WHEN first I set aside the skillet and took up the pen to write about food, I believed that I had copped the best of Blighty ones. The creative cook is a sorry creature, a colostomised compulsive labouring in an infernal smithy forging artefacts whose sole function is to be destroyed by faceless Philistines who would not know a Wilkinson first-pressed-carbon cavalry sabre from a replica Swiss Army knife.
I had exchanged cocaine for Cockaigne. I would travel the world, eating at others’ expense, rewarding the meritorious and chiding the meretricious. I would enjoy not merely the sense of righteous work well done but the envy of all right-thinking men and women.
I suspect that porn stars have this problem. Many covet their calling, but few would be rash enough to pursue it. Surprisingly, few appreciate the tedium and the technical difficulties involved. The censorious despise them and no-one welcomes them home with a hot bath, a Shiatsu massage and sympathy after a hard day’s work. When I have spent an entire day judging forty varieties of slithery, orange PVC smoked salmon or dissecting and savouring cold sausages for an award, I feel an uncanny sympathy with the pneumatic denizens of San Fernando Valley.
Maybe porn stars also find themselves rejected on grounds of presumed expertise. My dinner invitations dried up. Hostesses profess themselves intimidated because they cannot perform the gastronomic millinery currently in vogue. They seem unaware that, for food-lovers, boiled beef, a grilled fresh sole or a poached pullet’s egg were paradise enow. When they do dare to invite us, they generally do something disgusting with crab and grapefruit, and that’s for the meal, not the floorshow.
And then there are the opinions, gastronomic and moral. So much as opine that the cream should go on before the jam and our postal workers’ osteopaths cancel all leave.
Puritans deplore appetites, regarding them as bestial imperatives and so supra-, or, perhaps, infra-moral. In fact, the refinement and intensification of our appetites, by ordering diverse stimuli, is amongst the defining human attainments (take wooing, venery, orgies and art). There are also many moral issues surrounding food. Food remains the principal link between our day-to-day lives and international politics, economics, history and ecology, and our choice of foodstuffs is often today our loudest and most effective vote. The supermarket vis-a-vis the small trader, the multinational (often organic) vis-a-vis the local – these are moral matters, the tests of loyalty confronting millions daily.
Empirical evidence of natural justice is hard to find today, and we tend to side with Justine rather than Cinderella – or, at least, to conclude that Cinders must have arranged the rips in her clothing a trifle artfully to win her good fortune. Food, however, is proof positive that virtue brings reward (save for vegetarians, who are de facto wrong). Good food – that is, fresh food, lovingly grown and prepared – costs less, tastes better and engenders better health than inferior food. We are not here forced into a Miltonian battle between sensual delights and moral rectitude. Here the two cohere, and the celebration of food and damnation of slop should at all times be carried out with relish.
I will strive in this column to celebrate the one and to damn the other with the gusto born of a well-fed stomach and a consequently clear conscience.