I’m always fascinated by the way foods define people’s identities — their own and other people’s — and particularly how they are politicised, used to recognise one’s own folk and reject the Other. Bush-era attacks on “latte-sipping liberals” made a big impression on me (“sipping” was a good touch there — not just expensive coffee, but effeminate sipping), as did the scandalised mockery of Obama when he remarked in 2008 on the price of arugula. (According to some, arugula was also effeminate.)
I find the ethnic dimension particularly interesting. It is no coincidence that these two foods that lefties were ridiculed for consuming have Italian names. Jews, of course, have always been attacked for their exotic food preferences, as with the probably anti-Semitic attack on Ed Miliband for looking insufficiently natural when eating a bacon sandwich.
Nowhere is the political valence of ethnic foods more complex than with Britain’s Asian population. Whereas I grew up in the US thinking “Asian” meant by default Chinese and Japanese, in the UK the term refers primarily to the former colonies of Indian subcontinent. Hence the justified pride, in the whole country, in the Indian community, and particularly among the conservatives, in having the first prime minister from an Asian background.
Interestingly, this was emphasised by the King providing Diwali sweets (marking this week’s Hindu festival) when Sunak visited the palace recently. But these gestures of pride and acceptance are not extended to Asians and their foods when their heritage is not British colonial. Particularly striking was the attack in Parliament just last week by the Tory Home Secretary on the “tofu-eating wokerati”.
Hindus can be good Britons and eat Diwali sweets, but those who indulge in other Asian foods are foreign, most especially if they don’t even have the excuse of ancestry. At least the Chinese eat pork…