Food for thought

If it's good enough for John West...

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You are what you eat is an ignorantly damaging phrase as it is, not least because it fails to ask the question “why do you eat what you eat?”

Take tinned food, for example. Did you know that the first vessel used for preserving food in this way was a Champagne bottle? Or that no one was interested in furthering this Napoleonic discovery until the East India Company saw the benefit for its many merchants and sailors colonising India? And that ever since, the innocent tin can has been linked with Britain’s convoluted class system?

The hypocrisy of identity politics and its ties with our food shimmers into focus once you start looking at relationships with tin cans. It is interesting to me that beautifully illustrated tins of fish from Portugal have been fetishised by wine bars up and down the country for their links to Old World Europe, yet the same cannot be said for cans of wine.

Why is it that dressed sardines, tiny razor shell clams and bacalao (salted cod) take pride of place on chalkboard menus in ways that John West tuna and pilchards in tomato sauce do not? Especially when they all share the same processes, packaging and preservation? Why can I order a meal entirely constructed from little tins of fish and olives yet all the wine available to me must be served by the bottle?

“Assigning middle-classness to cheap staples from other cuisines” writes Jonathan Nunn “usefully disguises the reality that the working class is far more diverse than these commentators understand.” It is unsurprising then that the wine industry attempts to dictate which tins are suitable when in the same way they do who deserves to drink what, and when. 

A dictation I will continue to challenge and question, one tuna sandwich and cold can of lemony Pinot Grigio at a time. 


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