Where does the foodie stand in a society where a large percentage of people are eating a terrible diet? Does the foodie have wider responsibilities and if so what are the impact of these?
Foodies have done much good in the world of eating and cooking. This consommé of food purism, we cannot escape the fact that we live in a country where advance of the new crusaders for authentic culinary experience, in the face of vacuum-sealed, mass-market manufacture has had an enormously positive impact on the food industry. Artisan producers are now able to find a market for their carefully created produce, responsible farming means we can buy food that has been well husbanded, public awareness means more of us are adventurous in our eating habits and bold, creative chefs have been able to produce intelligent menus, using better sourced ingredients in more interesting settings.
What they had recognised so astutely is that while the French knew more about cooking than anyone else, the Italians knew more about eating
For my book, it’s largely thanks to two pioneers in cooking, that many imaginations were awakened. Too many of us had returned from continental holidays feeling dejected and nostalgic for the kind of ingredients we saw everywhere in local markets in France, Spain and Italy, wondering why we had to live in a land of such culinary philistinism. Enter two disarming foodie beacons on to page and screen. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers reminded us what was possible and led us out of the darkness into a land flowing with olive oil. Like Elizabeth David in her day, they refused to allow for lazy thinking in the kitchen. What they had recognised so astutely is that while the French knew more about cooking than anyone else, the Italians knew more about eating. And thus was born a generation of foodies happy to lend hours of our lives in search of fresh ingredients at markets, specialist shops and in restaurants across the land, all for that moment of relish. The world-weary and the media-frenzied alike could gather round the unpretentiously laid table and savour the uncomplicated truth of eating. We were among the blessed.
Forced to buy cheap carbohydrates, feed on shamefully reared livestock and overdose on mass-produced salts and sugars, a quarter of the population is verging on self-inflicted obesity
But at the crossroads of knowledge and indulgence lies responsibility. And for the foodie there are many campaigns to fight on the road to equality and sustainability. There has been rapid growth in responsible farming, greater understanding of the importance of diet and health, increased awareness of the depopulation of the oceans and more effort towards less waste. Nonetheless rising from our self-indulgent aromatic consommé of food purism, we cannot escape the fact that we live in a country where still too many people are dying from their diet. Forced to buy cheap carbohydrates, feed on shamefully reared livestock and overdose on mass-produced salts and sugars, a quarter of the population is verging on self-inflicted obesity. Meanwhile we throw away one third of the food we buy with ready money because the supermarkets are colluding with the food producers, imposing meaningless use-by and sell-by dates on products that are perfectly usable; thousands of children go every day without ever having a proper cooked meal and older people are left to fend for themselves as their crucial lifelines are cut.
Fundamental to the principles of hospitality is to let those who are hungry, needy, strange and poor eat first from the plate
So more than ever, we need to shake up the careless people. Those who keep selling and buying unsustainably produced foods, who throw away half the food they buy, who fail to understand the impact of over-fishing, who frequent outlets that peddle killer foods. We have a responsibility to pass on what we have gained to ensure that those who most need nutritious, healthy, well-sourced ingredients are able to access them. Fundamental to the principles of hospitality is to let those who are hungry, needy, strange and poor eat first from the plate. If we foodies never rise from our tables and simply indulge our own epicurean desires regardless of our responsibilities, if we don’t actively resist greed in all its manifestations we might eventually become the victims of our own success. And history will remember that we did nothing but sate our own appetites. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that there is no greater love than that of food. But not in a good way. Qu'ils mangent de la brioche.
Philip has been a waiter, chauffeur, teacher, BBC producer, is a director of social enterprise Agency East and a food writer (his first book Cooking without Recipes was published in 2011). At weekends he cooks at his latest pop-up restaurant in Islington called the Barn.