Middle-Class Snobbery

Rob makes the following remark in the comments at Tim Worstall’s:

It is the classic upper middle-class disdain and snobbery for everyone else.

A couple of years back I realised that this middle-class snobbery is what drives so much social and political campaigning these days. Probably the best example is the campaign to reduce sugar in people’s diets – for their own good, of course. It is always fizzy drinks and sugary snacks that get cited, never fancy desserts. This is because it’s the plebs who eat the former, whereas the working classes don’t order profiteroles in metropolitan eateries nor buy Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. Rarely is disdain for the lower-classes more stark than a multi-millionaire mascot of Sainsbury’s criticising children’s pack lunches and school meals for being unhealthy and causing obesity, while flogging pricey recipe books which cause Tate & Lyle’s share price to shoot up with every release.

The middle-classes seeking to restrict or outlaw food which the lower-classes enjoy is merely a variation of the vicar’s wife lecturing the poor on good housekeeping. But at least the vicar’s wife probably did keep her own house in order. Can the same be said for today’s modern food-puritans? Well, they’ll be sure to tell you that little Tarquin only eats organic apples and Mummy makes sure he gets only ethically-sourced kumquat juice, but I bet in reality the little shit is the one who chooses what he eats, when, and how much. So sure, the lower-classes might sit around a bucket of KFC but the mothers are unlikely to have nightly debates with their toddler who is “a fussy eater” and hence “simply won’t eat” bread unless it has Nutella on, and I doubt you see brats throwing tantrums in the aisles of Iceland over what’s for dinner like you do in Waitrose.

I’d be a lot more forgiving of middle-class snobbery if they showed some self-awareness once in a while.

(Just for Theo: sure, not all the middle-classes are food-puritans; but all the snobbish food-puritans are middle-class, and they’re driven by class-snobbery.)

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22 thoughts on “Middle-Class Snobbery

  1. Never forget, the people who most hate McDonalds can be seen queuing up for their happy burgers after attending an anti-capitalism demo.

    Haters gotta eat.

  2. I think it was the Daily Mail that did a breakdown of the nutrition in a duchy originals pasty and showed it was far worse for you than a Big Mac, but McDonald’s are still the great Satan (and in fact, as junk food goes, McDonald’s is better than most -far better for health than most Chinese or Indian food – I regularly have their chicken wraps and smoothies which are as healthy as almost any food).

    The sad reality is that the left are mostly the runt of the litter of once-successful families. Women who are neither particularly bright, nor particularly pretty. Men who lack either intellect or strength. They are there because of what was gifted to them by family or family connections, but because of their backgrounds feel they are entitled to more.

  3. I’m not really au fait with the snobbery stuff, not being English. Rather than irking me it makes me laugh on the occasions I notice it at all.

    Is being superior in this way a sort of snobbery? Buggered if I care.

  4. On food snobbery and going back to the early eighties I worked in a restaurant that fully capitalised on this phenomenon whereby we targeted their desires and charged them very high prices for their snobbery.

    It was a restaurant called Cafe Pelican on St Martins Lane and it was opened in much fanfare and overseen by Roger Verge one of the firts nouvelle cuisine chefs to hit the London scene. This was a restaurant brasserie type place which catered for the many theatre goers and theatre staff including the actors and was all the rage, mostly French floor staff. Remember the huge plates minuscule tucker with artistic sauce patterns, I still see it and it survives in the newer cuisine these days. Folk used to eat at the bar as well where I was the barman par excellence (their first non-French floor staff as well) and I was trained to upsell, when a customer asked which wine I would recommend I would firstly ask what meal they were considering and then I would recommend either the most expensive red or white depending on their main, it worked every time, not only that they would also comment on how fine my selection was!

    Also, I was diagnosed as prediabetic during a corporate health check about ten years ago. The medical staff rubbed their hands in glee when they told me to prepare for a future of worsening blood sugar, increasing medication and medical treatment. This was a complete shock to know that my life had shortened by about ten years at least and something that I took seriously, my brother in law is a food scientist and I spoke to him about this as well. What I discovered was that not only the doctors recommended eating program but the entire food system and pyramids were completely wrong. I read everything and studied nutrition the major milestone was Dr Bernstein at 84 he may well be the oldest living Type 1 diabetic in the US. Dr B actually discovered this as a young man although no one would listen or wanted to listen the medical and food boards shut him down. He studied and qualified as a Dr just so he could get his papers published and recognised. He certainly lengthened my life, I had my diagnosis reversed much to the annoyance of the medical staff especially when I told them that I ate the exact opposite of what they had recommended and inverted the food pyramid.

    The other thing here is the average person has no idea about nutrition and the reality is that the fruit that Tarquin is eating has fructose which can be a problem for certain people. There is nothing wrong with this type of food if it doesn’t adversely affect you but if it does then it is just as bad of worse than a packet of crisps. We evolved to eat fruit only in Autumn when it was produced in the wild, okay to eat it in abundance and stock up on it and even put on weight back then as it would quickly disappear in early winter. I do know that vending machines were introduced to US workplaces to spike the workers blood sugars and supply caffeine. It’s about food sales, medicine sales and medical intervention these days. You can look it up but I think the medical system changed over from natural healing to hard core intervention and drugs around the time of Carnegie.

  5. Like Bardon I think the government health propaganda of the last few decades has been completely wrong-headed. (The fault lies neither with politicians nor with Big Crisps but with bent medical scientists and doctors, alas.)

    So I have started to push down my carbohydrate intake and to raise my intake of fats and protein. So: say farewell to flakes and toast & marmalade at breakfast, say hello to ham and cheese. Very Dutch! Though I have to say that Wensleydale has been far superior to the Dutch cheese I’ve tried. The ham is Speck from the South Tyrol, supplied by our local Co-op. By God it’s lovely stuff.

    I dare say that the South Tyrol will have a Catalan-style referendum any day now, so gather ye Speck while ye may.

  6. Snobbery is just another form of in-group preference.

    If it wasn’t for your ancestors exercising a high degree of in-group preference, you wouldn’t be reading this today.

  7. You’ll always see a Big Mac in the photo of an article about high fat food, you’ll never see a Camambert cheese.
    The photo in an article about alcohol and health will always show a fat white man in a vest holding a pint of lager, you won’t see a nice bottle of Burgundy.

    This snobbery reveals itself even unconsciously. I remember a hilarious example from the BBC website from a few years ago. It was the standard “all going to hell” opinion piece disguised as news about the “obesity crisis”. So far, so normal.

    The funny part was the photo at the top of the article. McDonalds, of course, but it was of three stick thin working class boys outside McDonalds. Barely an ounce of fat between them by the looks. I am amazed that no one at the BBC looked at that and saw the massive, clanging dissonance there.

  8. “…all the snobbish food-puritans are middle-class, and they’re driven by class-snobbery.”

    Yes, food-puritans are broadly middle-class. Snobbery may well be one motive, but I suspect regulatory capture, a make-work culture and the NHS’s structure and funding are more important.

    More generally, the historian G M Trevelyan argued that snobbery had a broadly beneficent effect in English history, because it had encouraged the lower classes to copy the better features of the upper classes.

  9. I don’t know much about British kids but most of the obscenely obese American adults seem to come from the lower classes, while it’s almost a crime for the upper-middle class to get anywhere close to fat.

  10. @Alex

    Its the same in Australia with a definite increase in obesity levels with folk that belong to the lower socioeconomic groups. We don’t have an upper class/aristocracy down here, we have a middle class with established affluent types at the top end ranging down to normal middle class and then it drops down to the Bogan class. If you were to visit a shopping mall in anything below upper middle Bogan then at least 50% of its staff and patrons of all ages would be obese.

  11. “Boyhood tip on how to make poor cheese edible: smear it with HP sauce. Mmmmm.”

    Quite. Why do you think the ploughman’s lunch was invented?

  12. You’ll always see a Big Mac in the photo of an article about high fat food, you’ll never see a Camambert cheese.

    Exactly.

    The funny part was the photo at the top of the article. McDonalds, of course, but it was of three stick thin working class boys outside McDonalds.

    Hah! Yes, I remember that one.

  13. I don’t know much about British kids but most of the obscenely obese American adults seem to come from the lower classes

    Obesity is mainly a lower-class thing in the UK, but a fair few middle-class women (especially of certain ethnicities) are porkers.

  14. Yes, food-puritans are broadly middle-class. Snobbery may well be one motive, but I suspect regulatory capture, a make-work culture and the NHS’s structure and funding are more important.

    I agree that all of those are at work, but not so sure about the cause and effect. For a while I’ve thought the middle-classes’ support of the NHS is to some degree based on the fact it allows them to tell the oiks how to live.

    More generally, the historian G M Trevelyan argued that snobbery had a broadly beneficent effect in English history, because it had encouraged the lower classes to copy the better features of the upper classes.

    Perhaps, but my point is that a lot of the middle-classes are no less clueless about feeding kids than the lower-classes. If Tarquin is setting the menu, his parents are hardly worth aspiring to.

  15. @Tim Newman
    “Obesity is mainly a lower-class thing in the UK, but a fair few middle-class women (especially of certain ethnicities) are porkers.”
    I work with lots of middle class people who are obese.

  16. “For a while I’ve thought the middle-classes’ support of the NHS is to some degree based on the fact it allows them to tell the oiks how to live.”

    Eh??? All my middle class acquaintances, friends and relatives despise the likes of Sally Davies, and they have no interest in telling the oiks how to live (except when said oiks are criminals or anti-social scumbags).

  17. Theo,

    I suspect your friends and relatives represent a dwindling band of sensible, centre right, conservative middle class folk and not the bunch of idiots who keep happily voting for people like Blair, Cameron, Corbyn and May and shit themselves as soon as a proper, principled politician raises their voice.

  18. You might be right, Tim, but I don’t think so. Most middle class people outside of the trendier parts of London, Brighton etc — ie Guardianland – are the ones you are thinking of, and I’d say they are 5%-10% of the population at most. They are, however, noisily self-regarding .

    There’s a parallel with gays. Metropolitan gays tend to be noisily self-regarding. In the shires, gays are often just ordinary blokes. A young gay couple live near me: they aren’t camp or outrageous, they dress conservatively and have centre-right politics. One is an engineer, the other’s in IT.

  19. Theo,

    I suspect you’re right and I’d really like to see it confirmed that you are. But based on who actually gets voted in, and the policies they put in place, and the direction of travel of social policies and national politics generally, and the lack of meaningful pushback from the population…well, it’s a tough sell, isn’t it?

    Definitely with you on the gays, too.

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