a dividing line, not that I have placed it with perfection. So my apologies if you misunderstood my intent. But I have to say that my gut tells me that '95 is not too far off from the epicenter.

But this quote of yours really gets me.

"I was objecting to the theory that behind all this was a malign plan by the British governing classes;"

I thought you said you grew up in England? How could that be and you not be aware that every single thing that ever happened in England was a malign plan concocted by the governing classes?

There are two ways to look at wealth and natural resources from the perspective of the governing classes who are in a position to influence things to their liking. One can say that a society is better off if wealth (or natural resources) are distributed more evenly. And the more equitable the distribution of resources is will create even more wealth for the upper classes because the lower classes become good customers. But the cornerstone issue there is the upper classes taking notice that a quality product is the bedrock of that system. The other way to look at it by the upper classes is for them to say that if we limit accessability to products, the lower classes are stuck with what we have to offer them. Therein we will maintain our wealth based on a smaller effort.

Now which one of those two examples do you think historically describes the U.K., U.S. and France?

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A far higher proportion of the British working classes were concentrated into the industrialized cities where they had to purchase food from their meagre wages.Hence there was a need to supply cheap food in bulk to the cities which affected the way food was produced.In France the majority were still on the land and eating the surplus of what they produced.

In these cities many of the poor had no proper cooking facilities,or were not allowed to cook in the lodging houses where they lived.Single men especially would buy and eat cheap food from street vendors or congregate for company in pubs.The pub culture is not an eating culture.Company,warmth,companionship came to be associated with drinking,but not eating.The evening meal,often referred to as "tea" was seen as something to be gulped down quickly UNaccompanied by alcohol,before going off to the pub to drink beer and socialise.Women and children would "make do" on what was left after the man of the house had been fuelled for 12 hour shifts down mines or in mills or steelworks or whatever.

In such an environment the "quality" of what you are eating ceases to be a priority.Quantity and sufficiency is all to keep self and family going.The situation was exactly the same in the industrialized areas of France(compare Dickens and Zola-very similar) but a far smaller proportion of the population was involved .Meanwhile the wealthy classes in Britain were eating just as well as their French counterparts,both quality and quantity wise.

Two world wars,the Depression,rationing and the continuing perception amongst the poorer classes that eating and drinking are separate activities has meant that for many in Britain an true interest in quality food and also in wine has only been a recent possibility.The ability of poorer people to have foriegn holidays has probably been the biggest single kick start factor but it's true that the legacies of the past still remain today,especially outside of London.

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Steve, don't the excellent points made by Tony influence your thinking?  I am happy to stipulate that most or all plans of the "upper classes" are malign, but I'm not convinced they plan everything that happens.  To be honest, I don't really recognise your economic models as applying to any economy; I just don't think economies work like that (is there, perchance, a role for a mercantile class?), but I just have to beg off of a discussion of economic theories right now.  Some other time maybe? :biggrin:

But - getting bogged down in 1995?  It was the year you cited.  Of course, I know you didn't mean things changed on the stroke of midnight, and that it was an estimate.  But if you meant 1988, I wish you'd said so.  If you'd go as far as 1980, not only could we stop squabbling, but we would also have a plausible explanation for the role played by the chefs I listed (remember them?).  But I see your gut still says 1995 - so I don't really know where we are.

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Tony-I have to say that was one of the best posts I've seen on this board. The analysis of "pub culture" was fascinating.  It is deserving of it's own thread. It reminded me of the stories of how the tango came about in cafes in Argentina at the turn of the century because there were no women there.

But what your post seems to be saying isn't all that different from what Drew Smith said as well as what Stephen said earlier in this thread. It was Britain's decision to partake in the industrial revolution, and to force the population into the cities that was the single most important decision that negatively impacted the quality of food in Britain. And that point is made when you say that a larger percentage of the French population stayed on their farms during that period. The French obviously didn't have a program to force people into the cities. But earlier on, someone pointed out that the decision to industrialize in Britain was coupled by the Brits beliveing that they could bring in sufficient and cheap food from their colonies. Without those colonies as an agricultural base, maybe they wouldn't have enacted the enclosure laws the way they did. Fascinating.

So would it be fair to say that the "lousy" food in Britain was because of their (meaning the ruling classes) decision to go down the path I just described? And by the onset of the 20th Century, the system was dependant on the colonies and the British loss of the colonies set them back considerably? Then the war(s) come and a depression. In light of those occurences and based on the system in place before they happened, it is easy to see why the general quality hit the depths it hit and why it is taking so long to recover. Is this a fair analysis?

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Considering its close proximity to France, how come the bread in England is different (I am refraining from saying inferior) to what they have in France? ... Considering how much better French bread is than almost all English bread...

That really is two bridges too far. First you get all coy and refuse to admit you DO believe English bread is inferior, then a few sentences later you forget you said that and disclose your prejudice.

But more important, you throw your whole argument into confusion by bringing in the totally subjective and anachronistic opinion that French bread is better than English.

I have no hesitation in expressing the view that French bread is second in appallingness only to American bread. The worst bequest of the French to the culinary world is the baguette. This is cotton wool with a crust, nothing more. French paysanne bread is generally doughy, over-crusty and often tasteless.

I'm obviously totally excluding any of the mass-produced supermarket breads from this discussion. They are equally insipid in every country of the world where they're made.

English bread is varied in flavour and texture, and quality for quality, far outstrips French bread in every respect. But the best bread in the world surely is made in Denmark.

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Macrosan-And the Lionel Poillane of Britain is.....? Prince Charles? How about the Pierre Hermes? Or the Robert Linx or the Phillipe Conticini? Or who is the equivelent of Poujerain?

But I am glad you have shown your true colors. In the future I will consider your advice about bread with extreme caution. And furthermore, if ever you invite me to your home, please do not serve any sandwiches.

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It was Britain's decision to partake in the industrial revolution, and to force the population into the cities that was the single most important decision that negatively impacted the quality of food in Britain...The French obviously didn't have a program to force people into the cities.

Er...

"Wilfrid-You are trying to pigeon hole my assertion that what happened in Britain was 'intended' by the government or that they realized that the net result of the enclosure laws (thanks for that) would be a diminution of the quality of food. I have made no such statement."

Decision?  Program?  Intention?  I'm lost.

Are we agreed that the Industrial revolution in Britain was, very roughly, a late eighteenth century phenomenon?  Just so we know when the rot set in (no spam and marmite yet, though).  Can we make a distinction between the merchants, factory owners and other members of the bourgeoisie who were the prime beneficiaries of the industrial revolution (often at the expense of the land-owning gentry)?  Or are all these lumped together as "ruling classes'?

Okay, then we move on to the "onset of the twentieth century".  In the intervening period, was Britain significantly dependent on its colonies for its food supply?  Tea, spices, sure, but we were never growing those anyway.  Cotton?  too chewy.  Bread and potatoes?  Home grown, I think.  So, no, I don't believe we were.

Now, let's try to get events in order.  First, the 1914-18 War, then the great depression of the thirties, then the 1939-45 war.  I believe our colonies are still with us at this stage - haven't "lost them" yet.  South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), India, Canada, Australia.  All present and correct.  Unfortunately, whatever food flow we were enjoying from them, somewhat interrupted by the war.  But then, I suppose, the independence of a succession of colonies lead us into the spam and marmite era.

I am no longer sure whether we are dealing with bad British food in the late eighteenth century, caused by an intentional or unintentional governmental industrialisation program; the dreadful spam and marmite era which ended circa 1995; or what.  If the issue is British gastronomy in the 1700s, I withdraw the Second World War as an important causal factor.

:wow:

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Macrosan-And the Lionel Poillane of Britain is.....? Prince Charles? How about the Pierre Hermes? Or the Robert Linx or the Phillipe Conticini? Or who is the equivelent of Poujerain?

But I am glad you have shown your true colors. I will now consider your advice about bread with extreme caution in the future and furthermore, if ever you invite me to your home, please do not serve any sandwiches.

I assume those Frenchies are bakers ? Why oh why, Steve, do you need celebrity names to prove a point about a national trends ? I mean, how many Frenchman eat bread baked by those four guys ? 50million, 30million, 1million ?

No, you tell me the French equivalent of Boswell's, Brown's Bakery, Horsted Fram Bakery, and then we're talking business.

The invitation was already in the mail, but it's not too late to change the menu. We have a Domino's Pizza just round the corner  :smile:

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Wilfrid-Okay so let's try that again. Because you are correcting my history mistakes in order to try and prove me wrong, when the application of the actual facts only seems to make my point stronger.

Because of the enclosure rules (whenever they happened, it doesn't matter,) Brits left the farms for the cities. As a result, the quality of the food started declining. But the ruling classes (whoever they were, that doesn't matter either because it just means people with power to make decisions,) assumed that there would be enough to eat, and of sufficient quality because whatvever the Brits produced would be supplemented by what they could bring back from the colonies. This system was interupted by the war(s)(one can say that this system was in large part a cause of the wars, but that is a different thread on a different board,) and England was caught without any cookies in their cookie jar. And since the war(s) went on for 40 years, and a depression occured in the middle of those 40 years, and the colonies started peeling off during those years, things became especially bad. Is that correct?

So if I accept your timeline (and why not because it makes no difference to my theory,) I can pretty much chalk up the decline of British culinary culture to the above. So I don't see where we disagree on this? But where we do disagree, and it is clear after reading Macrosan's response about the bread is that the basis for your side of the discussion is that in general, the food in Britain has been good for a long time. And I start from the point of view that says it was, and still is basically horrid. And spam and marmite are examples of just how horrid. But other than that, I think we agree.

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I didn't agree that Britain was dependent on the colonies for its food supply.  But that probably doesn't matter to your argument either.

I now read you this way:  British food was (by implication) okay, or headed in the right direction at least, before the industrial revolution (doesn't matter when that was, as long as it came before the other events you describe).  The diet of the people in the cities suffered (per Tony Finch) for economic reasons.  I think you now say that this was after all realised by whoever was making the decisions behind the industrial revolution (not necessarily government or the ruling classes), but that they expected a tolerable diet to be available because of supplemental imports from the colonies.

I depart from you on that, because I have no reason to believe that the staple foodstuffs of the urban poor were ever imported, or likely to be imported from the colonies - let alone at an affordable price.  I mean, they weren't subsisting on bananas.  By the way, were the remaining rural population still eating well?

But on your analysis, the colonial support system broke down with the war(s).  So: were the urban and rural populations eating okay up to that point?

Okay, scrub the unsubstantiated colonial part of the theory, but maintain the points made by Tony, Michael Lewis and others about the effects of war, and I think you come down to the view that the reason Britain has lagged behind France gastronomically in recent decades has a lot to do with the Second World War (and the First and the Depression, if you like).  Yes, I think that's what I said.

You are working very hard at making it consistent with your original theory about what the "governing/upper classes" "agreed" to do in Britain as opposed to in France.  You have tried out banking regulation and maintaining cultural hegemony (in theatre, radio, and so on), but you seem to have arrived at a program of urbanization run, not necessarily by the "ruling classes", but by "people with the power to make decisions", back in the 1700s.

I mean, keep trying, I am sure you will eventually get your theory to fit the facts.  But haven't we come a long way from "the French upper classes agreed to feed the lower classes in France far better than the upper classes in Britain agreed to feed their lower classes. It is really that simple."  or do you think you are still saying the same thing, only in a slightly different way? :biggrin:

I hope some other contributors will weigh in on when they think the British gastronimic improvement began; I think that's a topic of real interest.

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" But haven't we come a long way from "the French upper classes agreed to feed the lower classes in France far better than the upper classes in Britain agreed to feed their lower classes. It is really that simple."  or do you think you are still saying the same thing, only in a slightly different way?"

Wilfrid-No I think I am still saying the same thing. The British did not have to build factories and force the people into the cities to work in them. It was a decision the moneyed classes made (along with the governments participation) as to how to grow the nation, and simultaneously their wealth. The French didn't industrialize the same way despite the fact that they could have. Instead, as Tony said, they built a society based on agriculture. And therein lies the difference between the two countries and what they ate. By the time you get to the wars, England's food culture was already in the crapper. It was on a steady downward trend for more than 100 years by then. The wars just sucked whatever life there was in the food distribution chain out of the system.

Whether we agree on my analysis or not, there is one thing that is undisputable. The Brits stood for it. Again, I don't know why. Because another thing in Smith's book I recall is that he describes that one of the things that incited the French revolution is that the Royals were going into what were considered to be public forests and hunting game for their dinners. The population was so upset about it that it is one of the things that made them rise up against them. And the result Smith said was that a bountiful table became an important symbol of French society.

So I keep returning to my original question which is, not why the Brits ended up with the likes of spam and marmite. But why did they agree to eat it? How come they didn't throw it into the drink like the Yanks did the tea and demand real food?

Or do you not believe that the upper classes convinced them to eat it in the name of England?

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Assuming it occurred as you say, why did we stand for it?

Simple.  From 1760 to 1960, very little opportunity to experience alternatives.  After 1960, the gradual development of overseas holidays created a very slowly evolving demand for different gastronomic experiences, to which shops and restaurants slowly responded.

My parents were of the first generation to experience holidaying abroad, and it came to them late - early 1970s on - and was a big deal (my father travelled a lot for business reasons, but that was pretty rare then too).

Versions of French restaurants did start appearing, in central London at least, in the 1890s.  Many of them do not seem to have been that great.  In any case, still not an experience available to the public at large.  And, of course, taste for things like olive oil and garlic - when they are completely and utterly new to you - take time and repeated experiences to develop.

In short, Steve, we didn't know - not in the 1760s, and not even for most of my parents' lives, what you and I know now.  It wasn't like people were opening their spam cans and thinking - dammit, I would much prefer some terrine de campagne, why doesn't somebody do something!

The whole process of becoming better-educated about food could doubtless have been hastened if we had been invaded by Germany in 1940.  Take the rough with the smooth.

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"If you have any idea why Americans have "stood for" the kind of food they've eaten over the years, fire away."

Wilfrid-I won't shy away from the answer to that question the way you have. The answer is we were/are stupid. The American public was/is idiotic to allow themselves to be fed the way they have been fed. Obesity is an unbelieveable problem here because the food companies produce such artificial junk with the government's blessing.  An investment banker friend of mine who represented a mail-order woman's hosiery company told me that the most popular size that women bought was something like size 18. What goes on here, and what has gone on here is disgusting.

You see the difference between us is that I think agriculture is ultimately a government supported business. I don't neccesarily mean support as in subsidy, although I am not excluding that either, but support as in encouragement, both internally and in marketing a country's products to others. And somewhere behind America's obesity problem, it's disease problems that might end up being related to artificial ingredients, is a governmental body allowing it all to occur.

And don't tell me that they don't know real from artificial, or fresh from frozen. The U.S. looked at food as an industry. They didn't look at it as a social benefit. Neither did the U.K. France and Italy on the other hand did. And you might say that their countries are conducive to it so that is why they did it and we didn't. But I don't buy that because, you are making great things now and so are we. And why we didn't was a more a matter of a tradition that was imposed on us by the governing classes (which we failed to complain about) than a matter of mere geography.

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(...to Wilfrid...) But where we do disagree, and it is clear after reading Macrosan's response about the bread is that the basis for your side of the discussion is that in general, the food in Britain has been good for a long time.

Hey, Plotty, I cry foul !!  First off, Wilfrid speaks for himself and I speak for myself. My posts are copyright to my argument, and may not be used as a counter to any other argument without my express written permission.

Second, just because I maintain English bread is superior to French bread (which it is because it is) doesn't mean I believe pre-1980s British food was any good. In fact I made quite clear in an earlier post in this thread that I believe it was crap.

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Steve, I did completely rewrite my last post as I too was unsatisfied with it.  So I am not sure which time I shied away from the question.  But, okay, we have stupid people too.  That's part of most social problems.  

Now it may be my fault or it may be yours (I have a view :wink: ) but I do have a problem ranging around from the eighteenth century to the present and back again.  I think your last post is talking about people's stupidity/laziness about food in recent times.  Use of junk/convenience foods, erosion of good cooking and eating practices, and obesity through over-eating are all deplorable (let me go and look in the mirror and deplore myself).  Are their causes in recent times reducible to "a tradition imposed by the governing classes"?  Well, no, I think I've already mentioned a bunch of other social reasons - big changes in post-war lifestyle.  Turn it on its head - did France and Italy avoid these problems (to the extent they have) through the wisdom and compassion of their governments!?  I think, for the French, you'll answer yes.  But the Italian government - which one??

I think I did answer in my last post the reason Britain began changing from the late seventies on, as opposed to in 1995, shortly before I left the country.  Travel abroad.  But add the steady increase in numbers of people in higher education in the 1950s and 1960s, the increase in international business, with the travel and contacts entailed, increases in disposable income (people getting married and having kids later, vastly greater numbers of women working).  Do you realise the explosion in reading which has taken place in my lifetime?  When I was in my teens, you were lucky to find one bookshop in a decent-sized town.  I could go on (but not tonight).  Certainly I don't see a sudden revolt against a government-imposed tradition.

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Wilfrid-As an aside to all of this, during my recent trip to Oxford, I was treated to a tour of Magdelen College by its President. Upstairs in his cottage, which is directly at the head of the quad when you enter the college, is a library bequethed the college in I believe he told us 1811. The purpose of the donation at the time was to create a library for the college that had the sum total of all knowledge known to mankind at the time. I must add that the space that the sum total of all knowledge took up is smaller than my living room in Manhattan. So when you speak of the reading explosion in our lifetime I know exactly what you mean.

As for my last post, aside from stupidity, laziness etc., I think the reasons for a country having a good culinary tradition are a matter of whether the population demands good food. If they demand it (and how they demand it is an entirely different subject,) history shows that they will get it unless certain unforeseen things intervene. But history also shows that all too often people stand for eating inferior products. I'm not sure why that is? Saying it is a matter of tradition is one thing. But how the tradition started is what I'm after.

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Ooof. Somewhat at see amidst all these intellectual broadsides, but three main points to make

1) The idea of an upper class conspiracy is complete tosh for the simple reason there, er, wasn't any "upper class". The idea of "class analysis", particularly for C18 and first half of C19, has been pretty much discreted amongst historians ifor the last couple of decades. Studies show that vertical social bonds - eg between the labourers, the farmers and ultimately up to the local squires in a particular region (eg Yorkshire) had much more powerful ties than any putative horizontal "class" with and official mind or a particular policy. No one "agreed" to feed anyone anything because there was no one to agree anything. QED.

2) Steve's main argument is that socio-economic factors are the direct cause of the culinary environment ignores the fact that is if far from the only factor which operates.  I'd highlight two other factors which are as - or more - important. Firstly, as Magnolia has already mentioned, cultural differences. Secondly the impact of the individual. What if there had been no Delia or no Albert Roux? No Liz David or (in the US) no Alice Waters. It is very likely things would have turned out differently. However simply suggesting the inevitability of socio-economic forces leaves no room for this.

3) The arguments that colonies had such an impact doesn't really hold water either for the simple reason that the French had colonies too. Two points. Firstly how can you claim the loss of the colonies was a major factor in Britain's postwar culinary/economic miasma and ignore the fact the precisely the same thing was happening in French Indonesia, the French Carribbean and above all French Africa? In fact I would argue the French experience of decolonisation, particularly in Algeria, was far more damaging than the British experience. But French food wasn't affected. Secondly If you say that Britain in lots of cheap food when it /had/ the colonies, didn't France do much the same thing (er, poulet au curry, rice, sugar from the Caribbean), but that doesn't seem to have had a particularly deletarious affect on C19 French chow...

hope that's useful

cheerio

J

ps steve, did the pres show you his art collection? i hear its quite good (although most belongs to the uni)


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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Steve P: You meant Magdalen College, Oxford, surely? Brits cannot tolerate poor spelling. The government instills this tic in our minds from infancy.  And what the government says we accept. :wink:

A couple of thoughts.

1. This argument seems to have started because Steve P. offered a rendition of Drew Smith’s arguments in "Modern British Cooking". Maybe we should make this an eGullet set book next month so we can all read it and comment and discuss. Afterall, Steve P. might’ve missed the point:read wink here, I'm tiring of those smiley faces. If we don't get irony, then...:

2. The argument that the Brits were just too weak, be it character/culture wise (or combination of the two, or more factors) to protest about the food the “government” allowed us to eat appears very simplistic to me. The UK is hardly a homogenous group. As we know, the Welsh, Irish, Scottish have all stood up to the English. (And when the Scots haven’t been fighting those south of the border they’ve been fighting amongst themselves. Do those Aberdonians despise those from Dundee?  One interesting take on all of this is the possibility that the Brits chose to stand up on matters more important than food. For example, couldn’t one maintain that energy spent on the development of cuisine was given over to unionization and strikes? A long shot, I know, but if we are going to bring in social policy (about which I know something) then why not extend Smith’s analysis, as outlined by Steve P., to include the wider social context.

3. I agree with Wilfrid that during the 1960s and 1970s—the childhood period I remember—the food at home was very good. Just look at Sue Lawrence’s Scots Cooking and people will see the delicious foods I was brought up on. So maybe we have to separate the London fine dining scene from British home cooking.

4. On dating the improvement in London eating out, I’d place it in the late 1980s. That is my take. In addition, I can’t get my hands on a source right now on Michelin recognition of UK restaurants (Lurker says the source is in one of Nico’s cookery books), but I think there was a period in the 1980s when the UK had more Michelin stars than Italy.

5. I’ll end soon. Promise. Steve P., your claim that Britain had the worst food in Europe (or something similar) till recently is puzzling. Have you eaten in every European country? I haven’t, but are you saying that German cuisine is (or was in recent memory) superior to British? What about Poland, Finland, Czechoslovakia? And as for the Netherlands, which you dismiss (on hearsay?), I had some of the finest halibut in a restaurant called Papillion in The Hague some years ago.  

6. OK, one more point. I know something about the Scottish deep-sea fishing industry, and some of this might confirm what I think people are driving at when cultural difference is raised. For a very long time, Scottish fisherman encouraged shoppers to buy catfish and monkfish. All in vain. The consumers weren’t swayed; they wanted sole and plaice. I put this down to lack of adventure. These fish were exported, the monkfish going to France. More recently, I’ve witnessed an eagerness on the part of the British to try new things. This is a good thing, and may explain why there are now so many exciting restaurants in the likes of London.

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are you saying that German cuisine is (or was in recent memory) superior to British?

I'm not gonna put words in Plotnicki's mouth, but in my opinion native German cuisine is far more significant in terms of their contribution to world cuisine than British food in a traditional sense. Their wine alone is a serious match for France's.

German cuisine as well as their wine has a bad rap and is totally underappreciated. Real German food is phenomenal stuff, if you can get it.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Sometimes I wonder if these posts are nothing more than a series of objections in order to make the poster keep refining their language so people can act like the basic point of the post isn't clear. It's as if the gist is mired in the the muck of vocabulary. Mind you, the requirement imposed by the objectors to offer language that is of the highest specificty seems to be in direct corrolation to how much they don't want to admit to the basic premise of the post. Now having gotten that off of my chest, let's see, one at a time.

Jon-I do not understand your assertion that there were no classes in England in the 17th and 18th century. England was a class conscious society. It still is today. Secondly, it is not a conspiracy per se. No one is saying that people sat down in a room and plotted to prevent the Brits from having a bountiful table. I am using the concept as in the government enacting programs to benefit special interest groups. Clearly the enclosure rules were instigated by industrialists who wanted to build factories. Who were those people? Clearly the upper or moneyed classes. Was the government complicit? Obviously. Did the government know that the impact on agriculture would be negative? Possibly. And the big one, should the government have done a study as to the ramifications so as to ensure the welfare of the people? Absolutely and I would bet you a Shilling that they did and they agreed (this is the conspiracy bit) to come up with a plan to make it fly even though they knew the consequences.  I mean it is just the way governments of industiralized nations work including the U.S. It is for the same reason that we have a horrible rail system here. The automobile industry is our biggest industry and their lobbying efforts consistantly prevent the construction of an efficient and modernized rail system. So people must have "agreed" because the enclosure laws didn't come about in a vacuum.

2. Nobody has said that socio-economic issues are the sole (not the fish) reason for any of this. But it certainly is at the heart of the argument. So far nobidy has responded to my statement that in France and Italy, the government viewed good food as a social benefit and in the U.K. and in the States it is viewed merely as an industry. Do the Israelis have great fruit and vegetables because the government made a concerted effort? Absolutely. And does the food suck in Egypt because nobody has ever made the effort? Again, absolutely.

Did the Israeli's do it because historically Jews have eaten well? Not at all. They did it because they want people to enjoy living there.

3. I can't really speak to the de-colonization of Britain and in fact, it wasn't my point. Someone else said that part of the failure in the food system was the interuption of their being able to bring food in from the colonies. But I don't think the French ever depended on their colonies the same way the Brits did on theirs. The French never needed to import food from elsewhere. They were a fertile land and the government encouraged the French to maximize the use of the land.

Yvonne-Like I said, I don't have a copy of the Smith book here. But I think I've given a fair recounting from memory. I think your second point is a fair one but ultimately incorrect. You have to follow the money as they say. Britain was pouring its wealth into the building of factories. That they decided to invest in the industrial revolution as opposed to agriculture was a conscious decision. It wasn't an accident. That is why I don't understand why anybody is arguing that socio-economic policy doesn't have the biggest impact. I mean that's what happened. Those facts aren't really in dispute are they?

As for Britain having the worst food in Europe, you are right. I wasn't considering Albania when I said that.

Jason-I'm not a lover of German cuisine. But I will agree it is better than what the Brits had. And they do make some great wines.

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Steve P said:

"Clearly the enclosure rules were instigated by industrialists who wanted to build factories."

Nononononono. The enclosure movement - which basically peaked in the early years of the C19th - was driven by the landowning classes. It is analagous to the Highland Clearances in Scotland: landowners didn't want peasants on their land, because it didn't make enough money for them. My opinion is that this came to a head because the new industrial classes were making so much money that the aristocracy saw them as a threat and felt a need to keep up.

But there is another crucial reason. All the talk about WWs 1 and 2 has obscured another period of strife in European history - the Napoleonic wars. At the end of the C18th and the start of the C19th (as the country was starting to industrialise) Britain was under threat from Napoleon's France. And enclosure was seen as a way to generate more food in time of war. War is a huge cause of social change.

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You all have the cart before th horse.

Clearly the last 300 years of history have been driven by gastronomy with industrialization/war etc the consequence.

1. Industrialization of UK clearly attempt by evil capital owners to make them eat marmite.

2. Napoleon: attempt to force everyone across Europe to eat baguette and camembert (& drink corsican wine).

3. 20th C Demonic central european plan to force all europeans into wienerchnitzeled serfdom.

4. Repelled by american spam invasion.

5. But at the last moment gastronomic freedom fighters set up a maquis of underground Bresse Chicken eating, Montrachet drinking cells who now threaten to take over the world for pleasure.


Wilma squawks no more

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>Jon-I do not understand your assertion that there were no

>classes in England in the 17th and 18th century. England

>was a class conscious society. It still is today.

Er, no. If there's one thing three years of Oxford history drummed into me (apart from how crap hall food was) it was that the whole class thing never really took off until the C19.  The idea that Britain was 'class conscious' at an earlier stage was largely a construct of mid-C20 historians who were trying to stretch the facts to suit their own class-centred theories.  If you want to know more I'd heartily recommend Paul Langford's A Polite and Commerical People. Also see J.C.D. Clark and Roy Porter on C18 British social history, and Linda Colley's excellent Britons for some ideas on what really tied the nation together (largely hatred of the French ;-) )

Therefore the assertion that a "upper or moneyed classes" instigated certain social/agri reform to the detriment of the table doesn't stand, 'cos there was not class consciousness until well after 1800.

cheerio

J


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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