Wednesday 26 December 2012

You Are What You Eat IV

Upper middle-class Upwards only eat dark chocolate, which they pretend is nicer than milk chocolate. They apply this formula to many foods. They used to insist black treacle was better than golden syrup. They can only eat sweet food if they disparagingly call it "comfort food" (warm, wet, smooth, bland and filling), or say how guilty they feel for eating it. They love feeling guilty about actions that aren't sins. The middle classes are anti-sauce, it makes food too like babyfood (too  easy to eat and tasty). They sneer that they don’t like food that’s “smothered in heavy or complicated sauces”. (The rules are relaxed for Christmas dinner, which everybody loves.) They loved 70s hippy food because it’s sooooo cheap (and also you’re sticking it to The Man, as we didn’t say then). They bought dried chick peas and spent more on fuel to boil them for hours than they would have spent on a tin of the things. (“Commoditized!”)

For several reasons, Upwards are very against fizzy drinks. Too sugary, giant corporations, capitalism, bang goes sixpence… They love using their children as an excuse to display their right-on attitudes. They make the kids drink watered-down fruit juice to protect their teeth. But the parents fixate on the “fizz” (Perrier somehow doesn’t count – but they used to twirl gold swizzle sticks to reduce the fizz in champagne.) In fact “fizzy drinks” is code for “mass-produced sugary drinks in cans”. And the fizz in Coca Cola is bad for you because Coca Cola is American and so aggressively marketed. (Upwards hate the idea that someone is trying to sell them something, and think they are immune to the hard sell, the soft sell and all other kinds.) Of course no amount of aggressive marketing can make air bubbles bad for you. They are only allowed to drink Coke if they have diarrhoea – but it has to be flat. (It replaces lost water, and the sugar and salt it contains enable you to absorb the water. Also the sugar replaces lost nutrients.)

Upwards also wail that “we” throw away almost half the food from “our” weekly supermarket shop. Working-class Sharon Definitely walks to a corner shop and buys what she needs when she needs it. She can’t buy too much because she doesn’t have a car. So she is more eco-friendly than the environmentally aware Upwards, who are convinced that she lives on greasy fast food.

Their latest hate is “bossy” sell-by dates.

“I rely on taste and smell rather than bossy rules from supermarkets - [unlike] the nervous middle-aged who are so sensitive to commands on packages.” (Angela Huth in the Times January 16, 2012).

“It isn't difficult to tell if food has gone off. In most cases, you only have to smell it. But since 1980, when sell-by dates were introduced on food labelling, we have been terrorised into throwing food away when it is still perfectly good to eat. The consequence is that we chuck out an estimated £12bn worth of food every year, including many millions of unopened pots of yoghurt, loaves of bread, chickens and slices of ham.” (Guardian, 2011)

Sell-by dates are for wimps… I stopped being a gormless pillock and realised it’s all just a profitable arse-covering exercise, and that every year shoppers are chucking £12 billion of edible food in the bin.” (Carol Midgley in The Times, 22 Dec 2012)

It’s worse than a robot voice telling you that there’s an “unexpected item in the bagging area”. Nobody tells Upwards what to do. They are the officer class and issue orders. Also they still haven’t quite come to terms with the idea that they shop in supermarkets now, with crowds of other people.

Earlier in the year, the NHS warned people not to risk their health by ignoring sell-by dates. A Times commenter points out that your immune system gets tougher with age – and your sense of taste and smell declines.

In the 70s, dinner parties were a genteel form of speed dating. We were too poor (or too middle class) to go out. There wasn’t a great choice of venues that we could afford, and most places were either too up-market or too down-market. But we needed to meet each other, so we gave dinner parties and “bring a bottle” parties.

Lower-middle-class Teales never go to greasy-spoon cafes, but Bohemian Upwards may. Though mainly you have to wait until you get home and can eat “proper” food that you can trust. Upper-class Stow Crats used to pretend to be very baffled by canteens and self-service.

Firepits have replaced barbecues (sooo suburban), and the latest thing is restaurants where all the food is cooked on an open fire.

Chilli-flavoured tomato ketchup appeared briefly in corner shops, but seems to have disappeared again. From HP on, exotic Eastern sauces slid rapidly downmarket.

Single malts are the new white burgundy.

Upwards can’t eat or drink anything cherry flavoured – especially black cherries (very chic circa 1963).

In the 50s and 60s, Upwards used to shudder with horror when presented with a cake on a paper or (worse!) plastic doily. You can still buy them, so somebody must be using them.

Eileen Weybridge and Jen Teale are shocked and bewildered that Samantha Upward tips instant coffee straight into a mug without measuring it with a spoon. And they’re outraged when she eats the rind off the Stilton (It’s all mouldy! And you don’t know where it’s been! And I thought she was “well-brought up”!)

Teales used to call all pasta “spaghetti”. Upwards bone up on all the different kinds (orechiette, conchiglie, farfalle). Pasta manufacturers start marketing it as “pasta” and calling farfalle “bowtie pasta”. Upwards move on to ditalini and stelline.

People are deserting the digestive (Nice, sponge finger, rich tea, Bath Oliver) for fancy biscuits (much sweeter, lots of chocolate and possibly pink icing). Old attitudes are changing (dull biscuits are good for you, only chavs eat biscuits that are too nice etc etc. More than that, they’re deserting the digestive for the kind of outrageous, expensive, highly coloured, ultra-sweet fancy cake that existed in the 50s but we were never allowed to eat.

Porridge is ace. But, as it crosses all the classes, the MCs like to go organic to put our stamp on it. And add bananas.” @middleclasshandbook responding to a tweet about “steel-cut Irish oatmeal”. (Steel-cut oats are not pre-cooked and you have to soak them all night.)

And of course the currently fashionable regional Chinese cookery is unbearably hot. Upwards still think that food should make you suffer, and the only food that gives you bragging rights is painful (chillies) or disgusting (what’s the new steak tartare? Wood-ear fungus?). There was a 70s version of wholemeal bread that has quite disappeared. Eating a slice was like munching a carpet tile spread with honey. (You always had honey in the house because you used it instead of sugar.)

Part I here.
Part II here.
Part III here.