I don’t often read Twitter, at the moment, it’s all too Trumpy for me, but Ruby Tandoh posted something and people tagged me so I saw it. It made me think quite a lot.
I like things that make me think, that force me to reconsider my viewpoint and experience, to face things that hadn’t previously occurred to me. (That’s called growth, and gaining empathy. Sadly lacking a lot these days in this crazy world, as some people just cannot deal with being made to feel uncomfortable.)
Ruby Tandoh @rubytandoh: we need more queer, fat, trans, working class, disabled and non-white voices in food writing like NOW ✨ the whole industry is so wealthy/white – built on such a narrow vision of what ‘good food’ means. if you’re an alt voice in food writing pls reach out! i wanna know you
Now then. I’m fortunate to know a few of the writers in the food world at the moment. Let’s face it, when you are as food and cooking obessed as me, you follow writers, and cooks. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make people far more accessible than ever before – though that’s not always a good thing for the writers as people are not always nice – but it has led to some friendships, and not least to highlighting the kindness of many of those authors to their fans. (It’s also given me the chance to see the wonder that is Felicity Cloake’s Cairn terrier, Wilf. That dog may need his own agent…One of my favourite photos of him. https://www.instagram.com/p/BchufRAnOp6/? )
Having read Ruby’s Tweet, I had to sit and properly think about it for a while. It’s easy to have a knee jerk “That can’t be right” reaction, especially when you don’t want to upset the nice human beings out there, writing their bottoms off for a living.
But once you chill out, and then tot up who’s out there, once you work it out, it can suddenly feel like it’s a Best of GBBO world out there. Like Midsomer Murders, if you will, but with cakes and no bodies. I hope.
I think that’s perhaps part of the reason that Nadiya Hussain was such a brilliant flash and bang of fresh air, apart from her being utterly gorgeous and funny, and very clever indeed. She is British too, part of the teeming lives and myriad colours that make up this island, no matter what the more unspeakable sections of the great unwashed might voice.
Someone whose skin colour and bright eyes I grew up with, surrounded as I was by brown ladies in shalwar kameez or peacocked saris and glittering bangles. Going to college in Newham did not lead me to farmers’ markets and tea shops with bunting, even though I love that style of nostalgia for things we never really had, but more to bhel puri stands, piles of stickysweet orange jalebis and shops stacked full of gleaming stainless steel cookware that I still covet to this day.
My local high street was a mash up of Asian and Greek grocers. Flaounes and sesame bread sold cheek by jowl with bhindi and brinjal pickles. The waft of hot oil and fried potatoes coming from Kings Fish Bar; halal chickens and lamb pieces hanging up in the windows of the butcher next door.
This is absolutely not to cast aspersions on the established writers, many of whom I love, but instead just to fervently hope that there will be more diversity soon, a more accurate reflection of who else is out there cooking and sharing and feeding.
I remember when Jamie Oliver made a 5 ingredient flatbread on TV last year, there was such adulation that I felt almost nauseated by it. Women in Indian kitchens all over the UK have been making them every night, week in and week out, with no such pomp and circumstance, for years. It’s just part of every day life. But a white TV chef does it, and suddenly it’s a miracle. Indian food without the roti, Greek without the pita? I think not.
Growing up in varied kitchens there were no great expanses of work surface and scrubbed wooden tables, no perfect flower arrangements or napkin rings, certainly no wood fired oven in the garden, or bronzed KitchenAid taking pride of place. Martha Stewart would have a proper hissy fit at my house for as much as I long for the Italian table that seats 12 easily, I doubt it will ever be a reality for me. I live in a 3 bed semi with an average sized kitchen, and a ‘dining room’ full of washing airers, guitar cases and cat toys. However, my desk is right outside the kitchen. I’m a bit Harry Potter in my computer positioning, but that means that I can cook for half an hour or so, then have a quick sit down when the fatigue or back pain kicks in, rtest, and then start again.
The kitchens of my youth – and there were a LOT of them – were hardworked, average to small sized rooms, full of good but basic ingredients and they churned out meal after meal, every night. A lot of the time money was tight, so when I see ‘money saving tips’ on some shows, you have to remember that it’s all relative. They were gracious enough to feed me if I turned up along with their kids, with no fuss at all. One of the best meals I ate was a simple slow cooked, spiced onion dish, and freshly made roti. Similar to this, but it was made just with a pile of onions, no potatoes. https://prettypatel.com/gujarati-onion-potato-curry-kanda-batata-nu-shaak/
Sure, pork belly or lamb shank, or stewing beef is cheap – ish – but in a household where it might be a toss up between food or heating, then a Jamie Oliver pork belly recipe that takes 5 hours to cook is no longer practical, or even feasible.
Dried beans and pulses can soak overnight, that requires no heat, and then they don’t take that long to cook. On lean weeks, my fasolia soup used the bendy scrag end of some celery, half an old onion that had curled at the edges after being wrapped in clingfilm, and a carrot that had gone a bit fluffy, so it got peeled. Water, a value tin of white beans and a small old potato with the eyes cut out completed it.
Tasty, filling, and does for 3 or 4 meals. Jack Monroe had the right of it. Cooking a big joint of meat and using it up through the week, yes, that IS a good idea. Making many meals out of one thing is a great way to economise and not waste anything – but only if you have those funds available to lay out in the first place. That £20 has, sometimes, to be used on other, more important things. Food becomes fuel, and we need to remember that not every person is as food oriented as we are. In fact, I suspect that the majority aren’t, and often wonder if we are the odd ones.
I don’t have the means to give up work and concentrate on being In Food. (Postcode Lottery, get a move on will you?) I’ve worked since I was 18, non stop, and I mostly like what I do. I would like to be involved more in the food world in some way, but at the moment for me it’s just not practical. I certainly cannot physically stand for hours in a restaurant kitchen, as various slipped discs and an autoimmune condition doesn’t let me, so I content myself with cooking as much as I can, when I can. A cosy hindbrain dream of a picturesque café somewhere pokes its way in on occasion, but I know all too well the sheer graft that has to go into it, and the heartbreak it can bring. Reality bites.
I would like to see someone like me on TV food channels. No perfect skin, no gleaming hair, but the usual lumps and bumps and a face for radio. Ingredients from the Co-op, or Asda, not shown in twee waxed paper, or paper bags with the tops turned over. (What IS it with that anyway?)
If you’ve ever seen a BBC Alba show called Fuine, then THAT is what I love. A down to earth show about cooks up in the Hebrides, all cooking in their own kitchens, with no fancy camerawork, or hipster brown bags of ready weighed out goods. The equipment is well used, in many cases old and handed down, and the recipes are excellent. Mixers and bowls that are from real family kitchens, yoghurt from the pot, sugar from the bag, no naff little bowls full of ready prepped things. Women in cardigans, battered old cake tins, all lovingly washed and cleaned and cared for, but above all else, USED.
My kitchen is stuffed with all the things I love. I’ve had a kitchen of my own since 1992, and only JUST treated myself to a stand mixer, and that’s only because I won John Lewis vouchers in a competition. My Precioussss is beautiful, but I can get by without it. It does make kneading dough a far less exhausting task, and my hands don’t hate me too much.
My little space is full of baking trays, roasting pans, saucepans; tins, packets, jars and Frozen Things which mean nobody would ever arrive here and not get fed something. I think I do tend to take after my Nan’s siege mentality in that respect. She lived through WW2, walking through the rubble of East London to Silvertown to work and back every day, so she knew what it was like to have nothing.
I admit that I grew up breathing the privileged, clean air of Seven Kings Bungalow Estate, with my mum’s galley kitchen, where we had to do-si-do around each other, but also with a large garden where first my dad would barbecue and then in later years where my step dad would. I was often in my Nan’s square, 1950s sunsine yellow kitchen, with its smoked glass table and under the counter twin tub, the large wooden tongs clattering into the tub at the end of wash day, watching her make cakes, and craft pies. Not as a hobby, but as a necessity for the family.
Roast on a Sunday, cold meat, mashed potatoes and chutney on a Monday. I can’t remember what happened Tuesday to Thursday, but it’d probably be fish on Friday, and a casserole of some sort of a Saturday. In the summer when Grandad’s runner beans went wild, there’d be chutney making.
My childhood was a lucky one, I am well aware of that, but Mum going to a single parent in 1984 made me well aware of how fast things can change. Every time a new cookery book comes out, 90% of the time these days it’s got someone on it who looks like this;
I long for the days of Two Fat Ladies, privileged background on the one hand, but a reformed alcoholic, and poor as a church mouse on the other (though not at the end) and a staunch Catholic – vivid, and real, and in your face. Or Loulla Astin, coloured hair, loud and funny, warm and natural and just dying to feed you until you fall asleep from joy.
I recall being so very happy when Neneh Cherry and Andi Oliver hit our screens.
And, years ago, there were two gorgeously round and real Thai ( I think, though I may well be wrong) sisters who cooked up a storm in blue and gold dresses, with the catchphrase of “Life’s too short to grate a coconut”. Full of verve, sparkle, and fun.
Reza Mohammed, as camp as a Bollywood Christmas tree, but with knowledge and flair. Gok Wan, though people slated him, produced a show that drew people in and made Chinese cooking accessible, not daunting at all. He opened up a little about his life, and the struggles he’d had, plus we all loved Poppa Wan.
Obvious enjoyment of food has to sing out in cooking shows, but also ingredients need to be accessible, that you’ll use again and again, not just use for one dish and then stare at, and file away in a cupboard until it dies and becomes just another greying packet or sticky jar.
Brand Oliver used to be like that, years ago, but now…well, not any more. He’s a fabulous chef, but it leaves me cold these days. It all feels like a world I can never reach, that unattainable hallowed Waitrose shelf that is never quite in front of you. Seemingly one that preaches ‘health’ at you if it gets half a bloody chance. HEALTH IS SUBJECTIVE. What you might eat could be bad for me, and vice versa. Nobody’s body is the same as anyone else’s. There is no one size fits all with food. Stop trying to blanket and stifle everyone with the same rules. Sayiing “This is feta, it is a high fat salted cheese.” is fine! Saying “This is feta, it is a high fat salted cheese and so the lower fat one is more healthy.” is not ok. How do YOU know what’s good for someone when you do not know their body, their metabolism?
[wags a finger at the health people who are not actually qualified]
I’m thrilled that we have people like Sumayya Usmani, Nisha Katona, Olia Hercules, Zoe Adjonyoh and Sabrina Ghayour on the writing scene, and Asma Khan soon. It just feels real. People I identify with.
But WE NEED EVEN MORE. More of a range, more diversity. I don’t want pretty, lithe, slim to be the be all and end all; I want lively, vivacious, witty, tall, short, fat, round, gay, straight, tattooed, disabled, Northern, Southern, all accents and incomes up and down this sceptred isle. Mums and fathers, singletons and heads of familes and all else we can find, together. Non homogenised, non Pretty Young Thing people, real characters with appetite, with vim and vigour, the scars and marks of their lives on them, and the sheer joy of cooking pulsing through their veins and out on to the table, just brimming with excitement and wanting to share and feed everyone.
Less polish and perfection, please, and more LIFE.
Next week I am meeting a new chum, thanks to Instagram. A baker, a baker of Middle Eastern heritage, and a baker also with MS who works as hard as can be at her own business.
I have a feeling we will have a lot to
rant talk about.