What brought this on, I hear our readers ask. Why is she getting into this maudlin mood? Hard as nails, she is, usually. (Or so my colleague tells me.)
I was reading Ben Rogers’s entertaining history Beef and Liberty, which deals largely with patriotism and nationalism in the kitchen, invented and developed by the English in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, when fear of France as the outside enemy, of Catholicism as the inside enemy and, above all, rapid and disconcerting social and economic changes made many writers emphasise the virtues of English food, English meat, English puddings, as opposed to the French fripperies, sauces and kickshaws.
Rogers, a man of the soft left, but an excellent historian, draws a parallel with present-day hysterics in France and Italy over fast food versus slow food, American food versus “European”, that is domestic food.
“Much like French and Italian patriots today, eighteenth-century Englishmen identified their national culinary traditions not just as one set of tastes and techniques among others, but as the encapsulation of home and hearth, Church and nation. It bound their world together. And like modern-day French and Italian patriots, early Englishmen naturally found in the threat to their culinary tradition a ready representation of larger, more elusive threats to all these ultimately important things. Substitute France for the United States, fricassees and wine for hamburgers and Coca-Cola and the parallels are striking. In a way that is not generally recognized, eighteenth-century England more or less kicked off modern kitchen nationalism.”Nom d’un nom d’un nom. What will they think of next?