Friday, 20 November 2009

In which there turns out to be a little rant, after all

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I know I have gone all Little Women on you just lately, but I suppose it was inevitable that I should have to have a small rant sooner or later. When I was a girl of eight, I used to use my hands to sketch extravagant shapes in the air as I spoke. My rather stern school did not approve of such Continental practices: at lunch one day, my headmistress insisted that I SIT on my hands to still them. Without my hands, I could not speak. I stared and wiggled and shifted back and forth, and eventually the hands, as if they had a life of their own, freed themselves, waved about in the air, and I could talk again. I feel rather like that now. However much I sit on my hands, they are inevitably going to escape.

So that was a long, throat-clearing way of saying I have a tiny something to add about Kate Moss. I really wasn't going to. I have the children's tea to think about. We have been out riding and the dogs came and are now covered in plough (there was also some very worrying rolling) so there may have to be bathing. At some stage, I should attempt to do some work. You are all discerning adults; you know what you think about patently wrong statements. I'm not sure I really have anything to add.

But oh, oh, OH, the idiocy. It makes me cross because I have always rather admired Kate Moss. I liked that she smoked and drank and went out with unsuitable men. I liked that she did not seem to subscribe to the airbrush school of beauty. I saw her in life once, and she was oddly unremarkable; not plain, or with bad skin or a crooked nose, but she did not stop a room; she just sat in the corner giggling and cadging cigarettes and you would not have looked at her twice. (On the other hand, I once saw Carla Bruni at a party and she is a showstopper in life, much more than in pictures.) I liked that fact that little Kate Moss from Croydon could become a global brand and still seem to have fun. And then she goes and says possibly the stupidest thing I have heard this year, only slightly less stupid than all those crazy right wingers in America who insist that Obama is just exactly like Hitler except without the moustache. She said, and I am so, so hoping she was misconstrued, and misquoted, and misheard: 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.'

My first reaction was to make a list:

Rare fillet of beef with potatoes dauphinoise.

Vichyssoise, hot or cold.

Quails' eggs with celery salt.

Chilled avocado soup at the height of summer.

Prawn and squid risotto with saffron and a dash of Vermouth.

A really juicy roast chicken with bread sauce.

Cavalo nero, dressed with olive oil and lemon.

My lovely little polenta chips that I cooked the other day in the manner of Jamie Oliver.

My mother's scones, the best in the world. I remember her always saying you must just crumble the butter and flour delicately, delicately, with your fingertips, and STOP the moment it is done, because an overworked scone is a sad thing. And you know, she was right. I went to the amazingly fashionable and expensive Daylesford Organic caff in the amazingly fashionable and expensive Westbourne Grove not that long ago, and a scone was ordered and it was not only flat and heavy and made not with delicacy and care but with hob-nailed boots and indifference, but it was so dry I thought it might have been stale. How very different from my old mum's light as air, hot from the oven, melting little circles of delight. We would eat them with whipped cream and the special tomato jam that she made in great vats with tomatoes from the greenhouse. And it's funny remembering all that, because there were bits of my childhood that were nuts, but there were also bits when there were homemade scones, and crumpets with Gentleman's Relish, and Chocolate Olivers for a very special treat, and getting up at dawn to go and pick mushrooms in the valley, and really moments of idyll.

Cockles with salt and vinegar, preferably from a polystyrene pot bought from a stall by a pier, with the smell of the sea in one's nostrils and the wind coming up off the water.

A pint of prawns, with mayonnaise.

And if you're getting fancy pants, throw in a lobster as well.

A really proper spaghetti vongole, preferably a white one, with fat clams and lots of parsley.

Soupe de Poisson, with its rouille. This of course can be a grey and slightly gritty thing, if made wrong, and I don't want to sound like a food snob, but I do start to think that really it is only worth eating in France, and preferably in Tetou, a little blue restaurant that sits on a beach at Golfe Juan. I have not been there for twenty-five years, but I once knew it well, and it did, in my youth, have the best soupe de poisson in the world.

A dark delightful sticky oxtail stew.

Watercress soup with croutons.

Scotch pancakes for tea. Or potato cakes (remembering of course to use floury and not waxy potatoes).

The beef carpaccio at La Famiglia, tender and full of flavour and the most outrageous colour so it looks like art on your plate, with its secret sauce.

The Hainanese chicken rice that you get in wet markets in Singapore, made by flinty old ladies who would rather kill you than give you the recipe.

Vietnamese spring rolls, with mint and coriander and that mysterious sweet and sour dipping sauce, and which, for all my culinary pretensions, I shall never be able to make authentically.

Sourdough bread.

Those little steamed dim sum prawn dumplings that you get in Chinatown.

Salmon sashimi, with enough wasabi to make your eyes water.

King prawn tempura.

Irish stew.

Toast with Marmite.

You know I could go on, and on, and on. And I really shan't, because I know you all have things to be doing. Even in that incomplete list, which I pulled from the top of my head, there is not just gastronomic delight, but memories of childhood, great holidays, places visited, moments in time, little secret habits (the first thing I do when I come to London after months in Scotland is to go straight to Gerrard Street and eat as much Chinese as I can, just me and a newspaper and a Moleskine notebook, because I want to savour the moment of sheer, raging greed all by myself, to distill it to its most potent point). Food, whilst providing so much pleasure in itself, is often not just food: there are all those associations.

To deny all this for the sake of skinny is blatantly bonkers. I'm not going to go all po-faced about the moral question that must hang over affluent Western women purposefully making themselves look like poor women in third world countries who actually do not have enough to eat, because of drought or corruption or the harvest failing or just blunt lack of money. But I do want to know what skinny gets you. I admit that maybe your clothes hang a little better. I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to be one of the Elegant Women, and there can be a keen aesthetic pleasure in someone who can really work a little outfit. But to refuse food simply because you want the admiring glances of fashionistas seems to me a paltry bargain. And anyway, you can be stylish and curvaceous, it just takes a little more imagination.

So again, what does skinny get you? Does it make people love you more? Does it add to the sum total of human happiness? Can it console your friend whose heart has just been broken by a cad? Will it stop your lover leaving? Will it make your husband happy when he has just been laid off? Will it make your wife smile when her mother has been taken ill? I mean, seriously: what does it achieve? Food gives pleasure, comfort, delight. It can console. It is an expression of love. Does skinny do any of those things? I am going to be vulgar now, but this kind of thing makes me so cross I get vulgar: but if someone is having sex with a skinny person, isn't it rather disconcerting to be able to see the ribs and feel the hipbones digging into soft tissue and count every single vertebrae? I'm just asking.

What I know for sure is that no one will ever miss your skinniness. I've said it in Backwards and I shall bloody well go on saying it again until every last woman stops hating her body, which means of course I shall turn into the most roaring bore: at your funeral, no one is going to mourn you because you were a size eight. There are many things in life I do not know, but I know this: no single person will weep at your loss because they will never again see your skinniness. At your wake, no sentient human will speak this sentence in regret and nostalgia: 'Oh, and do you remember how skinny she was? How I shall miss that.'

We have such a short time. I can't bear the thought that anyone would waste a single second of it wanting to be such an utterly pointless thing as skinny. I can't bear that anyone who is not in need of strong medication would think that being unnaturally thin is better than delicious food. It's so fabulously, exuberantly stupid. (At which point the writer is removed, still ranting.)


  1. I think the headmistress who made you sit on your hands as a child should be shot. It's like the English mistress who writes horrible, petty things in red in the margin of our brilliant 9 year old stories. Awful.

    Your list is mouthwatering. Huge mistake reading this before lunch.

    Comme d'habitude, tu as raison.

    Thank you.

    Miss W xx

  2. At the risk of going against the grain, I don't think she meant it QUITE like that!

    I'm sure she would eat all of the above delicious things, but was more aiming at the horrendous and quite horrid fatty diet without a balance.

    I'm her size or smaller and love most of those, and eat them often, but don't eat masses of donuts or similar items as though I enjoy one or two, either my brain is hard-wired not to (just doesn't suit my body) or the health factor stops me. Or I just don't want to.

    In all honesty as much as I love fatty chips and pastry I couldn't eat that for every meal, only once in a while.

    It must be the same for you as the meals you mentioned sound gorgeous, but not crazy health-wise!

  3. Sheeeeet (my polite way of saying doggy poo) I wrote ALL that previously without getting to the point: I'm pretty sure she meant that protracted eating of unhealthy meals just isn't as good as taking care of yourself, being aware, and lessening the beer belly.

    Tanya your meals are gawww-giss and as such have no place in a discussion of this sort!

  4. Whoops again, I meant TANIA
    *kertows outta the place*

  5. Superb rant! The moment I read about Ms. Moss' idiotic statement, I wondered what you'd have to say about it. This post is perfection. Good timing too: it's nearly dinner time here in the Pacific time zone and you've given me some delectable inspiration.

  6. A joy to read as ever. I couldn't begin to imagine life without lots of fabulous food. You have made me extremely hungry and sadly it's too early for breakfast... XX

  7. I'm not much of a feminist, truth be told, but I do think that there must be brave women through the ages spinning in their graves to see that all that some women have done with their emancipation is spend their lives worrying about their cellulite. I have little nieces, and it breaks your heart to hear a ten year old girl, with less meat on her than a butcher's pencil, worry about getting 'fat'. And how easy it is to get sucked into the whole maelstrom yourself. I'm recovering from the flu at the moment and I'm ashamed to say there's a part of me that secretly doesn't mind too much - because I've lost 9lbs in weight. I need a thoroughly good shaking (which I'm currently receiving in the shape of reading 'Backwards'!!) - I was only a big-ish size 12 in the first place. I resent the implication that everyone over a size 8 is filling their face full of doughnuts and lard all day - some of us would have to literally starve ourselves to be the size Kate Moss is. And some of feel that life is a bit too short and that maybe, just maybe, eating and cooking are some of life's greatest pleasures. I don't deny myself anything I want to eat. Do I wish my rear end was slightly smaller? Yes, I do - but not enough to do something about it.

    Fortunately Tania, as a still-germ-ridden vegetarian, your list hasn't sent me over the edge - but I am just off to the supermarket to get ingredients for a veggie sausage casserole with herby dumplings. That's the stuff to feed the troops on!

  8. Hear hear

    What was she thinking? Was she even thinking at all?

    For so, so many reasons a comment such as that should never get past the internal thought process. In a world where more and more women, young and old, are going rexy on us, a roll model as important as Moss ought really to know better. In any case food beats skinny every time, yes there is a balance to be had, too many pork scratchings and you will turn into a fat pasty but a life without the salty pig snack would be empty and sad! I know the fascination with size is the fault of man, and throughout the centuries it is our whim that has dictated the way women are expected to look, for this girls I can only apologize. However getting back to the point, skinny could not and will never beat Tania's roast beef (I know these things) nor could it hope to take on my mums Yorkshire puddings.

    There is of course one thing skinny wins out over......... the pure evil that is Marmite!

  9. The inspiration:

    “Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.” Pierre Androuet.

    The challenge:

    GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”


    This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

    A unique and amusing Christmas present for all food lovers


  10. oh tania, another lovely post which has hit just the right spot, in more ways than one. may i add to that list- dahl and basmati, chips made by your mum when you've just come home from school, a bruchetta made w tomatoes from Sicily, oh the list is neverending. i love your list.

    re the issues you raised "what does skinny get you? Does it make people love you more?" Tania, the sad thing is, people "love" and want to be with skinny people. i just saw Precious last night- and it just shows that being 'unpretty' and 'fat' makes people dislike you; treat you like you have the plague. people are so cruel.

    "Does it add to the sum total of human happiness?" it doesnt- but if people hate you bec you are called "fat", it makes for a very sad world. it just makes me furious. so many people have a false sense of happiness, bec they are accepted in society as a result of their skinniness.

    "Will it stop your lover leaving?" what about the horrid men who leave their wives for the skinner woman?
    It is a sad truth to accept, but this is the world we live in. We are judged by the way we look. I think what even worse is that women like Kate Moss, whom young girls look up to- are promoting such idiotic ideas.

    I agree with everything you say, wish others would follow suit. xo


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