Warde, A. (2009) ‘Imagining British cuisine: representations of culinary identity in the Good Food Guide’, Food, Culture and Society, 12(2), pp. 149-171.


Based upon a systematic examination of the Good Food Guide, the principal annual handbook purporting to identify the highest-quality restaurant provision in the UK, this paper studies the construction of the symbolic meaning of food. It describes historical shifts in the guide’s content regarding the definition of “British” food. It was not until the 1970s that the issue of the identity of British cuisine appeared on the guide’s agenda, and thereafter three competing definitions can be isolated. The paper contrasts the characteristics of these definitions and discusses the social conditions of their existence. This documentary material is reviewed in terms of sociological debates about invented tradition, cultural nationalism, aestheticization and globalization. The invention of British cuisine is seen as one of several responses to the intensified search for symbolic meaning in the domain of food and an instance of wider attempts to attribute identity to cultural forms and establish criteria for judging their quality. It is argued that disputation about the character of British cuisine is best grasped in terms of the broad trend towards the stylization of consumption, a process of proliferation of principles for discriminating between a growing variety of culinary alternatives. In such a context, the consumer guide acts as a cultural intermediary, bringing together economic exchange and symbolic identification.

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