British food: a reply and a link

In a December post, “Is British food dull?” I managed to offend a couple of readers, notably the blogger behind Emma Foods, who posted an interesting response, about how she sees British food. It’s worth a look.

I clearly got under her skin, and in return she got under mine in both her response and the comments she left–not because of her content, which I find interesting, but because of her tone. So I’ve given some thought to how to handle this. I don’t want the exchange to turn into a slanging match. I’m happy to host disagreements, even when the disagreement’s packaging doesn’t make me happy. But I do want to make four points:

First, Emma’s definition of British food is far more multicultural than mine. That’s interesting and worth some thought. How, it makes me ask, do we define British? As an immigrant and a resident of the relatively monocultural Cornwall, do I think of Britishness too narrowly?

It’s a valuable contribution to the conversation. My thanks.

Second, I didn’t say British food was dull. I said it had a reputation for being dull and that a lot of British chefs seem to react to that by valuing innovation above taste. I did, by way of examples, say some unflattering things about British lasagna and compared British burger recipes less than flatteringly to American burgers. But not all British food, I’m happy to say, is either lasagna or hamburgers.

I didn’t balance those examples by talking about British foods I like. That may or may not have been an oversight. It depends on how you define the post’s topic. I could argue it either way.

Third, to my surprise, Emma’s right about my having changed the title of my post, although based on what I can reconstruct from the original URL, I don’t seem to have changed it in the way she remembers. I do sometimes change a title if it strikes me, in hindsight, as out of focus or long-winded. The change wasn’t in response to her comment.

Does that matter? Not really.

Why mention it, then? Because I don’t like to leave anyone thinking I’d erase what I said in response to being challenged. I’d much prefer to take the challenge head on. If when someone rattles my cage I decide something needs to be taken down, I hope I’ll have the guts to acknowledge it.

And fourth, I’m not a he. It doesn’t particularly matter in this context, and Emma’s not the first person to look at my half-faced, short-haired photo and decide I’m male, but as long as I’m putting a few things on record, I thought I’d mention it. 

In my experience, very few people leave comments on topics I (or other bloggers) suggest, but I’m going to make a suggestion anyway: If anyone wants to leave a comment about how to handle online disagreements without getting into flaming wars, it could be an interesting discussion.

*

After I sent this out, I realized I hadn’t titled it. So in the interest of full disclosure, I’m announcing that the title’s a late addition.

115 thoughts on “British food: a reply and a link

  1. I stand by you. The reason the Brits have embraced multicultural cuisine is because their own traditional dishes are not particularly exciting. Thai food served in a London restaurant doesn’t make it British cuisine. I grew up with an English mom and grandmother, so I know the food firsthand, and my childhood was not gastronomically pleasant. My dad is Scottish so I had the added pleasure of blood pudding! Did this author actually comment on your post or just write a post of her own? Either way, the lady doth protest too much;-)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Both–we exchanged a few comments and she wrote her own post. But it’s an interesting question, how you define a nation’s food. Having grown up in the U.S., I think of pizza or spaghetti as American, even though they’re Italian-American. Ditto bagels, although they’re Jewish-American. (Damn, I miss the bagels.) And so on, endlessly, through all the ethnic cuisines we’ve adapted and learned to cook. Where I unscientifically drawn the line, I think, is that if I and an assortment of people around me have learned to cook it, it’s American. If we haven’t, it still belongs to [fill in the blank].

      I guess what I’m saying is that the line isn’t a clear one. I hear what you’re saying about traditional British cooking, and it makes sense to me. But in a few generations, any number of what now seem like definable ethnic dishes will have been adapted into British cooking. So at what point are they British and at what point aren’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nothing beats a reasonable dose of bangers and mash whilst handling online disagreements.
    So sorry having forgotten about the exact location of that best-bangers-somewhere-along-Penwith cornish hotel-pub after long a time !

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Ellen,

    Thank you for acknowledging my response and thank you for such a political answer.

    My view on life is to be as positive as possible and I remind myself everyday that it is important to see the beauty in everything, everyone and every situation where possible. My blog allowes me to share this outlook and try to not dampen spirits just for the sake of it. (We have enough negativity going on in the world already!)

    I am sure we have both learned something from this experience.

    I wish you all the best.

    Emma

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve rarely written anything that draws ire, which I put down to my sheer mediocrity. Humor is always one of those subjective things – just as subjective as food tastes. Some people seemed like they took it too seriously and personally, but that’s well within their purview, even if it feels a little exhausting. For them and for readers.

    I try to answer in a respectful manner to bristly comments, but don’t continue the conversation if they’re intent on an argument. I have a lot of offline people I can argue with, if I feel so compelled.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I think you got so hooked, Ellen, because your view was being misrepresented. You didn’t actually say British food was stodgy or dull; you said it had that reputation. And you didn’t say there are no good British chefs, just that it seemed some of them try too hard to be “not boring” by adding weird ingredients to dishes that originated in other cultures.

        The responses, from Emma Foods, and now from quercuscommunity, make it sound like you were denigrating British food all around, which is not the case.

        And an aside to quercuscommunity, if you’re going to make American food about biscuits and gravy, American cheese, and pumpkin pie (two of which can be very good if made properly—just like your native cuisine), then you’d better be able to take what others say about overcooked veg and beans on toast.

        As for my background, all four of my grandparents were born Italian peasants and immigrated to the US in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, at Christmas I made roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and trifle, all of which were delicious because they were made properly.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I think Quercus Community’s post was meant to be taken with a heavy pinch of salt.

          I have yet to try making trifle, but a friend makes a glorious one. I could curl up and live in the bowl.

          Like

  5. I suspect that there’s a lot of truth in what you both said (British burgers are not a patch on the US version) and “British” now includes all sorts of international foods (Indian, Chinese, French etc). That said, I did once make the mistake of making a what I though was an innocently (supportive) comment on a blog about a teacher that resulted in a sh*tstorm of comments from other bloggers. It was a US blog ( I don’t think it would have got that response in the UK). I didn’t appreciate how controversial this topic was in the US. I deleted the comment. I wasn’t going to take on a sea of (in my opinion) ignorant comments. Ironically I had really high “views” on my own blog! Never again!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh it was a blog about a college professor who was trying to educate her (white) students about white privilege. I cant even remember what they were doing – it wasnt that exciting (in my liberal opinion). It would have been very uncontroversial in the UK, Standard teaching, in fact. I just made some positive comment about it and all hell broke lose!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting. The issue runs deep in the U.S. I was just last night watching the film about James Baldwin, I am not your Negro, where he talks about how deep it runs. You–and she–must’ve hit a pocket of people who not only didn’t want to hear it but didn’t want anyone else to either.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It was certainly rather scary. It has made be pretty cautious about commmenting on American’s blogs. Not that long ago I was looking at some beautiful photographs of birds on blog, one of them was a roadrunner (which as you know we dont have them in the UK) and had to think twice abouit commenting that it looked a bit like a mini- dinosaur in case the blogger was a creationist who’d take offense at the implication that the bird wasn’t created on the 5th day of creation etc!!! Perhaps a creationist would have made their beliefs more obvious and I needn’t have worried??!! I posted the comment. No offense was taken. Daft, isn’t?

            Liked by 2 people

            • I wanted to respond to this because I too have been startled by how vehement conservative Americans can be in insisting that they are NOT privileged OR racist – in fact they don’t even see color – and if African Americans had any sense they’d be so overwhelmed with gratitude that their forebears were slaves because it means they are now living in America and not stuck in some shithole in Aaaaafricaaa.

              But then it occurred to me that that this was a whole other topic and completely irrelevant to Ellen’s post. So instead of responding I popped over to have a look at your blog … and I have to say (I mean I REALLY have to say it) that I think your paintings are wonderful! That thing you do with light and shadow – so stark – just lovely, I particularly loved the snowscapes! Some of your work reminds me a little bit (and I’m too ignorant of art to say why) of Pierneef, who is one of my favorite painters. Unfortunately I’m broke as well as ignorant, but who knows, I might sell a book one day (after I finish writing the damn thing) and in the meantime I thought you might like to know you have a new and genuine admirer.

              Then I realized that raving about your art was also completely irrelevant to Ellen’s post, so I stuck in the first para by way of context.

              So … anyway. Hellooo!

              Liked by 2 people

            • What a great response. I love seeing people connect here. Especially two I admire.

              What you say about Americans who swear they’re not racist and don’t see color, etc., may be irrelevant, but I’m with you on it anyway. It drives me nuts. You’re invited to be irrelevant anytime you like.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Hello there!! I initially thought I was getting another conservative rant there for a moment…thank goodness it wasn’t. Glad to hear that I am not alone. And yes, that was the tone of the comments I got. Thank you for the compliments. I can a;lways do with compliments – us artists have fragile egos! I had never heard of Pierneef (but I am quite ignorant about a lot of art, but love finding out) and the light in South Africa must be wonderful. I have some distant relatives in South Africa (second cousins) but it’s a very large country and I don’t where in SA they live. I look forward to reading your blog! Emma

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Tone is a tricky thing isn’t it? I, and most other regular readers, know and love yours.
    Slightly perturbed that humour is taken seriously when the light-hearted intent is fairly obvious, but you can’t account, nor be accountable, for how others choose to comprehend it.
    This post more than does the job and would probably be how I’d approach something similar. Address the problem or misunderstanding, lay out your facts and then let that be the end of it.
    Or hide behind writing ‘character’ and blame him. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  7. By laughing about it. Joooooj. I have only just begun to read this one and that one and have so many comments in my head but none is quite appropriate or called for. I’ll bite my tongue. :D Better than that black thing on a photo there. Hihihiih.

    Ok, now I’ve read it all and can reply calmly. There are two quite different blogging styles and speaking voices at work here.

    For me one of the most brilliant advantages of blogging is that it’s not journalism. No way I’m doing any research if I’m not feeling it at the moment. I did that when I wrote articles for which I was paid. What is research, anyway? I share your opinion that living in a country for so long qualifies perfectly. If they wished you wrote better about (some) food you had, they should make it taste better before serving you. Am I right or am I right?

    I like your style and I know that you exaggerate on purpose and bring our attention to the bizarre. You do tend to balance that out with a lovely, unrelated photo!

    But I also know that there is an army of people doing their very best right now to improve the reputation of British food, and I wish them all the best.

    Finally, I find it telling that our discussion under your original post ended up with the debate on Italian cuisine. Says plenty.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I actually do research some posts, especially the ones on British history. But living’s a form of research as well. And–what’s that Latin saying? De gustibus non disputandum est. Or something like that–I don’t actually know any Latin: About taste, there’s no arguing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I tend to avoid arguing with people by simply letting it go. If pushed I might offer a contrary opinion, but avoid terms like “wrong”.

    If, for instance, somebody says that chips and French Fries are the same thing, does it matter? After all, it’s of no real importance to me if they confuse thin, insipid French Fries with proper, thicker British chips…

    …ooops, I was going to avoid mentioning that!

    :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I have nothing much to add to this conversation, except that I am perplexed that you were mistaken for a he, given the clear female-associated spelling of your name. I would also say, that while I have not been reading your blog for long, I tend to judiciously take many of your posts for the humor filled ramblings that I believe you intend them to be and am also perplexed as to why someone would take offense to that, but I have been known to be wrong about so many assumptions that I may have now just offended you with my belief of your purpose as a WordPress blogger. Before I find my foot inserted any farther into my mouth I will halt this response, which turned into something much larger than I intended…
    Oh, say…have you ever done a post on silly British sayings and colloquialisms such as the foot-in-mouth thing I alluded too? Oops, did I say silly? Hope I don’t get a heated response to this comment.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Humor? Gee, I’m serious about every ridiculous claim I make. Actually, humor’s an odd thing. What one person thinks is hysterical leaves another person wondering what the joke is.

      The suggestion about sayings and colloquialisms is a good one, although I’m not sure I’m the right person to write it since nothing’s coming to mind–or nothing that’s different here and in the U.S., where we also talk about putting your foot in your mouth.

      Like

  10. Your original post was fine, especially if you lived in the North East instead of the South West, we do stodge to perfection up here, pies, stotties,pease pudding (that’s savoury- not a dessert :) ) panaculty, Tyneside Floddies and saveloy dips, but not worth getting into a disagreement over, I’d just say to Emma-foods, life is far too short for online quibbling, have a singing’ hinnie and a cup of tea :) !

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Tone can be a tricky thing to navigate in written word and without knowing the writer and their style. I admit I winced a bit at Emma’s comments to you just because they seemed curt and abrupt. That is perhaps just because it is not my style. I am a wordy person. And I tend to reread a comment before I hit the “post” comment just to be sure my message, including tone, are clear. But people are often in a rush or preoccupied when reading and commenting on blogs so I can completely see that a hastily written, brief comment can come across differently than intended.

    It appears you are both coming at the subject from different angles. I suspect Emma is younger than both of us and her experience and palette have perhaps benefited more from that wonderful culinary multiculturalism Britain now offers. I am sure if I asked my youngest siblings about British food – they are 14 and 15 years younger than me – their assumption about what that label meant would be different from if I had the same conversation with my older siblings. I wonder also if Emma is not a long time reader of your blog and she just misunderstood your style. I know you goof around a bit pretending to be ignorant to emphasise your alien/outsider perspective whereas you have actually researched and put a great deal of thought and effort into your posts.

    As for handling disagreements and disputes online, I must confess it has never happened to me on my blog. I guess I have never written anything interesting enough to be provocative! However, Facebook is a whole other matter. In the past 12 months, I have had a few nasty encounters with friends of friends on Facebook. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the topics were political. It may also not surprise you that I was told to F off back to my own country on a few occasions and I have also been accused of taking jobs from Americans. It doesn’t feel good to be attacked and my automatic response – especially after a childhood of being bullied – is to defend myself robustly but I have learned that nothing productive comes of arguing with close-minded people so I am getting better at just walking away. Honestly the thing that stings most is the lack of response from other people, that even friends don’t always rally to support me when I am attacked on their Facebook posts. Such are the perils of social media I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your Facebook experiences do sound horrible, and I’m sorry friends haven’t rallied round. They should. (Not to be judgmental or anything, but damn it, this matters.) My best guess is that because no one’s in front of us when we’re online, it’s easy to forget that there are actual human beings, with actual feelings, involved, so at least some people who aren’t normally bullies become bullies and walk away feeling okay about that. Which, basically, stinks.

      I’d just love to give some xenophobe a verbal whack over the head on your behalf. Which may make me a bully, but it’s in a good cause.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. I’m a big girl so I can stick up for myself – which may be why my friends didn’t shout down the attacker – but it’s disappointing when people choose silence over confronting ugly behaviour. I definitely think people Express and present themselves online in a less inhibited way than they would in person. If anything, I tend to be more cautious.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I found myself being cautious this time around because–well, it’s sort of like swearing: Its louder in print than it is in person. Caution isn’t my usual response to things, but a pinch of it now and then is probably good to balance out my life.

          And of course you can stick up for yourself, but a community’s response is more powerful than one person’s.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. To answer your actual question … When I have the time and am interested I love serious discussion and sharing of opinions online. One can learn a lot by asking for clarification and then explaining why it doesn’t make sense and requesting further clarification. Sometimes this makes people pissy, and then I regret to confess I may become a tad mean. If they flame back, I dissect the flame and throw light upon its inherent lack of logic. I continue this until it gets boring, and then I say “Would love to continue with this but I’m bored now, so buh-bye!” and leave. Future comments are ignored.

    I guess that makes me a bit of a bitch. Or maybe even a troll. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that by way of a conversation stopper. If it isn’t the last word, it really should be.

      Personally, I have no problem with a bit of hostility if the other person opens that door. What throws me is how easy it is to be the first to cross that line.

      Like

      • This is true. For context, I usually engage in this way when someone is making generalized and/or inaccurate statements about something I care about – a political issue, my faith, the value of dog rescue, etc. IF I have the time to engage, I’ll poke gently, mainly with information. This usually annoys them, so if I’m in the mood for a fight I get one…

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I think this post is s good response. I usually make one comment and try to indicate that I’d like it to be the last. I don’t like to carry on a conversation unless we’re not enjoying it.

    For the record, I had you pegged as a woman right away.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: In Defence of British Food, and a Discussion of Netiquette | quercuscommunity

  15. Online disagreements are difficult to manage, because you can’t see facial expressions or hear each other’s tone of voice. Either way, I enjoyed the original post and I enjoyed this post. In the interest of fairness, I had a look at Emma’s post, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And without an actual person in front of us to remind us that feelings (other than ours, of course) are involved, it’s easy to go off the deep end. I’ve had some disagreements here before, but this is the first time I’ve really had to pick my way through my reactions.

      Like

  16. Personally I thought it rather funny that Emma had to reach for foreign cuisine in order to make British food seem more palatable. Thai restaurants are popping up like mushrooms around here but I hardly consider them to be American. Same for any of the delightful international foods we get to experience without feeling proprietary. 🤨

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, well, at some point, I’m fairly sure, ethnic food will cross that porous border into the culture and become part of the mainstream. In other words, it’ll pizza-fy itself. Because how many of us think of pizza as not being American? Or–okay, spaghetti, then. It’ll spaghettify itself.

      Like

  17. Well, the only way to respond is politely, otherwise a discussion simply becomes a slanging match. But you knew that.

    And as an Englishman brought up on traditional English foods at home in the 1950’s and 1960’s I have to say my opinion of them is fairly dull, certainly more so than today’s version.

    Finally, I went vegetarian over 30 years ago and eating out in England was a bit of a nightmare!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting, because my impression of finding vegetarian food when you’re eating out in England is that it’s so much easier than in the U.S. It may not be interesting food–in fact, it’s usually that damn British version of lasagna–but there will be something on the menu. In the U.S.–at least when I was living there–once you got outside the major cities, where you could find counter-culture, trendy, or ethnic food, it was a struggle. Here, even in small towns and villages, you can almost always find–erk, lasagna.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I do think plain British food can be superb, but can also be awful. I think the reason so much of older Britons’ memories of home-cooked food are bad is that in the post WWII environment their mums and dads had grown up having to use very basic ingredients, in tiny quantities, with substitutes for all sorts of otherwise much tastier things because of rationing. Plus it was not till the 60s that ‘foreign’ food imports began to enable more imaginative cooking.
    But hey, this isn’t what you asked. Reason and humour and patience and politeness. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard several people relate the reputation of British food to World War II rationing, and I’m sure you’re onto something there. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone of the right age to ask about pre-war food. It would make an interesting discussion if I could find a neutral enough way to raise the question. I’ve also read, for what it’s worth, that the wartime diet was incredibly healthy, although no one who wrote that claimed it was tasty.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had a war time cookery book (though that was well before my time btw) that I used when at university, brought to the communal kitchen by a male friend. I think his mum thought that at least he might be well nourished if not well fed! I remember making quiches following it with just half a pint of milk and one egg where now cream and several egg yolks seem to be essential. Healthier I’m sure. But, tasty? Did you ever hear the parody of ‘We’ll meet again’ as sung by Vera Lynn, the ‘Forces Sweetheart? ‘ Whale meat again’ – or so my mum told me!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I read your original post and I agree with you after taking the mick that we have stolen a lot of other cultures food and added them to our own. Most of the food I cook at home, I wouldn’t consider being British, We live in a set of countries that takes a sheep’s stomach lining and filling it. Pies, we do pies very well, toad in the hole, which I suppose could be considered a pie.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I was lucky enough to grow up with a nan who – along with running a rather large police canteen – cooked a whole cornucopia of British food for us at home, Every delight from her hotpot (once produced from all the ovens of our road to fuel a school barn dance) to a sharp summer pudding stuffed with soft fruit from her veggie patch made me love the variety of traditional British cooking. I know I was lucky to experience that. My mum was ticked off by the health visitor for weaning me on some Vesta packet curry – rather exotic for Devon in the 1960s – so I was starting to get the best of both worlds.

    The upshot of all that is that I agree with you both. I also don’t see “stodge” as a bad thing. There are days of hard manual labour in inclement weather when stodge is a thing of beauty.

    As for online disputes? I don’t see anything unresolved here.

    (We have postulated often here that somewhere in a dank factory deep in the English countryside, someone is in control of that lasagne vat. Have you seen it?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen it, but if I do I’ll take direct (and probably illegal) action. I promise.

      How could I have forgotten to list summer pudding when I (somewhere or other) made listed a few glorious things about British cooking? The first time I had it, I thought I’d been transported bodily to heaven. Even though I don’t believe in the place.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll raise you a lemon posset too. Rather nursery in texture, being mainly a set cream, but with enough lemon and preferably some shards of peel too, it’s magnificent. Sadly it’s just a treasured memory for me because, of all the things for which I might have developed an allergy, milk is a sad one to have topped that list. If I get to know the end is near, there will be a fine Stilton in my last supper.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Hm.
    Well I don’t really get much in the way of arguments on my blog. If I do, I ignore them, or write something like, “Interesting. Thank you for sharing your perspective.”
    When I first started, I got a lot of people upset that I wrote about squirrels and flowers and cakes, but then, as if I am a whole, well-rounded person, I would sometimes rant about the cost of guacamole or sexism or ugly light bulbs, and it was decidedly not nice for anyone who had grown accustomed to the squirrels, flowers, and cakes. SO now and again, I remind people that I am not a Nice Lady Blogger. *shrug*
    Food is so relative, as are most cultural issues. I personally think of English food as that which will sustain life and make you feel as though you’ve eaten enough. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, particularly at breakfast.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The only time I had a go-around was when I left a comment early on which wasn’t recognized as tongue-in-cheek.. We had had a good relationship to that point (I thought). The author’s response was to go full-out flame. He posted a nasty message on my site. I tried to explain that I had meant it humorously. That led him to post how nasty I was, how I’d posted several sarcastic comments, and invited his readers to look at my about page to see how neurotic and nasty I was. I dropped him and he dropped me. I noticed that he started following again a few months later. I don’t remember the name of his blog. All of this to say, I have no idea what useful advice would be.

    Liked by 1 person

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