Peter Rhodes on frying bananas, micro-aggressions and the Conan Delusion
Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.
Our changing language. A friend received a letter from the British energy company E.on which begins: “Hope you're doing good.” He assumed they were checking on whether he was supporting charities and helping little old ladies across roads.
Imagine it is the 1980s. A saner age. You're using the communal kitchen in your university hall of residence. The bloke next to you is frying what appear to be bananas. You ask why. He explains these are not bananas but plantains, a delicacy in his home country. You ask where he comes from. He tells you it's Nigeria. This is known as a conversation. It is the beginning of a friendship, the coming-together of two cultures. Or at least it used to be.
Today, according to bosses at Sheffield University, asking such questions might constitute a “micro-aggression.” This is defined by the uni's Students' Union as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional.” Ye gods and little fishes. This sort of mind-set turns every cross-cultural meeting into a minefield. Isn't there a danger that students, rather than risk being branded a micro-aggressor through some silly blunder, will simply avoid contact with those from other cultures? And who thinks that's a good idea?
One of the examples of “micro-aggression” statements uttered by students at Sheffield is: “China and Japan? Same thing.” Does nobody ask the obvious question - how does anyone this thick get to university in the first place?
Thanks for your many messages concerning veggie and vegan diets. Some readers seem to think they will be forced to eat stuff they don't like. But no-one is threatening to take away our meat and force-feed us on lentils or chemical soup. The meatless-food industry is in its early stages. The first attempts at alcohol-free lagers or soft margarines were unappetising but things get better. If your local supermarket starts stocking “meat” that tastes better than the real thing, is healthier and cheaper, why would you not eat it?
At this stage the debate is often joined by a particular sort of consumer who has a mental image of himself as a magnificent specimen of manhood that can only be fuelled by vast quantities of freshly-slaughtered red meat. Let us call it the Conan the Barbarian Delusion. In my experience Conans tend to be middle-aged, overweight and a bit timid and could manage perfectly well on lentils and lemonade.
And I suspect that some of them, 50 years ago, seriously believed that British meat and two veg was the finest food in the world and that everything south of Dover was greasy foreign muck and they'd certainly never eat it. Today, they gorge happily on pizza, pasta, curry and chop suey. The British diet has changed more in the past few decades than at any time in history. The move towards plant-based food will be just another little step. Trust me, Conan, you won't even know it's happening.