Joanna Blythman is a national treasure, and I don’t care which nation we’re talking about. Technically she may be Scottish, but we should all cherish her. She is the keeper of the nation’s food conscience, and has been for a couple decades. She writes with passion and clarity. She knows better than anyone, the baroque and deceitful world of the food industry, its dark secrets and political manipulations. She has exposed the trickery and fakery of food manufacture and retailing, and the hypocrisy of policymakers, with clear-headed anger. But she is no tedious critic or purblind puritan. Her delight in good food is as great as her contempt for bad. She extols the virtues of intelligent shopping, proper cooking and pleasurable eating with the same energy and astuteness as she excoriates fudge and trickery. And she’s a very nice woman and a very good cook.
So when I unwrapped What to Eat, up—to-date companion to her The Food We Eat, her 1996 classic, I felt that thrill of pleasure you get when you know you’re going to read something worth reading. The name ‘Blythman’ is a guarantee of quality in a way that few names are these days. I’m not going to say that I was unfamiliar with a lot of what Joanna has to say, but it is still refreshing to re-acquaint myself with the truths she writes. She writes with such lucidity and crisp authority. She never obfuscates, never blurs the lines. Her acumen and passion shine out from each sentence. It’s like a walk through the Cheviots on a crisp day in the company of a delightful, thoughtful, probing, bracing intelligence.
Joanna has the gift if illuminating the essence of food matters. Like many food writers, I am easily distracted from the path of true virtue, my tendencies to indulgence too easily outweigh my instincts to righteousness, but with Joanna they have equal weight. Local ingredients, small producers, independent retailers, skilled professionals are woven together to make a consistent tapestry of pleasure. Good food for her is not an elitist luxury; it is one of life’s essentials.
What to Eat by Joanna Blythman (4th Estate; £16.99)