As will become apparent, I’m no “foodie”. My take on food is strictly utilitarian; it keeps you alive and, if you’re careful, healthy. Once beyond the lips and taste buds, it makes little difference, except to your wallet, if it’s from a three rosette Michelin establishment or the local greasy spoon. Even with more sophisticated tastes, I wouldn’t want to be called a foodie. Is it a compliment or a finely honed barb? Some fine diners, formerly known as foodies, seem unsure and have reinvented themselves as culinarians. Please note, I’ve avoided calling them “food fetishists”, as I’m reliably informed that’s something different altogether.

Anyhow, for the purpose of this rant, let’s stick with foodie. The term has a relatively short history, making its first appearance in the US in the early 1980s. New York food critic, Gael Greene, is credited with giving the expression its first airing in 1980. It was subsequently picked up by Paul Levy and Ann Barr who used it in the title of their 1984 Official Foodie Handbook. The dictionary defines foodie as “a person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of fine foods”. Nothing wrong with that, but it falls a bit short in conveying the all-important sense of exclusivity, pretentiousness and superiority. Due to my unadventurous tastes, I find food writing and discussion, coma-inducing. Combine a food bore with a camera and social media and you have the perfect storm. Why photograph and post your, as yet, untouched plate when eating in the latest fashionable eatery? A writer in the Observer newspaper went as far as describing those who take and share snaps of their red snapper al fondo con patatas, as “foodidiots”. God help us, but some who have mastered switching on the cooker, can’t resist snapping and sharing “something I knocked together from leftover fava beans and soursop juice, found at the back of the fridge”.

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Pretentious restaurant reviews are also difficult to swallow. For some reason, Observer food writer Jay Rayner takes pleasure in telling us his reviews have twice featured in Private Eye magazine’s Pseuds’ Corner. Only twice, Jay? Another writer lets me know if I hop in the car and drive 120 miles down the road, I can savour the delight of “Japanese wagyu (no, me neither) and an entire lobster with wasabi gratin”; a snip at a mere £99 a head. There would still be room for the Hamachi Kiwi Sashimi. You’ll be relieved to know the fish is so fresh “it could still be flapping”. Probably a flying fish. Menus and reviews have also become obsessed with the provenance of the ingredients. You know the sort of thing; “tenderest lamb, happily raised on the succulent young grass of sun-dappled Aberdeenshire uplands”. That over-hyped nonsense reminds me of the scene in The Gilt Trap restaurant in the US sitcom Portlandia. Two young, earnest diners quiz their server about the source of the chicken. They’re assured of its “heritage, raised on a diet of sheep’s milk, soya and hazelnuts”. And yes, the chicken was “sourced locally, was called Colin and here are his papers”. The scene should be obligatory viewing for all would-be food reviewers and menu writers.

We shouldn’t be too hard on food writers though. It’s their job and they have disproved the old theory there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The motives of those who pay to eat at the priciest restaurants are more difficult to unravel. It may have something to do with exclusivity and the length of waiting times to book a table. In London, booking four weeks ahead is commonplace. The Caprice is allegedly frequented by Lord Archer, but should you still want to book, you are recommended to do so at least 11 weeks in advance. Those eating at the most upmarket eateries are there to be seen and demonstrate they can afford the prices. If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. At London’s Park Chinois, the aforementioned Japanese Wagyu rib-eye steak will set you back around £120, but that probably includes chips and onion rings. The culinary equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome also kicks in. Diners at the most expensive restaurants probably realise they are hostage to unjustifiably high prices, but increasingly identify with their captor, especially if the chef has a foreign sounding name. Of course, many who frequent exclusive and expensive venues, dine courtesy of business accounts and company credit cards. I once queried the practice with a businessman who “didn’t have me down as a closet Bolshevik” and indignantly claimed that vital business is often conducted over a “good lunch”.

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All good knockabout fun, but there’s a serious point to be made. Last year’s survey by children’s charity Magic Breakfast indicated a sharp increase in the number of Scottish children arriving hungry at school. According to the Trussell Trust, around 2.5 million people in the UK accessed its foodbanks in 2020/21, an increase of 600,000 on the previous year. In that context, how is it morally acceptable to see away a frivolous meal costing more than a family’s weekly income? It’s not, so it’s time to stop the expensive glamourisation of food when so many can’t afford the basics. Yes, yes, the hospitality industry has suffered due to Covid, but the better off have ridden out the storm pretty well. A levy on bills over £100 might be unpalatable, but it’s little different to the service charge or tips that subsidise restaurateurs. If the well-heeled can fork out for non-essential meals, they can afford another fiver to support those literally on the breadline.

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