In 1999, the first ever non-stop circumnavigation of the world by balloon was completed. The crew consisted of a Swiss psychiatrist, excitable, flamboyant, Bertrand Piccard, and an undemonstrative, pragmatic Englishman, Brian Jones, who celebrated, appropriately with a drink: 'I'm going to have a cup of tea, like any good Englishman' (Author Unknown, 1999). There is little to surprise here. Jones implicitly identifies a 'national drink' and few would quarrel with his choice. As we argued in Chapter 1, the link between Britishness and a 'nice cup of tea' is well established, taken-for-granted and very much a part of the 'national culture'. George Orwell observed as much in 1946, in his essay 'A Nice Cup of Tea' (1968a: 58-61) and Brian Jones's words proclaimed not simply his individual success, but his positioning culturally within that tradition of British adventure, daring and enterprise which explored, charted, educated and exploited so much of the globe during the second half of the second millennium.
Constructions of nations and national identities have attracted a great deal of critical attention within the humanities and social sciences over the last two decades. As Jonathan Rée (1992) argues, four books in particular defined a new orientation towards such issues, Nairn (1977), Gellner (1983), Anderson (1983) and Hobsbawm (1991). 'For all their differences, these works agree in their emphatic rejection of the idea that … nations are "as old as history" ' (Rée, 1992:3). This emphasis on nation forms part of a broader interest in identity, belonging and difference that have been central to the formation of cultural studies. While questions of identity are addressed at regular intervals throughout this book, here we concern ourselves with the relationship between food and local, regional and national identities. The chapter will draw on and attempt to extend the debates highlighted by Rée. Though the issues are of global significance the majority of examples will be British, and we begin by looking at some of the meanings surrounding British food - and