“Don’t play with your food!” is an admonishment we’ve all probably heard before. Most likely (hopefully) in childhood, when messing around with whatever was on your plate instead of eating it seemed like much more fun. Then you grow out of all that, realising that food can, as well as, you know, keep you alive, also fuel connection, memory, relationships…
But let’s not get too soppy about it. This year, most of all, food has proven it can nourish plenty of scandals, too. Some of them have packed a serious political punch, while others have been outright playful, overly dramatic or deliciously daft. Whichever way you slice it, there haven’t been this many potent food-related scandals since that time in 2015 when Woman’s Own blared that Vanessa Feltz’s friends feared “she’s drinking CUSTARD again”, after which she promptly knocked back a whole glass of the stuff, live on air. The best of times, eh?
Our collective hunger for drama perhaps reflects the general mania of the last 12 months amidst a brutal war in Ukraine, devastating cost of living crisis, pop culture meltdowns, nepo baby supremacy, shameful sexting and the slow motion crumbling of Twitter at the hands of an egomaniacal billionaire. “Goblin mode” was crowned Oxford’s word of the year, for crying out loud. No wonder we’re craving distraction.
Call it gobble mode: it’s been an embarrassing year for celebrities and politicians all around, but too many of these humiliations have been food-related for us not to compile an end-of-year-list. They made us horny, unspeakably angry, overly emotional, but above all, ravenous for more. Consider our appetites satiated (for now).
Lettuce Liz and the sad, sorry state of the nation
In October, the British government was hard at work making the UK an international laughing stock. Following BoJo’s long-awaited July resignation, Liz Truss took up the country-leading baton after a painful leadership race. The Economist nicknamed her “The Iceberg Lady” whose career would have the “shelf life of a lettuce”. The Daily Star decided to run with the joke, sending an unsuspecting intern (probably) down to Tesco to buy a 60p lettuce and put this theory to the test.
A misshapen toothy smile, an ill-fitting blonde wig and a pair of googly eyes were tacked onto Lettuce Liz, who was then livestreamed 24/7 via webcam on YouTube.
The lettuce showed no sign of wilting, unlike our country’s political credibility. Truss duly resigned on 24th October after 49 days in office, as 20,000 people tuned in to watch her lettuce counterpart outlast the UK’s shortest ever serving PM. While caricaturing her flimsy grasp on power, the bloody lettuce captured the moment’s sheer ridiculousness. Speaking of which…
James Corden’s unfathomable, yolk-only omelette
There are some celebrities whose downfall feels like an inevitability. We’ve always suspected the Gavin and Stacey alum and Carpool Karaoke host was concealing a slightly evil persona under all that over-the-top friendliness. Then, in October, we were handed concrete evidence on a silver platter/brunch serving plate.
Keith McNally, owner of trendy New York restaurant Balthazar, named and shamed Corden via Instagram as “a tiny cretin of a man, and the most abusive customer to my Balthazar servers since the restaurant opened 25 years ago”. Plainly, he wasn’t, um, yolking.
The incident in question? A mouthy complaint that there was egg white mixed with egg yolk in an omelette ordered by Corden’s wife, which resulted in the comedian threatening to come out back to cook it himself, and his being banned from the establishment. After what seemed little more than a five-minute hard-boil, he was promptly un-banned following an apology to McNally, whose idiosyncratic Insta captions have become the stuff of legend.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, many of us had been waiting for Corden’s reckoning since he was caught on camera last year, hip-thrusting in the middle of a road while dressed in a mouse costume. Unbanning or not, the actor/host/writer was left with egg on his face.
Olivia Wilde, Nora Ephron and marriage-ending vinaigrettes
After we were treated to bucketloads of delicious drama ahead of the release of Wilde’s psycho-sci-fi thriller Don’t Worry Darling – including (but not limited to) a possible feud with Florence “Miss Flo” Pugh, rumours of onset shagging and a possible spitting incident involving Harry Styles and Chris Pine – it didn’t seem like the controversy could possibly get any hotter.
Then it did.
A former nanny of Wilde and her ex-husband, Jason Sudeikis, went public with damning allegations – namely that the Ted Lasso actor unceremoniously laid down on the ground in front of Wilde’s car while she was on her way to see Styles, with whom she was allegedly having an affair, armed with “special salad dressing” that was sacred to their family.
To add even more seasoning to the salad, Wilde then posted a page from Nora Ephron’s 1983 novel Heartburn on her Instagram Stories, which featured a vinaigrette recipe. Considering Ephron’s semi-autobiographical book tells the story of her husband’s own affair with another woman, it’s unlikely this was the actual dressing used by Wilde.
According to TikToker @thesaladlab, who tried and tested it, the dressing detailed in Heartburn is pretty bitter – a kind of foodie metaphor for the prickly resentment of a marriage breaking down. Revenge is a dish best served with a bespoke, artistan dressing, etc.
Just Stop Oil and food as protest
When climate activists Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland threw tins of tomato soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting at London’s National Gallery in October, the internet erupted. The stunt was supposed to be a protest against new oil and gas extraction in the UK, while drawing attention to the cost-of-living crisis and the unnaffordability of fuel to heat up said tomato soup at home. “What’s worth more, art or life?” Plummer asked.
In this case, food was used in a deeply symbolic way, as a means of stirring up debate about an issue that has struggled to break into the mainstream. But the general consensus, if the court of social media is anything to go by, was that Just Stop Oil alienated people to their cause rather than bringing them on board.
That said, given that they made headline news for days and were hotly debated on both TV and radio – hell, we’re even writing about it now – it’s fair to say this humble can of soup did more in support of the climate crisis than many of us probably ever will. So, we say: kudos (and croutons) to Plummer and Holland.
Suella Braverman’s unhinged rant about “tofu-eating wokerati”
You have to admit it’s pretty poetic that Just Stop Oil sparked frothing outrage from the Home Secretary, one once again involving grub – this time as a means of pigeonholing an entire sub-section of the British public. When climate activists blocked the Dartford Crossing, Braverman blamed the Labour Party, the Lib Dems and “the coalition of chaos, The Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati” for disruption on the roads.
That’s a lot of heavy lifting for little blocks of curdled soy milk. Much like avocado toast has become associated with so-called millennial frivolity, tofu has often been unfairly maligned over the years as a cornerstone of leftwing ideology – one that’s long been used by conservative politicians as a dig to the other side. In 2007, rightwing American pundit Ann Coulter published Let Them Eat Tofu!, an essay denouncing climate change and equating tofu with the extinction of the human race. This Tory beef with tofu is pretty weird, if you ask us.
Honorary mention to the unapologetic horniness of Emma D’Arcy’s negroni… sbagliato… with prosecco in it
This one technically falls into the drinks category and wasn’t a scandal, but it remains impossible to ignore given the iron chokehold it had on fans of Emma D’Arcy’s House of the Dragon character and beyond. “Their choice is odd – it’s the choice of a person ungoverned by expectations. How very sexy. How very queer of them. What an eternal vibe. Wouldn’t life be easier if we all knew what we wanted, all of the time?” wrote Daisy Jones of this exceptional cocktail order for THE FACE. We’ll drink to that.