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Food snobs

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"If you’ve bought a supermarket ham (God help you) or another cheap ham that’s full of water, you may want to skip this step." Matthew Evans

I've never actually been a fan of Matthew Evans - the Gourmet Farmer - I think he calls himself. There was just something about him that didn't appeal. So when I read the above statement this morning I was incensed. "How dare he" thought I as I read that patronising 'God help you'. Why did I even see this? Well I have been trying to decide on what to cook for tomorrow's dinner for my birthday gourmet friend, and, encouraged by David I had been looking for ham recipes.

So I came across this recipe for Marmalade and cider glazed ham by Matthew Evans on the SBS website and there at the top of the recipe was that statement. Now Matthew Evans may well be able to get top quality, home-raised and possibly killed pork, which he may then have cured himself. I don't know. Or else he bought it in a small local butchery/charcuterie specialising in such things. I can't. And your average Australian can't either. Your average Australian would not be able to afford such a thing. No they (and I) buy it from the supermarket - preferably on special - because that's all they can afford. And I shall soak my ham too, even if it is full of water.

Does he not know that the vast majority of Australians live in the suburbs of large cities? They can't afford to live in the trendy inner suburbs, unless they live in high-rise housing commission flats I guess. Did you know that Australia has the highest concentration of urban living in the world? I'm pretty sure that's right. If it's not the the top then it's pretty near the top. We almost all live in or on the outskirts of one of the big cities and very large towns. Not many of us live on a farm and raise our own pigs. Now I'm sure there's a case to be made for farmers being poor - some of them anyway, but nevertheless many of them would have access to prime pork and ham. If you watch any of those farmer foodie programs there often seems to be a system of barter out there in the bush. No the rest of us shop in supermarkets.

Moreover here is another superior statement in the list of ingredients - next to his 7kg ham

"a whole classic smoked English-style leg ham (this needs a large oven; for a regular ovens use a 4 kg ham)

"Smoked English-style". Now I'm all for supporting the English, and he is right - English gammon, and English smoked ham is better. Well I think so anyway. But it's not that much better - well to the untrained, ungourmet taste buds anyway. Besides where can you get that? Yes I probably could source that, or at least a rather more 'real' ham from somewhere. Either a very expensive providore somewhere in one of Melbourne's posher suburbs or online. But (a) it would cost a fortune - and yes I could probably afford it, but is it worth it? and (b) I might have to buy it online - which would mean delays and more cost for delivery. My dinner is tomorrow. All of this is completely out of reach of the average Australian.

"7kg - this needs a large oven: for a regular oven use a 4kg ham." How many people have a large oven - even snobby Miele oven owners in particular - wouldn't have one of them? There are some wider ovens around but they tend to be less high. And only the very well-off would have one anyway. Besides who wants to cook a 7kg ham unless it's Christmas I suppose. Probably better to do it in a Weber. Now your average family might have one of them - well not the housing commission flat dwellers. My ham - well half a leg - is just under 3kg, so obviously I'm going to have to fiddle with the quantities for the glaze. And I shall cook it in my 'regular', if, admittedly, posh, AEG oven.

And one more thing on this specific recipe. It calls for good apple cider - and the picture shows a glass of fashionably cloudy, presumably organic cider. Also rather more expensive than ordinary old cider. Which is what I bought in Aldi today. It will be OK. Now as organic, cloudy cider is fashionable anyone can find it - in Dan's most likely - but I'm sure it will cost a lot more. My marmalade will be home-made though. Big tick for me.

Now the recipe itself is very tempting and I will use it, but I am very angry at his attitude. Personally, because I do buy supermarket ham because it's too hard to do anything else - even the 'proper', and expensive butchers in Eltham did not have smoked English-style ham. They didn't have any ham at all in fact. But I am most angry on behalf of the poor and the average, who simply do not have the means to buy gourmet.

Almost all of Australia buys most of their food in the supermarket. They don't have the time to shop around individual stores for each type of product, or to find the 'artisan' makers. They don't have the extra money to buy what might be better - but might not - in farmers' markets. Every penny spent on food counts for many people. No wonder they buy MacDonald's and KFC, and Domino's pizza. No wonder they buy cheap sliced white bread, and plastic cheese. Of course they can do better by spending more on fresh seasonal produce and shopping at markets - some of them are indeed much cheaper - not the farmers' markets though. But they need to live near one. There aren't that many. They don't have the money and are less well educated to boot, which is why schools should be doing much more to educate us in what to eat and how to make the most of what money you have.

It's not just the problem of the foodies that bang on about organic and provenance though is it? It's the general denigration of what people used to appallingly call 'the lower orders' who don't eat the right food and get fat. In 2018 Guardian food columnist Ruby Tandoh resigned because she was fed up with food snobbery which she saw as rife in its publications and

"rich people slagging off convenience foods all around, professional fatphobes at every level and not a scruple in sight" Ruby Tandoh

Even Nigella - a privileged rich person if ever there was one - has said:

“Food is used too often as a status symbol. It’s the idea that people feel, ‘I’m better than you because I do this thing to my food and you don’t’.” Nigella Lawson

And it's true isn't it? As I was checking out of one supermarket today and chatting to the check-out lady - I can't remember what we were talking about - in the course of the conversation she mentioned that she lived alone now and it was great because she didn't have to cook. I bit my tongue, because this is truly sad and I felt a guilty tinge of disdain. But, food obsessive that I am, I suspect that nevertheless if I was alone I would probably be living off scrambled eggs on toast, frozen TV dinners, and fish cakes. I doubt I would be cooking a ham. Well that doesn't make sense for one person does it?

I do wonder whether everyone is as aware as I am that we should all be eating the latest trendy health foods - the supermarket aisles would suggest that more and more people do - and their magazines certainly push the idea. Nevertheless there are similarly long aisles of chips and soft drinks, frozen meals and other convenience foods. And so we secretly consider ourselves just a bit superior if we cook 'real' food and buy lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

"today's obsession with healthy eating often masks a disdain for the lifestyles of the lower orders ... food has become the one issue through which it is acceptable to vomit bile on to the allegedly slovenly sections of society." Brendan O'Neill - The Guardian

In the little reading that I did for this outburst, I was saddened to see that Jamie, whom one would have thought was a champion of the poor, was also guilty of such sentiments in an interview in France way back when he was doing the school dinner thing:

"The people I'm talking about have enormous televisions – a lot bigger than my own – the latest in mobile phones, cars and they go and get drunk in pubs at the weekend. Their poverty shows in the way they feed themselves." Jamie Oliver

And yet he strives to at least give the impression that he is focussing his attention on 'ordinary' people. Not the bottom of the heap either as they can at least afford the television and the mobile phone. There are some who cannot afford even that.

Probably if we dig deep enough we would find a certain amount of smugness lurking. So every now and then wonder whether if you had been born poor and stupid and had not had the educational opportunities that you actually had, or even perhaps a mum who cooked dinner for you, then would you have cooked gourmet meals for your family every night, worried about whether you were eating the right things and splashed out on organic English smoked ham for a dinner party with friends? And as I have already said, not even the educated, wealthy and privileged person that I am could easily buy the right kind of ham.

"Now, all cultures have their food prohibitions, but these are no real biggie. It’s not a huge deal to forego pork, beef or onion to make the case to yourself, “I am a member of this cultural group”. To obsess about a range of foods or to fret about pseudo-scientific fads or the true source of body fat or whether I’m eating what a person like me should eat, according to some emerging principle, is bound to send me potty, however. The rules will change next season." Helen Razer


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