When discussing a pair of books about the British food industry, the phrases “riotously funny” and “marvelously witty” would not be the first words that come to mind. Those comments, however, are totally appropriate for the books Clarissa and the Countryman and Clarissa and the Countryman Sally Forth,/I>, by Clarissa Dickson Wright and Johnny Scott.
Friends since childhood, one of Great Britain’s foremost food experts and a ferret financier have joined forces to critique and explore England’s sources of nourishment.
The pair has created a BBC television series on the subject, and the companion books provide a unique look at a far too under-appreciated topic.
Wright is best known for her work on the legendary cooking show Two Fat Ladies, which ended with the untimely death of her matchless co-host Jennifer Paterson.
The pair traveled around the United Kingdom on a motorbike (Paterson drove, Wright rode sidecar) and taught audiences to take better care toward their food.
Wright and Paterson took an uncompromising view of food, insisting that taste and high quality were everything.
Not only did they deride the supermarket practice of putting appearances over substance, but they also took shots at both unsafe meat-raising practices and vegetarianism.
Never described as a sylph, Wright had no objections to the memorable name of her show. When asked if she found the name vulgar, she replied, “We don’t mind ‘two,’ and there’s nothing wrong with ‘fat,’ but we don’t like ‘ladies.’ It makes us sound like a public convenience.”
In addition, the women shunned the attempts critics made to turn their figures into feminist icons, with Wright once saying, “Feminists? Ghastly women with terrible clothes.” That’ll give you an idea of the outspoken and opinionated view Wright takes toward British food.
Such stances have made Wright some fierce enemies. Wright has a permanent guard to protect her from assassination attempts. Animal-rights activists and political dissidents have made numerous attacks against her, but that has not forced Wright out of the spotlight.
After the late, great Paterson passed away from cancer after three and a third seasons of Two Fat Ladies, Wright joined forces with Scott, with whom she had formed a lasting bond during a childhood food fight, and set off to inform Britain about the dangers of urbanization on the English countryside and the insanity of current British food regulations.
As Wright and Scott visit sugar beet farms, salmon fisheries, eel harvesting plants, cheese-makers, dog races, and more, they quip and gripe as to the ignorance most city-dwellers have for where their food comes from and how it may be improved.
Wright writes, “People in the countryside [feel] betrayed by the careless attitude the media has towards them, and the way they make their living.” She also lampoons the stranglehold political correctness has on Britain’s educational system, ranting that “our Lords and Masters of Government no longer encourage the teaching of English History in schools, no doubt to allow the children to become vassals of European or American states without noticing.”
The quotes are varied and refreshing, but they lose something when taken out of context. To truly understand the dangers facing a nation’s food supply due to pressure groups, shoddy government policies, and arrogant industries, one has to read the books.
While the Clarissa and the Countryman books ought to be required reading for all students of environmental studies, Anglophiles, and food connoisseurs, also not to be missed is Wright’s fantastic microhistory, The Haggis: A Little History.
Wright has also written four cookbooks with Paterson, which combine recipes with history, literary criticism, and personal anecdotes: Cooking With the TFL, The TFL Ride Again, TFL Full Throttle, and TFL: Obsessions.
These books provide a smorgasbord of opinions and information too big to be ignored.