There’s a version of what being ‘working class’ means (usually championed by those who aren’t) that suggests a kind of pig-like, unquestioning gluttony — which implies that thinking about what you eat and drink, and expressing a preference, is bourgeois pretentiousness. Real first-against-the-wall stuff.
I’ve always found this weird because the working class family I grew up in talked about food and drink all the time. I’ve written about this before, albeit in a subscriber-only newsletter hardly anyone reads, so I’ll quote myself:
During meals, we invariably talked about what we were eating, how it could be improved, and how it compared to previous experiences of the same dish. Even if it was just egg and chips — ‘If you get a good heat on it, the bottom frills up and goes crispy, which is how it should be.’
It was partly because we were determined to squeeze as much pleasure out of life as funds would allow: wasting money on a bad dinner is annoying when you’re wealthy, but heartbreaking when you’re not.
We had a favourite chip shop, which changed frequently as we monitored the quality of the food with successive changes of management: their chips are over-cooked, the fish batter is greasy, they’re cooking it all in the same oil which isn’t at the right temperature for either. We turned our noses up at most bought-in pies but loved Holland’s Potato & Meat. (I still do — that buttery crust, the creamy quality of the potato… Oh, yes.) We debated who made the best roast potatoes — Mum, Nan or Aunty D? (It was, and still is, Aunty D — sorry, Mum.) Was a brand-name brown sauce worth the extra money over the supermarket’s own version? (Yes — less sugary.) We talked about cheese at Christmas when there was more than one to compare. When she had time, Mum made bread, and we all knew it was better than the supermarket stuff — crustier, more flavoursome, with a crumb that fought back.
I also remember Dad and his friends debating the quality of local ciders (Rich’s had the right balance of price and quality), beer (homebrew especially) and whisky.
And a bit more that’s just come to me: my late uncle, a former tank driver, latterly a mechanic, used to take account of particularly good meals he’d eaten to tell me about when he saw me. Sometimes, he’d keep back a slice of especially good bacon or a slice of particularly impressive boiled ham for me to try, serving it up with oil-blackened fingers. Food is love and all that.
I was thinking about this today because I’ve just eaten a particularly fantastic avocado. (95p from Lidl, avo fans — bigger, better, cheaper and more reliable than those from any other shop in town, for reasons unknown.) Stop, don’t hate me!
See, avocado defeated my family the first time we tried it in about 1984, when we were temporarily between homes (because, money) and living with Nan and Gramps. Mum had read about them in a magazine and, as we all liked to try new things, got one at the supermarket. The problem is, it was marketed as an ‘avocado pear’, which set up quite the wrong expectations. Then, on top of that, we had no idea what a ripe avocado felt like so this specimen had the texture of a cricket ball. I can still remember the sensation of eating it — the kind of tannic bitterness you feel on the skin of your teeth. We all tried a bite and grimaced before it went in the bin.
So for years I didn’t think I liked avocado until a holiday in Spain in my twenties where a woman running a market stall asked my partner and I if we wanted one ‘¿Para comer?’ That is, to eat now. She grabbed at them, prodding with her fingers until she found one that was just right — not in a twee lifestyle aspirations way but like a production line operator weeding out dented cans. The one she selected and hurled into a paper bag tasted like vegetable velvet and I felt (as I too often do) a surge of annoyance: why had I been letting middle class people keep good stuff like this to themselves? Good cheap stuff, too — denied to me through lack of experience rather than shortness of funds.
So, I like avocados now. Not because I’m a traitor to my people, or because I’m trying to impress anyone, but because they taste good.
Unless… Well.. You don’t think the act of writing this might betray a lingering anxiety, do you?