Alex Massie

What is Middle-Class Elitism? And What’s Wrong With It?

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The Guardian is a great* newspaper but also an uncommonly infuriating rag. Take, for instance, this paragraph in what was an otherwise unobjectionable article about Elizabeth David:

Now I should be quite clear from the outset that I've always been a little ambivalent about David. She famously moved food writing out of the dark didactic corners of domestic science and began to write beautifully and poetically about food as a sensual experience, but she also in her early career wrote unashamedly for the posh and focused attention away from British cuisine and on to Mediterranean food. I find it hard to read her work without enjoyment but it also defines a kind of "holidays-in-Provence" middle-class elitism.

Right on!

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For that matter, the "posh" in this instance were people who had visited France or Italy and were interested in cooking at home the food they'd experienced on their travels. The shameful aspect of this quite escapes me. And, of course, "posh" is a needlessly pejorative term; inquisitive or well-travelled would be more accurate.

The author - Tim Hayward - might also consider that, back in the 1950s and 60s, "holidays-in-Provence" (or Tuscany or Rome one might add) were not nearly as expensive as they are today. But so what? What's illegitimate about writing books for Francophiles?

David's books remain fresh - and her recipes timeless - because they're about food and culture, not because they reflect the particular attitudes of a particular caste. While I wouldn't want to be limited to just one cookery writer or one cookbook, if I were I might choose David's French Provincial Cooking. Armed with that book alone, a chap could cook happily for a lifetime. 

Still, this paragraph - insignificant in so many ways - is also revealing. It's a snapshot of a trait that is, I think, peculiar to British newspapers: the loathing of the people who read the paper for which you write (the Daily Mail is a regular offender in this instance too) coupled with a blind inability to see the wood for the trees. This, of course, is a Guardian specialty.

*One may consider a newspaper great even though one may be irritated beyond sense by the smug certainties of its worldview and while disagreeing with its view on 90% of issues.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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