Anglo-American Food: Really That bad?

In 1895 the New York Times published a lengthy article of no little sophistication and humour in which it claimed:

…to take a serious view of eating is commonly considered in all Anglo-Saxon communities as the mark of a frivolous, if not depraved, mind.

The article stated that refined eating is a foreign notion to such communities who hew more to quantity, heterogeneity regardless of harmony, and a public feasting element inherited from primitive times.

The article contrasted favourably the precise delineation of cuisines in France, e.g., bourgeois, peasant, haute, and the refinements evolved in dining in that country.

The American barbeque is cited as deriving from raucous English public entertainments. In and of itself, an acute observation, ditto the statement that Boston baked beans is a “cisAtlantic” variation of Albion’s “pork and pease pudding”.

But now, more than 120 years later, is the Times’ view still accurate?

Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Graham Kerr, and many more tried in their time to amend the cultural disposition noted. Did they succeed?

An apt subject for public debate, surely. The Oxford Union, or a similar body, should take it on. It could go like this:

“Proposition. In 1895 a New York Times article stated, ‘To take a serious view of eating is commonly considered in all Anglo-Saxon communities as the mark of a frivolous, if not depraved, mind’. The statement is no less true today”.

What say you?












4 thoughts on “Anglo-American Food: Really That bad?

  1. Today, the point is moot. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so these people had to import from their former empire antidotes to gastro-insouciance. The result is that the national dish is curry. No one takes it seriously, but it is accepted without debate.

    • Could be, maybe you’re saying, there aren’t any discrete Anglo-Saxon communities in the world anymore anyway. The global village, literal and electronic, has blended traditions.

      But I’m not sure the NYT was really right in what it said. There has always been good food in Britain and its extensions, and sane ways to prepare and consume it.

      It assumes as well a kind of perfect obverse in France, but that image too probably is exaggerated, then and even more today, when hamburgers are the rage in Paris, and bagels.

      It’s hard to generalize I think, but what the NYT said has been repeated many times over the ages, that must be acknowledged. And the British are their own worst critics, a kind of self-flagellation which may answer certain psychic/sociological needs more than anything else. It may be a way of saying we are an orderly society, we are serious. The French do that too but not in the food area, more in other areas. Take their Civil Code vs. the common law. Anyway…


  2. The answer may be found in the Times article itself where it is asked, referring to the Elizabethan era, “What can be expected of a people whose ‘Virgin Queen’ opens the day with a pint of strong ale?” The article goes on to observe the gastronomical hopelessness of a race given to the horrors of an Oxford breakfast, the peroration of which is marmalade and a glass of bitter.

    • Very good! I like too the part where he points out the helter-skelter mix of drinks at a Georgian (I think) dinner. Start with small ale, strong ale and port to follow, finish with Burgundy.

      But is it true today, the general point made?

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