‘Chips on our shoulders; Class Food and the Jilted Generation’

This is a guest post, and recipe (at the bottom) from Liz Ely

I read a previous post on this blog about food and memories and the sort of wonderful experiences in our lives that are punctuated by tastes and meals. I am a total foodie – were you to set me a ’30 day food challenge’ I could probably tell you a food that reminds me of a place (Dosa breakfasts in Andhra Pradesh as a gap year type), food that reminds me of a person (my sister, cheese with cranberries in it), food that reminds me of a time (period in previous flat where I went through a phase of making home-made tempura drunk, turns out cheese tempura is very delicious but the batter is murder to get off your Kitchen units the next day), and food that I feel guilty about (toss up between fois gras or Big Macs).

And so on, and so forth. However, one of the things that first strikes me when it comes to food is the interaction of our eating habits and the ever – present (but perhaps less frequently referred to or understood) class system that pervades UK society.

I’ve always been a big eater, and a fairly adventurous one – but I didn’t really learn how to cook until I went to university (of Edinburgh) where the influence of more middle class flat-mates combined with the appeal of cooking (it’s like, creative and you get food at the end) prompted me to learn. My eating habits and my northern accent changed to mirror more closely the people I found myself around in those first few years of flat sharing.

I maintain that my ability to cook is something that I have learned as a result of class privilege – having the time and influences to learn and appreciate food and cooking are ways in which you are socialized. The Media are quick to blame the poor for eating junk food, put the burden of obesity on the NHS etc. But they are far slower to look at the fact that cooking healthy food, and the capacity to do so is a privilege that not everyone has.

There’s something about class, cooking, junk food diets and the poor, which is peculiarly British (via the USA). The other night I was a little tipsy and quite hungry walking past a famous global food corporation, where I bought processed meat and cheese filled sandwich for £1.39. I ate it sat at the bus stop and it tasted like childhood. It was comforting but at the same time sad that what is essentially the biggest food – based symbol of capitalism had co-opted one of my food memories. I had a reasonably healthy childhood, but we still ate our fair share of microwave meals and takeaways; life in Britain for workers does not facilitate from – scratch cooking. Though I am a believer in sustainability and organic food and the environment and all that stuff, I am suspicious of the notion of ethical consumption is any kind of solution because it valorises those with the ability to buy more expensive ethical food.

This blog has been partially promoted with the words ‘that bit of politics which is about cooking’. What’s my point? I guess that food is political, both in production and consumption. Come Dine with Me is compulsive viewing as a result of the deliberately different class backgrounds of the contestants who would otherwise not be in a position to break bread. Food, drink and status remain closely entwined; we still judge others by their consumption – there have been times when despite my structural position I have felt like an inauthentic working class person as a result of the way that I eat.

Of course, this is all nonsense – and we need to move away from viewing class status as something can be judged solely through patterns of consumption. Still, the politics of class and food fascinate me (this post could have been about 10 times longer – but I didn’t want to lose you before I got to my multi- purpose curry recipe).

Curries are good to make and once you have the spices they are quite cheap. A curry made from scratch has the power to impress and feed lots of people. This particular one could be made with a wide variety of veg/meat or fish, but I’m going to go with Aubergine and Courgettes. Of course, it works pretty well with mushrooms too.

It’s also Vegan (I’m not, but I admire people who are)!

(NB I tend to cook by instinct rather than recipie, so this is going to be quite approximate, if you want more precise instructions I recommend Manjula’s Kitchen ; a treasure trove of excellent Indian veggie recipes)

Multi-purpose basic curry.

INGREDIENTS

1 Large Aubergine (or 2 small/Medium ones)

2 Med onions

3 Courgettes

1 tin of chopped tomatoes (you can use fresh if you like, that would be quite nice)

1 tin of coconut milk/cream

1 red chilli

Fresh Coriander (optional)

Cumin seeds

Turmeric powder

8 curry leaves (or so)

Fenugreek (if you can get it, if not – no big)

3 cloves of garlic or a tbsp garlic paste (more if you like it garlicky)

Coriander powder

Salt

Pepper

Sugar

METHOD 🙂

Chop your onions, garlic, Aubergines and courgettes (onion small, aubergine/courgette medium sized bits). Chop the chilli (touch your eyes at your peril!)

Fill a pan with oil, and deep fry the Aubergines until they are golden brown. If this makes your arteries recoil in horror you could always grill them with olive oil and salt (won’t be as nice though I bet).

When the aubergine pieces are done put them on a kitchen towel and set aside.

Now use a little of that oil in a wok to fry the onion, garlic, chilli till golden brown. Add a generous teaspoon of cumin (seeds or powder) and 8 or so curry leaves.

When the onions are starting to go golden brown add in the courgettes and fry on a medium heat till they look all soft.

Add a teaspoon of fenugreek, a generous teaspoon of turmeric and coriander powder. You could also add in some chilli powder at this point if you like your curries a little hotter. Stir for a few minutes

Add the tomatoes and simmer until it reduces. Keep stirring. (If using fresh you might want to add in some water too)

Add in the aubergines and Coconut milk, stir and simmer. (The key here is patience, put it on a low heat and give it a little while).

Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste. After it’s been simmering for a while I recommend tasting it to see how much sugar/salt/pepper you want to add in.

Just before serving add chopped fresh coriander. (I like to put a little in, simmer for a further 5 or 10 minutes, and then put a little more in immediately before serving)

Serve with Rice or Naan 🙂 Serves around 4 depending on appetite!

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7 Responses to ‘Chips on our shoulders; Class Food and the Jilted Generation’

  1. I can see what you’re trying to say but I’m sure you’ll agree that its not as simple as working class=bad diet, middle class= healthy.

    I learned to cook from my mum who had to feed 6 children on a tight dole budget. I learned how make a meal out of leftovers. If we had roast chicken on a Sunday we had chicken pie on a Monday. Stock from the bones made soup for lunches. With a big tin of cheap pilchards, some potatoes, an egg and breadcrumbs she taught us how to make delicious and (nutritious) fishcakes. Ham stock (from a Sunday’s boiled ham) and a cheap bag of lentils makes a soup that is the most enduring comfort food of my childhood and very good for you… etc etc etc…

    Meanwhile, friends with parent who were better off were eating crap out of packets and microwave meals. Nutritious food doesn’t need to be exotic food or, in fact, expensive.

    Food for thought… :o)

  2. Stoo says:

    Was this after you accompanied us to the bus station, by any chance? If so, I’ll feel partially responsible.

    I’m always on the lookout for more curry recipes, and have more coconut milk than I know what to do with, so I’ll try this one soon.

    I too have felt a bit like a class traitor due to the way I eat. I’m pretty sure couscous-stuffed peppers weren’t on the menu when I were a lad…

    • Alasdair says:

      class solidarity be damned, couscous stuffed peppers sound delicious. I really should eat more couscous. *drifts off thinking about food instead of work again*

  3. Liz says:

    Stoo, I’m afraid it was after I accompanied you to the bus station, not only that, but I bought the burger with the change from the taxi that you gave me! It’s all your fault 😉

    Let me know how the recipe goes 🙂 Hope I haven’t got the quantities horribly wrong x

  4. Alli says:

    I can identify with a lot of this, but there’s a definite urban/rural divide involved as well. While part of that goes back to class, and the idea of “sophistication”, the result is that if you live somewhere even a little bit remote, you miss out on the most exotic and expensive foods, but you also manage to avoid some of the cheap and nasty ones too; I’ll never associate fast-food chains with my childhood because the nearest ones where over 80 miles away. Maybe our family were a bit behind the times (my mother didn’t allow teabags into the house until about 1992 because she was convinced that they were a newfangled way of conning money out of you, and probably just a fad anyway), but dinner in our house was more like 101 Things To Do With Mince, with a bonus motivational speech about how we should be grateful that we weren’t so skint that we had to eat tripe. My decision to go vegetarian, and eventually vegan, was a difficult departure in many ways, but at least I can still have that other great childhood staple – lentil soup.

  5. @Clare
    aye, obviously I was generalising and speaking from my own experiences which are growing up in a working class town in the late late 80s/90s, going to a middle class type uni and working in ‘areas of deprivation’ as a youth worker. There are always exceptions and no hard or fast rules. You’re right, I wasn’t saying ‘working class unhealthy, middle class healthy’ – I think I was more railing against that ‘it’s easy to be healthy’ attitude that you sometimes get from various people. It isn’t very easy to be healthy for a lot of people, and it’s not just about cost, time/energy, skills, space to cook etc – lots of things come into play, class is just one factor in shaping food experience. I reckon.
    but aye, as I said, could have made the post 10 times longer but didn’t want to put anyone of their lunch/tea/dinner/supper (whatever you call it)

  6. Pingback: Class Activism | Bright Green

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