Avocado or beans on toast? Gin or claret? Nut roast or game pie? Milk in first or milk in last? And do you have tea, dinner or supper in the evening?
In Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain, author and food historian Pen Vogler examines the origins of our eating habits and reveals how they are loaded with centuries of class prejudice. Covering such topics as fish and chips, roast beef, avocados, tripe, fish knives and the surprising origins of breakfast, Scoff reveals how the British have become experts in using eating habits to make judgements about a person’s social background.
According to Pen Vogler, as those in a class perceived ‘beneath you’ start eating your favourite foods, you will immediately start to look for alternatives. She argues that the cultural value put on food in Britain works in a cycle of innovation, imitation and back to innovation. Her deep dive into the fortunes and misfortunes of the gin market is an example of this. A more modern example is the Cereal Killer cafe in London, where the narrative became about the rise of the modern hipster rather than the evolution of the breakfast cereal being hijacked by sugar and plastic toys.
Vogler also pays attention to the periphery of meal times, to John Betjeman calling the fish knife ‘lower middle class’ and to Nancy Mitford arguing over whether it’s a ‘serviette’ or a ‘napkin’. And since when did certain classes relegate the dinner party and instead have people round for supper?
Most importantly, Vogler explores the situation in that food snobbery has created a world where ‘fresh’, ‘home-made’, ‘healthy’ and ‘local’ goods are something for the few, rather than the many, who have to sustain themselves on a diet of ultra-processed and shop-bought products.
Bringing together evidence from cookbooks, literature, artworks and social records from 1066 to the present, Vogler traces the changing fortunes of the food we encounter today and unpicks the aspirations and prejudices of the people who have shaped our cuisine for better or worse.
The History Hit Book Club
Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain is the April and May 2022 read of the History Hit Book Club. A community who are passionate about history, members read about aspects of history they may not have previously known about, they challenge their current viewpoints and advance their historical education in a fun environment. Readers get to enjoy perks such as a £5 Amazon Gift Voucher, free access to History Hit Events, online coffee meet-ups and exclusive access to an online Q&A with the author and the History Hit presenters.
To read Pen Vogler’s Scoff with the History Hit Book Club, join today in time for April 1st by clicking here.