Food for thought: Baked-beans-the ultimate class indicator


From the Evening Standard 18/08/2015. One of those minor articles hidden within the big columns. Often you just stumble across them and they turn out to be gems that encapsulate big themes of a society and really make you think.

Guide for the reader:

The article statements are numbered and written in bold italic. The writer comments are in standard font.

And by the way, they try not to be biased and to use his, partial, very partial knowledge about history and society. Nonetheless he hopes they make good food for thought.

Last caveat, just in case: the writer is very fond of baked beans and English breakfast in general. Almost every food has its time and place, especially if it is done with Tuscan eggs, Cumberland sausage and home-made baked beans, like at my beloved Raoul of Talbot Street or in a proper “greasy spoon” (style, not hygiene-wise), hidden at the feet of the City’s skyscrapers like my friends at Masters.

The Article and the comments:

1. There is a rise in the number of large families, encouraged by the super-rich and the migrants.

That is an historical constant in Europe and elsewhere. The former can, so they show off (it is called potlatch in anthropology), the latter must. It is a question of resources available and increasing the odds of genes survival.

2. The bond between the working and the upper class is of course traditionally strong

That is particularly true of all Ancien Régimes. For England is oddly the oldest democracy of Europe and still a class system. Curiously, this side of the Channel, the Bourgeoisie in terms of middle class with set of values and need for achievement distinct from the noble-class and the working class has never really existed (maybe) nor it has aspired to be the foundation of society like in France, Italy, Germany or the United States (definitely).

3. Jeremy Corbyn’s idea of a great night, according to his first wife, is eating baked beans at home.

So we find out that the British champion of anti-austerity is in fact a very austere man, deeply rooted in English breakfast, the quintessential diet of the British Industrial Revolution. In line with point 2.

4. It is a taste his shares with the Duke of Westminster.

One of the most intriguing eccentricities of the British noble breed. Never were they really as lavish nor flamboyant as their French or Russian peers. They show social traits that are either very sophisticated, like diplomatic skills, self-control and Victorian manners, interest in science and technology or…er…maybe not so sophisticated, like not covering your mouth when yawning, not looking after their teeth too much and…baked beans. Again in line with point 2 and 3.

5. It has always been the middle class that has fancier tastes and fewer children.

During its social ascent, Bourgeoisie has been eclectically cherry picking from some of the status symbols of the nobles they were seeking to replace. Fancy food, together with prestigious home and the art of reception, were an immediate target for Italian and French Bourgeois especially.

However, Bourgeoisie had to be economical with resources, save to reinvest. That is what capitalism is about in its MCD (Minimum Common Denominator) form. Children, or too many of them are a high-maintenance, long-term investment so a high-risk one (not necessarily my personal view…). In old times maybe the most sensible distribution of tasks within the family was the man making money and the woman staying home to look after generally two off-springs, so not to spread the patrimony too thin in the next generation.

And now THE question:

Which social and economic form guarantees the optimum point of personal freedom, social cohesion, the most efficient exploitation, reproduction and access to finite resources including comfort, healthy food and maybe even happiness?

(Just one little bias from an Italian man who has been fed and cared-maybe too much and too long- first by his Mum and now by his Wife: sometimes happiness really is a warm, reasonably fancy meal and its smell welcoming you back home from a long day fighting for your biftek in the City…all made by her for you).

Food for thought, let’s have a dialogue…NOT a conversation, please…


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