Food, Nation and Cultural Identity

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In this section, you can explore the amazing cultural diversity of food within the UK, and hear about foods from all over the world, from China to the Caribbean. You will be able to listen to the extracts and access both a transcript and background information for each recording.

Rosamund Grant

Rosamund Grant was born in Guyana in the Caribbean in the 1940s and came to England in the 1960s. Here, she explains food's status as political.

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Read more about the cultural diversity of seemingly very 'British' food.

Leon Albery Murray

Leon Albert Murray, a Methodist minister, came to England from Jamaica in the 1950s. Here, he describes giving a lecture about multiculturalism and food in the UK.

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Read more about the cultural diversity of 'British' food and the difficulty in defining what our 'traditional' dishes might be.

Claudia Roden

Claudia Roden, born to a Jewish Egyptian family in 1937, emigrated to England as a result of the Suez crisis. Here, she talks about Middle Eastern food and how British attitudes are changing.

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Read more about the ever-increasing diversity of British food as we absorb or adapt the food cultures of others.

Steve Rogers

Steve Rogers describes a childhood memory of eating Indian food in the home of his friend Kalik.

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Read more about the history of Indian food in the UK and why unknown or unfamiliar food might unsettle us.

Frances Soar

Frances Soar was born in Sheffield in the 1950s, when food choices in the UK were limited. Here, she describes the strangeness of pizza and salami.

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Read more about the cultural diversity of 'British' food.

In this extract, Frances Soar describes trying spaghetti and curry for the first time.

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Read more about what might be considered 'traditional' British food and discover the reasons behind these traditions.

Wing Yip

Wing Yip, a Chinese entrepeneur who travelled to England from Hong Kong in the 1950s, describes some of Britain's first Chinese restaurants.

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Read more about the history of Chinese food in the UK and the increasing popularity of 'foreign' foods and international flavours in Britain.

Background

As we travel to other countries or sit down to eat with people from different cultures we naturally question our surroundings. And our sense of taste is as important as our sense of sight and sound. Tasting the foods of others is a powerful way of exchanging ideas and traditions. The foods we eat help to transport us to different worlds and to different times. Our meals might connect us to places we've lived in or travelled to, or to the rituals of past generations.

Identity crisis

But the associations that are formed between food and identity can often slip into stereotypes. The English, for example, are associated with fish and chips, Americans with hamburgers and chewing gum and Italians with pizza and parmesan cheese. It's not uncommon for these stereotypes to offend: the Germans are said to eat only pickled cabbage, the French said to eat only snails and frog's legs. Racist abuse often links particular communities to certain food smells or 'strange' flavours.

The world on a plate

In fact, travel, migration and sheer curiosity have over centuries ensured that traditions are constantly changing, adapting and shifting. Many of the food traditions we associate with specific national identities have complicated histories. The spaghetti that is so closely linked to Italy has its origins in China, for example. Inside the British 'cuppa' is a history and geography that spans the globe from India through to the Caribbean.

In today's world economy all sorts of foodstuffs are traded and eaten around the world, from burgers in Bangkok to pizza in Germany. The patchwork of cultures in Britain has injected a rich diversity of foods in town and cities - most of us do not need to look far to find Polish delis, Indian curry houses, Jewish bagel shops or Thai takeaways to name a few examples. Today, many consider chicken tikka masala the British national dish. Just as food is an indicator of cultural traditions and values, it is also an indicator of how these develop and alter over time and space.

Celebration or separation?

But as we continue to exchange tastes, traditions and recipes in an ever globilised world, how much closer does it actually bring us? On the one hand, food helps us to share each other's traditions, and to celebrate our country's cultural diversity. On the other hand, despite the variety of multicultural foods on offer, there is still evidence of racism among many people in Britain. How much do we truly accept a community just by eating their food? Do you believe that a diverse supermarket shelf shows that British society embraces all people from different cultures and traditions, or do we just like to try new things to eat?