A bourgeois recipe for working class palates
Our supposedly classless society is showing signs of being divided into two camps where people’s private choices as individuals and their behaviour as families are regulated on the basis of their affluence.
And it’s in the area of nutrition, preventative health and exercise where the working class, for want of a better term, is increasingly being treated like a bunch of babies, while the more affluent members of society continue to live as they please.
It’s only a small thing but it’s a signifier for the times, a demonstration of a mindset which holds that working class people are unable to modify their behaviour, while the gentry can be trusted to keep its conduct in check. But get along to the SCG, that great people’s arena, where our knockabout, egalitarian society lets the members drink as much full-strength beer as they want and limits the great unwashed to light beer.
In a similar vein, it was disappointing to see former Premier Bob Carr use an address to the Local Government Association to demand that councils effectively ban fast food outlets from trading on the grounds that they are “poisoning” what he identified as working class families with substances such as transfats.
Bob Carr is an aesthete and a health fanatic who as premier used to drink hot cups of water with a slice of lemon and probably still does. He abhors the binge-drinking culture of his chosen professional homes – journalism and, latterly, the labour movement. He famously once declared war on sausage rolls – “fat encased in fat” he called them – and was then advised by his minders to eat a meat pie for the cameras the next day to ward off any suggestions of eccentricity.
I raise those points not to tease him but to describe him. Australian men have a dumb tradition of teasing healthy people and it’s not something I am trying to do here. There is nothing wrong with not drinking grog and eating well.
But there’s a problem with telling everybody else that they have to do just that – and an even bigger problem in generalising about the working class as if they have a monopoly on bad diet and a lack of exercise.
We’re talking here about a hard core of uneducated poor people, or poor people who simply choose to act stupidly, by turning themselves and their kids into lard-arsed blimps.
Banning fast food for the vast majority of sensible working class families who use it as a treat, or a stop-gap on a busy weeknight, is patronising in the extreme.
If anything, the megahit that was Masterchef demonstrated how the so-called working class is officially turned on to healthy, high-end dining.
Before we start banning things in Queen St, Campbelltown, we should also get along to Crown St, Surry Hills, on any day of the week and watch the more corpulent members of the middle class hoofing into gruyere soufflés and black puddings. And I say that with a bit of experience. No-one is shutting those joints down; perhaps it’s because they’ve got elegance and a good sommelier on their side.
We don’t need intervention, especially by a redundant and unrepresentative tier of government which Mr Carr often railed against as Premier. We need much more aggressive home economics education where every kid from the age of seven, and into high school, gets mandatory classes on food preparation, starting with the most basic master texts of cooking by geniuses such as Elizabeth David and Margaret Fulton and Jane Grigson and Stephanie Alexander, to show them that cooking is more fun, cheap, and more satisfying than a Big Mac will ever be.
Anyone with half a brain could read David’s 1955 classic A Book of Mediterranean Food and cook a different dinner every night until they die not of diabetes but old age.
To finish on the class war theme, if you really want to make yourself spew, dig out a copy of last month’s edition of Fairfax’s excruciatingly pretentious The (Sydney) Magazine for its morally indifferent tribute to the star, in-house chefs seconded to the bigger investment firms and merchant banks around town, dishing up Michelin-starred cuisine to the long-suffering executives who are having to stay back quite late at the office because of that pesky GFC.
Your heart goes out to them.
There is of course another class of people who have coped quite differently with the GFC – by not working at all anymore, let alone staying back late, eschewing the duck leg confit with a rocket, parmesan and pear salad for something made from mincemeat, or getting along not to Neil Perry’s new grill bar but the Salvos.
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