Anglo-American Food: Still bad?

In 1895 the New York Times published a lengthy article of some 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 in such communities. It claimed they prefer quantity over quality and heterogeneity over harmony, and exhibit vestiges of public easting customs originating in primitive times.

The article contrasted the careful delineation of cuisines in France: bourgeois, peasant, haute, and other refinements that don’t exist in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The American barbeque is offered as an example of lively old English public entertainments. A good observation I think, as the statement that Boston baked beans is a “cisAtlantic” variation of Britain’s pork and pease pudding.

But more than 120 years have passed. Of course our societies have changed, as well, even in Britain. Is the Times’ view, forged in the heyday of the Protestant ethic, still accurate?

Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Graham Kerr, and many more food writers on both sides of the Atlantic have tried to amend the cultural disposition noted. As do countless restaurateurs and chefs. Have they succeeded?

It’s an apt subject for debate, surely.












4 thoughts on “Anglo-American Food: Still 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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