Food and drink is all about pleasure

I wish to discuss the truly important character of food and drink: pleasure. I will illustrate this with a meal at a branch of JD Wetherspoon. This article is probably going to vex many readers, but it is probably the most important thing I’ve written on Elitistreview.

A lot of people assign moral, political and social values to food, so even mentioning JD Wetherspoon will immediately press certain buttons in the minds of such people. Those things don’t matter, what matters is the pleasure provided by the meal Editor Daniel and I enjoyed, and it certainly did provide pleasure.

We went for our meal at Wetherspoon because we were a bit broke and wanted a more affordable meal than we’d normally opt for; obviously there is no shame in this. As we are quite middle class we have been programmed that these boozers are just filled with heavy drinking yobs who only interrupt their sexist banter for a bit of random violence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The pub was unusual for an English pub in that it was full, had plenty of tables that were widely spaced and unlike in most pubs the staff did not view our presence as an impediment to their afternoon’s drinking. Indeed, the bar staff were as happy to serve us as they were all the other pensioners and families who were visiting for an affordable but quality time.

The bar had ten real ales and ciders on offer, all of which were in good condition and actually nice – ‘nice’ being the antithesis of the normal real ale experience. The bar staff were happy to give other customers tastes of them and explain their qualities with humorous candour. Our order for food was taken in a friendly and efficient style, and we didn’t have to wait long for our food to arrive.

JD Wetherspoon fish and chips

My fish and chips was one of the best examples of the dish I’ve ever had. Not the best fish and chips I’ve had in my life, but for £5.20 they whipped the arse of Winchester’s fish and chips shops. The chips were quite unbelievable for anyone who has experienced the dread of chips in England. On weekday afternoons the fish and chips are £3.99 with a few cup of tea.

JD Wetherspoon steak and chips

I thought Dani was crazy to order Sirloin steak and chips. Hell’s bells, the steak may have been a little wet, but it had surprising flavour and was quite enjoyable considering it cost £6.75 including a pint of cider. If I’d have been served it at Hawksmoor I’d have had loud words, but they charge four times the amount and don’t throw in a drink. I enjoyed my two tastes and Dani was quite satisfied with what remained.

The beer battered onion rings are the best ever, or very nearly so. They are made with a real rings of onion, the batter is a delight and they are not fried in rancid grease. At £1.49 for 12, they provide pleasure a world removed from the horrors of the last chippie.

So, my point is that Wetherspoon’s provided an amply enjoyable meal for us and all the others filling the pub for not much money, and that is all that matters.

Whether you derive superiority from getting a mixed box of squash and kale once a week from your local organic farm, or from eating pasties from Greggs, you are entirely missing the point of what matters with food. It’s not your moral judgements; it is how much you enjoy it that matters.

Recently a good food blogger expressed their contempt for someone on Twitter because they said they enjoyed a McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin. This food blogger loves Scotch eggs. That they are only slightly different is a small part of my point, more it is that the MaccyD’s diner enjoyed his food and that’s what counts. You and I may think that food from there provides little pleasure, but we cannot criticise those who it does pleasure, because it is the pleasure that matters.

If you only want to eat ‘sustainable’ fish and ‘macrobiotic’ vegetables, then that is just fine as long as you enjoy them. If you are doing it for a smug glow of moral superiority over me who ate a richly fatty sausage and gizzard salad for lunch then you are warped, twisted and have a diseased attitude to food.

Similarly, if you say, “Yes, it is the pleasure that counts, but Wetherspoons is crap” you are also twisted and missing the point as Wetherspoons pleasured us, and lots of other people, and that’s all we care about. It’s not your sense of aesthetic brilliance that matters; it is the sense of raw enjoyment that someone extracts from an experience.

It is not big and clever to only eat what you’ve been told you are allowed to eat by your political party, newspaper or gossip circle. What we all want is for people to enjoy themselves in whatever way they wish and food is a glorious way of enjoying yourself, no matter what other values you attach to that food.

As long as you enjoy it, you are right to eat it! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Well said, David. Wetherspoons pubs can sometimes (though not always) a bit shabby and often crowded, but the beer and food more than acceptable. On a handful of occasions, we have been to our local for the curry night. A fiver or so for a decent pint and a rather good curry is not to be sniffed at. There’s nothing wrong with the “pile it high and sell it cheap” ethos, as long as the product is worthwhile. It would also seem (to this observer at least) that Wetherspoons’ clientele is drawn from all walks of life, except (in the main) for the lowest common denominator – and the highest. Which suits me fine.

    Anyway, I look forward to you blogging about shopping at Aldi! 😉

  • Quite, Leon. They may not be the most brilliant places in the world, but they are generally affordable and, more to the point, GOOD pubs. The food is actually pleasurable, it helps a lot that it’s cheap, but it’s enjoyable – that is what matters.

  • OK David, I remain to be convinced, but I see there are a couple of Wetherspoons pubs near me, and may give one of them a go. I confess I am doubtful though.
    But what surprises me more is that you seem to be saying that any value judgements are invalid, and that everyone’s view carries equal weight. I.e. Everything is subjective and depends on the taste of the individual. While I agree that the important thing is that everyone enjoys whatever it is that takes their fancy, this seems odd from a blogger who asserts that there is an objective reality, and that he knows what it is. Do you mean that because lots of people like MacDonalds it is wrong to say it is crap? Surely not. Or else you have undergone a remarkable change.

  • And one other thing, I can’t help wondering what has happened with a wine and food blog that finds it worthwhile to write up a meal at a Wetherspoons pub, but not a fabulous bottle of Freddy Mugnier Bonnes Mares ’04.

  • Marden

    Jolly good job you didn’t conduct your experiment at Wetherspoons in Luton!

  • Peter, that’s not really what I wrote. My point was that people should eat and drink whatever they find pleasurable. You don’t have to agree someone’s judgement of pleasure, but you shouldn’t be disdainful of their right to enjoy what they enjoy. Also, food isn’t a democratic activity. The fish finger party doesnt rule over the sashimi party, it is just individuals’ preferences.

    A single bottle of wine, no matter how good, is perhaps less important than the ultimate value of food and drink. By raising that as an example of this organ’s failings you indulge in more sophistry than I do in suggesting a popular, well-run pub chain is a good example of something people enjoy.

  • I don’t know what you are getting at by accusing me of sophistry. It looks rather like resorting to personal insult as a substitute for argument.

  • Ed Tully

    This is a nonsense, of course you can comment on other people’s taste. I. For example, am completely right in thinking bonnes mares is a good thing. A disgusting pervert is completely wrong in thinking children are very attractive. As for weatherspoon’s, can you really produce food at that price? Now if they are simply taking a cut from the drinker, okay (ish), but if it is the product of some hideous abonimation (which it surely is) then what? I mean what? It is not fine to eat food produced badly. If you can not afford to eat well made food eat something else. Or just fuck off. But elitist? Review. What?

  • Dan Richardson

    I have to agree with Peter and Edward here. There is an objective reality — JD Wetherspoon are not the purveyors of food that should provide pleasure to the reasonable man. Are you suggesting that if somebody derives pleasure from a bottle of Blossom Hill, that is all that matters? Surely not.

    Whilst it is not, as admirers of nice things, our place to pour scorn on the ignorant or those who simply cannot or will not spend the extra readies on securing quality (and, as you correctly point out, quality does not mean expensive), it is certainly our place to nudge such people towards quality goods at affordable prices. This is easier to achieve in London than elsewhere — I am thinking here of the screamingly good, and cheap, Pitt Cue, or several of Russell Norman’s offerings — but not impossible.

    For what it’s worth, I seek pleasure, and yet do think that Wetherspoon’s is crap. When I was last there, the chips tasted of vomit. Really very unpleasant.

  • David, I’ve been giving some more thought to this, and to why I think this posting of yours was so ill-judged. You yourself acknowledged that neither the fish and chips nor the steak were anything special, and your commendation of the beer seemed to be merely that it was not horrible, as you rightly observed real ale sadly often is. But what is the point in commending the merely adequate? I have nothing against you going to a Wetherspoons pub, although on reflection I don’t believe I will follow this recommendation. But why write it up? What’s the point? To tell us it was not altogether ghastly? Why not write up on some truly superlative fish and chips, or some really great real ale? That would be worth reading.
    My latest favourite beer is Hophead, from the Dark Star brewery, which has recently been a regular at the Union. It’s marvellous, a fresh, delightful pale ale, full of vitality. What’s the point in going to a Wetherspoons pub when there are delights like that to be had?

  • Christian


    I do not have the wonderful English you all have here, but I found David’s writeup quite enjoyable. Peter, if you take all this too serious (like David’s “I know the real truth about wine and food”) you miss the subtle irony. All in all I can relate to his experience and that he enjoyed his time at JD. After all, my best experiences with wine and food have been dependent on timing, the exact moment and the best company I had.


  • Jeremy


    Your post encouraged me to re-read David’s post. You are quite right: I had missed the subtle irony. Most notably: “it is probably the most important thing I’ve written on Elitistreview”. Hahaha! Yes, I had missed that. All of a sudden, this post becomes a lot funnier.

    If one does not read this as an ironic comment, then the write up is about as deep as high school essay: do whatever gives you pleasure and don’t fear moral judgement. A bit of a cliché and hugely simplistic. Sure, the person who wishes to eat a Big Mac or whatever else they want to eat with pleasure should be allowed to eat without anyone pissing on their parade.

    On the other hand, that someone with as high an opinion of his intellect as David should eat with as little thought as to how food is produced is somewhat baffling to me. I used to think of David as someone who thought through many more of the ins and outs of a problem before writing his most important post.

    By all means go shopping at whatever local discounter is offering £2.99 pork chops or equivalent. But, if you have any concern for your fellow man (which I believe the author of the above post has), do you not wonder what it takes to get pork for that price on a shelf? Does the fact that it has been intensively farmed, fed all matters of junk and medication, then sold at a loss by the farmer, processed in an abattoir in appalling conditions, probably irradiated to make do with any microbial contaminants, etc. not taint your pleasure in the least?

    It does mine. And it doesn’t because of any affiliation to any political parties, or because I have been told to think in this way or any other reason. It bothers me because as someone who is involved in agriculture, albeit at a privileged end, I have given this plenty of thought and it bothers me and takes away from my pleasure when I know a farmer is getting screwed by mass distribution (be it supermarkets or restaurant chains). Nice things are nicer than nasty things, nice people are nicer than nasty people, blabla bla bla.

    If you are going to comment the anecdotal and ultimately trivial like a bottle of wine as Peter suggests, terrific. If you are going to try meaningfulness, I personnally thing your editor should encourage you to dig a bit deeper. Good vocabulary does not compensate for shallow reasoning. You wrote some pretty damn good essays in your day.

    Your prediction that this article would vex a few people was quite right. I am among them, less because of the content than because of the lack of it.

  • Tom Blach

    Without wishing to join the argument(indeed I’d make another-that Saucisse De Montbeliard and confit duck gizzards are inherently morally superior to ‘sustainable’ fish and ‘macrobiotic’vegetables-but my tongue might remain in my cheek) I’d be interested to know if the Mugnier 04 was showing the note that some call ‘pyrazine’ that causes many to write off the vintage. I have noticed a lot of positive 04 notes recently, and have enormously enjoyed many myself, but there seem to be some so sensitive to this character that they can’t drink wines from the vintage at all.

  • I might have got the humour, Christian, if it had been an April Fool’s joke. That was my initial thought upon reading the post. But it was a few days late, so probably not.

  • Detlef Pelz

    Good to see you’re enjoying the simple pleasures. Best wishes to you.