The last few weeks have been busy ones. As well as a holiday in Venice, I’ve attended a launch party for Gannet Magazine at Brawn in London where we ate bread from Sardinia, anchovies from Spain and drank French wine and a book launch at the Maltese High Commission saw us eat food cooked by Meike Peters whose latest book Eat in my Kitchen celebrates the food of both Germany and Malta.
There’s also been Turkish shawarma, Mexican guajillo tamales, handmade British chutneys from a company owned by a New Zealander and a splendid Middle Eastern cheesecake from Honey & Co.
I’ve been living under the illusion that it is impossible to sit around a table, break bread and fail to find some commonality with one’s dining companions but looking at the xenophobic state of the UK today I am starting to wonder just what the heck is going on. Have we deteriorated to the point where all we can do is chuck bread rolls at each other whilst arguing over who gets to bake them in the first place?
During the EU referendum campaign, many of those arguing for Brexit were at pain to point out that their vote was nothing to do with immigration at all. They weren’t racist or xenophobic they said. They just wanted out of a system that they felt put the UK at a disadvantage fiscally and politically. Thing is, now that Theresa May and her government have made the vote for Brexit all about immigration, I am hearing very little protest about this from the Brexit camp. They are conducting a very silent protest. Where are the tweets, the Facebook posts, the letters to newspapers complaining that the Tories have taken their well-meaning vote and turned it into future policies which, to date, have suggested replacing all foreign-born doctors with British-born ones and requiring schools to register all foreign-born children. The Tories stopped short of suggesting these kids wear a little gold star or sit in a special place at the back of the class but we get the nasty gist of it. We don’t want people to mistake you for one of us.
The repulsive Steven Woolfe MEP sits in his EU-reciprocally funded hospital bed after receiving injuries in a brawl with a fellow ‘UKIPPER’ and whines (after ONE night) that he is ‘sick of croissants and wants a Full English breakfast’. Apart from the fact that I am amazed they found anything when they scanned his brain, I am also left wondering just how many croissants they actually fed this ungrateful creature over the course of one night’s stay?
Might I remind Woolfe of the culinary genealogy of some of the ingredients of an Anglo fry-up? Sausages were mentioned over 2,000 years ago by the Greeks (sausage is derived from the Latin ~salsus~, meaning salted) but the first sausages date back to the Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia back in 3,000BC (now modern-day Iraq. (Got to be hard to swallow, that one.) Tracing bacon back to a single ‘inventor’ is not possible but we know that the first records of cured pork originate in ancient China and the word “bacon” was created around the 17th century to refer to any type of salted and smoked pork belly. Combining them on one plate might be a British thing but like most meals, its genealogy is Heinz 57-like in the best possible sense of the term.
This country is darned happy to take what it wants when it wants it (Colonialism, encouraging West Indians and other people to migrate here so they could do the jobs Brits didn’t want to do) and it is happy to let hard-working people come here and continue to do the jobs Brits don’t want to do whilst we whine that there’s nothing left for ‘hard-working’ Brits. Well, we weren’t so hard-working when that restaurant down the road desperately needed staff and couldn’t find any, were we? Yes, the people who cook your food and wash your plates might well come from Poland or Lithuania, Pakistan or Spain but they didn’t have to fight you very hard for those positions, did they? And all the time I hear the concerns of restaurateurs who know they will not be able to recruit British-born staff should the Tories get their way and send their staff ‘home’.
I’ve also heard the argument that people from Poland are putting self-employed contractors out of business because they ‘work for cheaper rates’. Of course blaming them for this avoids placing any responsibility for this situation upon those unscrupulous contractors who take advantage of migrants doesn’t it?
I’m sick at heart over what this nation has become. Sick of people handwringing about blue passports and making Britain ‘great again’ when they either conveniently forget or never knew that the source of our previous power was built upon what we took and not what we gave.
-- Nicola Miller is author of The Millers Tale blog. Follow her on Twitter: @NicMillersTale