contemporary Britain’s foodscape in order to identify how mediatised life-quests uphold ‘boom-based’ culinary/consumptive motifs while mobilising a distinctive ‘austerity aesthetic’ that coincides and colludes with the British state’s neoliberal austerity narrative. In part one, ‘The British State of Home-Economics’, we examine this austerity aesthetic as it came to the fore during the ‘Great British Summer’ of 2012. In part two, ‘Localism, Veg Patch Capitalism and Austerity’, we unpack the fundamental contradictions found in the modesty claims of recent gentrified culinary activities and pastoralised localist discourses. And, finally, in part three, ‘Temporal Deficit and Culinary Work-for-Labour’, we analyse the foodscape’s investment in temporal presumptions, metaphors, promises and paradoxes in order to expose how the structure of deficit that shapes the way capitalism’s ‘economy of time’ is maintained through culinary ‘work-for-labour’. Throughout, we use the term ‘foodscape’ to ‘map food geographies’ onto cultural activities and socio-economic patterns, and to argue that Britain’s contemporary foodscape consistently fuels and reveals the self-contradictory yet self-perpetuating logic of capital as manifest in the neoliberal enterprise of state-led austerity.The authors comment that
The ‘new age of austerity’, as invoked by David Cameron in 2009, has seen Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government pursue new and existing neoliberal policies in the name of crisis management and deficit repayment. A legitimising narrative of austerity as financial and even moral compensation for the preceding debt-based bubble has intensified political demands for austere lifestyles marked by spending cuts, hard graft, individual ‘responsibility’, and a new ‘culture of thrift’. Despite reprimanding New Labour profligacy, this austerity narrative cogently reinvigorates neoliberalism’s aspirational promises and remains beholden to capitalism’s unstable and unsustainable growth paradigm. The British state’s self-protective allegiance to capital’s perpetuation means that it insists that its consumer-citizens continue to perform their consumptive duties in order to aid economic recovery, at home and internationally, but that they do so with austere self-restraint. This paper explores this austerity narrative, its home-economic messages, and the aesthetic dimensions of its deployment within contemporary Britain’s foodscape. We argue that the media-led food culture that took hold during the Cool Britannic ‘boom’ has continued to expand during our ‘bust’ times, in large part by maintaining its pleasure-based consumptive appeal and mutating into forms entirely consistent with consumptive-austerity. Specifically, we read the culinary encoding of austerity through the aesthetic motifs, participatory claims and nostalgic imaginary of the British foodscape of 2012. With media coverage of state-endorsed, corporate-sponsored celebrations invoking thrifty wartime resilience and postwar austerity-as-recovery, Britain’s 2012 ‘moment’ helped underscore the longstanding, but increasingly critical, disparity between the experience of food as economic burden and the culinary pursuit of frugal pleasure as consumptive self-fulfilment. The 2012 foodscape thereby enabled, and now requires, a provocative re-reading of the lifestyle programming, public-private interactions and labour-time relations that have structured British food culture and consumption patterns since the late 1990s.
The socio-cultural importance of food has become an area of burgeoning academic concern, especially within cultural studies, the sociology of food and the interdisciplinary field of food studies. A number of works have been influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction (1984), with its emphasis on cultural capital and class-based consumption; yet, following Zygmunt Bauman’s Freedom (1988), consumption studies commonly connects food habits with post-Fordist mechanisms of ‘individuation’, enhanced consumer ‘agency’ and self-narrating ‘lifestyle choices’ within what Anthony Giddens has called a ‘post-traditional order’. As Alan Warde notes, a key tension has arisen between such claims for self-actualising practices and the (often class-bound) ways in which ‘tastes are still collectively shared to a very significant extent’. Recent discussions have examined this tension in relation to both ‘alternative’ consumption habits, and the increasing prevalence of largely privileged forms of food-based activism. Discussions of international food activism and culinary diaspora also sit alongside interrogations of today’s globalised food system - often highlighting structural unevenness, agro-ecological (un)sustainability and resource (mis)management - as well as examinations of the multi-layered tensions surrounding local-global foodways. The 2011 ‘Food on the Move’ special issue of this journal marked the ‘troubled cosmopolitanism’ of food-based relations by navigating food’s ‘mobility in a lived multi-culture’ and as a ‘dynamic agent in the world’. Taking heed of Ben Highmore’s editorial, our discussion works from a similar understanding of food’s ‘at once revealing and concealing’ potential, but occupies a space left open by the issue as a whole; namely, the investigation of contemporary Britain’s foodscape and the multifaceted ways in which food, food culture and foodism are aestheticised and sold through British media, particularly the televisual, in accordance with the priorities of the state and its commitment to capital. This approach notably resonates with Tracey Jensen’s understanding of the government’s affective austerity rhetoric, especially its retrogressive and hypocritical ‘tough love’ claims and its role within the media-led inculcation of ‘austerity chic’. Our discussion also stands in close proximity to recent debates about food-based television, including Heather Nunn’s conception of ‘retreat TV’ and Lyn Thomas’ analysis of the ‘downshifting’ and ‘good life’ narratives circulating in contemporary British ‘lifestyle television’. Like Thomas, we recognise that food has played a significant role in UK televisual culture and its advocacy of the consumptive ‘good life’ since the 1970s, and similarly foreground the visible growth of prime-time food programming from the late 1990s - most notably via the ‘public-service’ state broadcaster, the BBC, and the ‘publicly-owned, commercially-funded’ terrestrial broadcaster, Channel 4. This growth has expanded the range, quality and personalities involved with food presentation, established a cacophony of celebrity chefs, personalities, critics and food enthusiasts, and created a plethora of notably formulaic and often highly didactic food-formats. Where Thomas suggests that the self-fulfilment quests of DIY, fashion, health and ‘heritage cooking’ shows reveal recession-based ambivalence towards consumptive lifestyles, we offer a panoramic picture of contemporary Britain’s foodscape in order to identify how such mediatised life-quests uphold earlier culinary/consumptive motifs while mobilising a distinctive ‘austerity aesthetic’ that coincides and colludes with the state’s neoliberal austerity narrative.
In part one, ‘The British State of Home-Economics’, we examine this austerity aesthetic as it came to the fore during the ‘Great British Summer’ of 2012, tracking the tensions evident in spectacles of citizenly consumption and competition-orientated inclusion that characterised the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London’s Olympic Games and surrounding televisual events. We consider how these events functioned - individually and collectively - as home-economic festivities that served to reinforce state self-assertion at a time of obvious uncertainty, typically through faux-ironic nostalgia and feigned inclusivity. In part two, ‘Localism, Veg Patch Capitalism and Austerity’, we unpack the fundamental contradictions found in the modesty claims of gentrified culinary activities and pastoralised localist discourses - stretching from the late 1990s - positioning these as building towards, becoming part of and bolstering the state’s austerity narrative. Lastly, in part three, ‘Temporal Deficit and Culinary Work-for-Labour’, we analyse the foodscape’s investment in temporal presumptions, metaphors, promises and paradoxes in order to expose how the structure of deficit that shapes the way capitalism’s ‘economy of time’ is maintained through culinary ‘work-for-labour’, which has become more obvious since the 2007-8 financial crisis, especially when considered in relation to domestic spaces. Throughout, we use the term ‘foodscape’ to ‘map food geographies’ onto cultural activities and socio-economic patterns. Like Josée Johnston and Kate Cairns, we follow Arjun Appadurai by using the suffix ‘scape’ to mark ‘cultural flows’ of influence and ‘the fluid, irregular shapes of [...] landscapes that characterise international capital’. However, where Appadurai contends that the ‘global cultural economy’ has upheld ‘fundamental disjunctures between economy, culture, politics’, we investigate the continuities between the culinary economy of British food culture and the political economy of neoliberal austerity, reading this apparent lack of ‘disjuncture’ as part of the ideological foreclosure upon which the state, and capitalism more broadly, depend.