At eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, Mr Briggs opened the doors of his new cookery school. Enthusiastic sweater-clad students of a certain age had been gathering in anticipation under the porch outside. Discussion centred around wine and weekend mini-breaks. A gentleman called Geoff had tried to initiate a discussion about a golf competition that he had been watching on his television set but rapidly changed tack, opening up a discussion about the best way to protect bay trees from the frost.
Mr Briggs wore glasses and had a neatly trimmed beard. “I play in a band,” he explained to his students for no obvious reason. The students filed in and, as instructed, stood two to each bench. The room still had a vinegary whiff of grout about it.
“Right-o,” said Mr Briggs, “Today we are going to investigate beef curry.”
“Oh yum!” Exclaimed Marion, a greying lady sporting a jaunty scarf.
Mr Briggs narrowed his eyes slightly but otherwise did not react. “I want you to talk to the person next to you. I want you to discuss why beef curry is problematic.”
A hush fell over the room for a few long second before the students, eyebrows raised, started to turn and talk to each other. This continued for five minutes, by which time most of the conversations had drifted off topic and into discussions of jobs, families and cooking.
Mr Briggs clapped his hands. “Charlotte, isn’t it?” He gestured to a lady at the front of the room who nodded, “Would you like to share your discussion?”
Charlotte smirked, “Well curries give some people terrible wind!”
Mr Briggs purses his lips, “What about you, Geoff? What did you discuss?”
“Some people just aren’t fans of spicy food.” He offered.
“It’s more the concept,” explained Mr Briggs, “What is problematic about the concept of beef curry?” He asked. “Anyone?”
There was a long pause. Finally, Marion asked, “Why don’t you tell us? You seem to have something in mind.”
Mr Briggs exhaled sharply, “Well think about its origins. Think about where it is meant to come from. Think about the fact it contains beef.”
There was another pause.
“Shouldn’t we be starting to make the curry now?” Asked Charlotte, “We haven’t got that long.”
Mr Briggs ignored this. “Perhaps it’s hard to see from a privileged perspective. But curry is a cultural appropriation. We think of it as Indian but most Indians would never eat beef. Beef curry is colonialism.”
Geoff grabbed a glass and poured himself some water from the tap on his bench. The other students stared at Mr Briggs.
“Right-o,” Mr Briggs clapped, “I want you to discuss with your partners how we might decolonise beef curry.”
“What if we don’t think it needs decolonising?” Asked Geoff, making air quotes with his fingers.
“I am trying to develop your critical thinking skills. I want you to critique the concept of beef curry because I want you to think critically,” Mr Briggs explained.
“But I am thinking critically,” Geoff opined, “I am thinking critically about the idea that a curry needs decolonising.” A few of the students sniggered.
“That’s not critical thinking.” Snapped Mr Briggs.
“It is,” Geoff insisted.
“No it’s not. I’ve got a book on it: Critical Theory by Hubert Un, a professor. That’s not what critical thinking means. It’s about challenging ideas that we accept on the basis of historically defined authority.” Mr Briggs suggested.
Geoff shook his head.
“Shouldn’t we start on the curry?” Asked Charlotte.
Mr Briggs collected himself and turned to Charlotte. “Yes. That’s right.” He said, “Charlotte, you are going to be our curry expert. How should we go about cooking a beef curry?”
“Well, I have some ideas but I came here to learn. I’m no expert.” Charlotte replied.
“It’s a pedagogical tool,” Mr Briggs explained, “I want you to imagine you are a curry expert. I want you to assume that role. This will develop your empathy and creativity skills.”
“We want you to assume that role!” Snorted Marion. “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”
“I so do!” Countered Mr Briggs, “I lecture in catering at the University and everything!” He exclaimed.
At that moment, the doors swung open and a group of students with matching t-shirts and placards stormed in. Their leader had a megaphone which was hardly necessary in the small cooking studio.
“Briggs is a fascist!” The student leader shouted through the megaphone. “He should not be given a platform for his far-right agenda! Briggs is guilty of microaggressions against vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and fruitarians!”
The students formed a wall in front of Mr Briggs and started singing We Shall Overcome.
Geoff wondered how the golf was going.