Indian sweets: tasty, but no good at tackling racism. Picture by Ian Muttoo.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has announced his intention to secure government backing for a college of Indian food. Open to all British nationals, the college is aimed at training up a generation of British specialists in 'Asian and Oriental cuisine' in order to fill a gap in the market, that has came about due to increased regulation on the import of chefs from abroad, and forms part of a new government push for greater integration and community cohesion.
It may succeed in its first objective: the amount of non-Indian staff in Indian restaurants is woefully inadequate, from a diversity point of view. Equality campaigners ought to be up in arms. As well as an ideal route for the unemployed to gain skills for jobs: in fact, a handy way of reducing youth unemployment, providing employment for thousands and boosting a flagging industry. Indian restaurants and takeaways - who, according to a paper entitled 'Creating the Conditions for Integration,' asked for support - could even be persuaded to contribute financially, in return for essential workers that are becoming increasingly difficult to hire from outside the UK. So the public need not be left out of pocket.
But I hardly see how it's going to succeed in the latter. There's more to culture and integration than simply knowing how to cook foreign food. You do not gain insight into the Indian community by cooking a samosa any more than you get a greater sense of Britishness if you prod your pie and mash. You don't find different cultures in a korma. Or, at least, you shouldn't. The only way to discover a different culture is through interaction with people. It needs to be a meeting of minds, rather than a clash of condiments. And a genuine meeting of minds, at that - not a falsified, fleeting one in the confines of a curry kitchen, but a real one, in the real world. Friendships, associations, and marriages.
To put it simply, the government can do more by doing nothing. It takes no effort to encourage integration - no effort at all. See how children do it. All it takes is the absence of labels. In the adult world, that's not viable: there will always be labels of some kind. But the government can do its bit to reduce the effect they have on society by not actively 'promoting' (read: exaggerating, emphasising, enforcing) difference at every available opportunity.