I’ve just been reading an exchange between two bloggers who have different views on British food. They were very polite to each other, though there was definite disagreement, and raised the question about how to handle such a situation.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid disagreements by ignoring them. Does my opinion really matter that much if it’s going to upset someone? Much better to stay positive and friendly.
When I was a salesman the all purpose remark for those times. “Yes,” we would say to the customer,”there’s a lot in what you say.”
All you had to remember was not to tell them what there was a lot of. Sorry about the grammar, but I think it conveys the general idea.
My first experience of on-line disagreement was with sports forums, where the most argumentative people in the world seem to congregate. If there was a word to be misinterpreted, a nuance to be missed or an erroneous opinion to be expressed, they are the ones to do it. I soon learned that it was easy to upset people, difficult to explain why you were being misinterpreted and impossible to change anyone’s mind.
In the case of the food debate Ellen Hawley, who writes Notes from the UK, wrote a post called Is British Food Dull? She lists a number of things which show some dull food, praises some American food, discusses the idiocy of modern British chefs and doesn’t use the letter “u” enough.
I think the poor woman is American, so I’ll forgive her the spelling. I’ll also forgive her comments on British lasagne, because most of it does taste as she correctly says, like glue. Mine doesn’t, because (a) my mother taught me to make it with a cheese sauce and (b) I can’t be bothered to make it these days.
When you have such British staples as Shepherd’s Pie, Cottage Pie and Savoury Mince (a school dinners favourite) why bother with sheets of pasta? All that excitement from just one portion of ground up meat.
She’s not wrong about modern chefs either.
However, I can see that having our national cuisine run down by a woman from a country that brought us biscuits and gravy, American cheese and pumpkin pie, could be a little irritating. (Not that you can really hold one blogger responsible for the gastronomic iniquity of a Nation).
This brings us on to Emma at EMMA_FOODS, who stood up to defend our national cuisine. It didn’t go too badly to start, but then she admitted she was from London. Well, London isn’t Britain, despite Londoners thinking it is. (Personally I find it just as irritating to be lectured on food by a Londoner as by an American – they eat jellied eels and pies and liquor).
She then goes on to say “I don’t think we are just the stereotypical bland, dull, stodgy cuisine we once were”. Hang on, I thought she was refuting the idea that our food was bland, dull and stodgy…
Then she goes on the praise the current crop of British chefs. I’m not going to say anything – partly because it’s not polite to criticise and partly because I can’t spell gimmicky.
It’s also partly because I don’t see much wrong with traditional food. There’s a reason we eat what we do – mainly it’s because we can grow it, which used to be important. I like kale and carrots and Brussels – they go well with pies and roast meats. I also like mushy peas, black pudding and Yorkshire pudding (either with gravy or with jam and white sauce). Porridge, in particular, is stodgy, dull, boring and very good for you according to modern thinking.
It’s nice, as Emma points out, that we have access to so much other food from other places, but that doesn’t apply all over the country. It’s not bad here in Nottingham,but if you live in Lincolnshire or Cornwall (as Ellen does) the picture is very different.
We are also experiencing a growth in distilleries in the country as a whole, particularly with gin, for people who like drinking scent, and a rise in Farmers’ Markets and Farm Shops, so quality local food is more readily available. This is despite the fact, as I have said before, that they re becoming more like supermarkets. I bought samphire from several farm shops last year, and it all came from Israel.
As for popular modern food – pan-fried sea bass and lamb shanks are only fried fish and stew so what’s all the fuss about?
Strangely, I seem to find myself unable to see much difference between the two positions of Ellen and Emma, and I’ve now stepped in to disagree with both of them. Traditional food, done well, is pretty good. Things like curry and Chinese are pretty mainstream, and in big cities there’s plenty of other food about if you want it.
I didn’t even set out to discuss food, I was meaning to talk about the etiquette of avoiding arguments. I’m not sure I’ve managed that…
I am, however, interested in your views, so what do you think. What’s the best way of avoiding arguments on the web?