Food, Drink and Identity in Europe

By Thomas M. Wilson | Go to book overview

FOOD, PHAGOPHOBIA
AND ENGLISH NATIONAL IDENTITY

Menno Spiering


Abstract

As in other countries, food and national identity are closely linked
in England. Since the sixteenth century the English have considered
beef as the commodity that best expresses their perceived national
characteristics of common sense, love of liberty, manliness and
martial prowess. Even today beef remains a popular emblem of
nationhood, as witness the deep national indignation when the
product was declared unsafe in the 1990s. Discussing the relation-
ship between diet, food and national identity, this article explores
the history and meaning of beef in England, and also instances of
food imagery employed in nationalist discourse in the past and in
the present. Once a familiar figure in prints and literature, 'the
eating Englishman' has been replaced by images of 'the Englishman
being eaten', an indication of increasing national uncertainty, espe-
cially since the end of the Second World War. It is proposed that
this phagophobic reaction is the result of continuing strains in
Anglo-European relations.

This article is about food and English national identity. The terms 'food', 'English', 'national' and 'identity' are all open to debate, with 'identity' perhaps being the most troublesome one. Much can, and has, been said about identity, about its relation to national character, image, reality and perception. It is generally accepted that statements about identity cannot be separated from the predispositions of the observer. There is, for instance, a real difference between the self-perception of an identity and the perception of this identity by an outsider. In simple terms, a Frenchman's idea about what is typically

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