What a Carve Up!

In an attempt to avoid this thread turning in to A N Other debate about honest fare, we are reposting Brockley Ben's question in a new thread. He says:

Among all the tiresome "mung" nonsense that gets churned out on anonymous autopilot on this site, the bit that bemuses me most is the dishonest fare theme. 

I love food and care where it comes from. But equally I can understand people who don’t: people who either see food as fuel and don’t much care for what it is, or who enjoy eating but don’t care about how it’s produced. 

I’d argue against these points of view (particularly the latter) but I accept that it’s part of a multi-faceted worldview and one of the consequences of decades of development and investment into the industrialisation of food production. 

I like being able to buy food cheaply myself, of course. I just choose to be picky about certain foodstuffs where I can. What I don’t get is the “dishonest” label. 

How, for instance, can anyone label as dishonest a pub (whose food they haven’t tried) when all they’ve done is openly state that they like to produce seasonal, local food? In what way is that dishonest? 

I can guarantee there are pubs in the area selling “homemade” food that has come straight out of a freezer. It might have been home-assembled but most of the making has been done in an industrial unit in another part of the country. 

Is that more honest? I know I’m (ahem) feeding some knee-jerk trollish behaviour here, but I’m generally interested in this perceived disparity. How did caring about what you eat and where it comes from become seen as dishonest by some people in this little corner of the world?


BC gets the “dishonest fare” meme. It’s an attack on the affectations of (primarily, but not exclusively) middle class people, who fetishise food and are suckered in to paying a premium for things based on their labels.

Up to a point, it’s fair criticism: The virtues of “organic” are vastly exaggerated, all balsamic vinegars taste basically the same and bottled water brands like Fiji should be made illegal. There is no-one more worthy of ridicule than someone who insists that only chocolate with 70% cocoa solids is edible.

A bag of chips served up without any care for presentation or any claims made on its behalf other than it fills a hole and tastes great is, in some ways, “more honest” than something that lectures you about its provenance and the artisan love with which it is assembled. But that tiny, inconsequential truth is used as an excuse to dismiss issues like animal welfare, nutritional balance or environmental sustainability. If we reassure ourselves that some of the food claims are exaggerated, then we give ourselves a convenient excuse not to have to pay more for free range eggs.

"Dishonest fare" also denies the value of aesthetics and context in terms of how we enjoy our food. The thinking goes: "Food - and thus culture - should be purely functional. Anything more is aspirational. And there's nothing I hate more than someone who wants their lives to be more communal or beautiful." Before Brockley Common was created, there were people who argued that creating a place of beauty in Brockley was asking for trouble - it would just become a crime spot and be immediately vandalised. Better to put barbed wire up, they said. It's the same line of thinking that condemns freshly baked bread - why pay more, when it's all basically the same stuff?

Food is culture. When mums pushed Big Macs through the school bars to save their kids from eating Jamie Oliver’s new menus, it wasn’t because the new food was too expensive or they genuinely doubted the nutritional value: They felt that their lifestyle was being challenged / criticised by some uppity TV presenter. And they were right. Except that the cultural norms they wanted to impress upon their children were likely to shorten their kids' lives and impair their ability to learn.

Not everything is subjective. Some things are better than others. A diet without vegetables is worse than one with them. And a life which includes a dose of extra virgin olive oil or a stroll past a communal garden from time to time is - ceteris paribus - better than one that doesn't.