In my Midlands youth it was regarded as uppity to serve broccoli to guests because in the language of vegetables broccoli was ‘moi’ when ‘I’ would do just fine. Similarly, it was way beyond our station to buy asparagus, for that was for people who dressed for dinner. And to ask how to cook an eggplant was absolutely inviting ridicule. “Eggplant? You?”
Over a tense dinner, designed to appease two socially divided strains of the family, I foolishly passed my downwardly mobile aunt some olives and she pushed them away with a dismissive “I’ve never had an olive; I don’t think I’m going to start now.”
Funny how potentially neutral items can become the locus of class conflict. Such boundaries keep people in their place, ensuring that the societal machine keeps humming along as usual. Tribal cohesion depends on united behavior, a united ‘us’ against ‘them,’ no matter that the vehicles for class-consciousness are as mundane and as ridiculous as fruit and veg.
Since nothing exists in a vacuum, class-consciousness permeates our existence at every level. The words we choose, the clothes we wear, the places we shop, the vegetables we buy all place us on a rung of the social ladder. In the US, if it’s not the vegetables themselves, it’s the stickers on the vegetables, and the level of ‘organic’ cultivation that the stickers betray that mark out our tribal allegiances.
In my business, the presentation of the Arts is also a hotbed of class-consciousness; class is impregnated in the placement of the buildings, in the architecture itself, and the liturgy of any Arts presentation is drenched in it. A Friday night symphony concert is the purview of the aspiring middle classes – who else is free on a Friday evening, can travel into the central city (by car if not by reliable public transit) and can afford the luxury of putting off helping with homework, paying bills and answering email to devote two or more hours to facing forward in rows to listen to music?