Bee's picture
Wed, 12/08/2010 - 04:04 -- Bee

Finally settled in a place I love, threats material and emotional conquered and discarded, whatever should I write about?

Hmm. How about. . . food!

The first time I visited this neighbourhood several years ago friends were taking me on a walking tour of East End highlights: Whitechapel, Brick Lane, Cheshire Street, the Geffrye.

I had a great time but the single most impressive place we visited? The Grocery on Kingsland Road. I stood in the aisles, almost whimpering at the sight of sprouts, tempeh, Braggs, Dr. Bronner. It was small, but perfect - like the Olympia Westside Co-op in 1992! Minus group process and hippies!

Later people would drag me back for debauchery of all manner around Hoxton Square and Dalston but I always gravitated toward Jaguar Shoes, favoured at least partly because it is a few doors down from The Grocery.

When I decided to move to London I picked the property mainly for proximity to trains, and somewhat for (can you guess?) access to . . . The Grocery. By then Cambridge specifically and England in general had deprived me of nearly all the goods I consider necessary to daily life. For instance, do you know how hard it is to maintain a daily supply of greens? Do you know how difficult it is to frequent independent shops, to keep your money circulating in your own neighbourhood?

My British friends claim they are shocked at my shopping habits. Or they make fun - Iain says The Grocery is for people who think Whole Foods common.

Other friends state quite firmly that my local store, and Food Hall on Old Street, and the weekend markets are "too expensive."

This leads me to the question: what exactly are my friends eating??

My shopping and cooking habits are the same with money or without: I stock up on basics, cooking large quantities of simple food from scratch. I make, serve, and freeze various tomato-based sauces and bean-based stews. I roast chickens for dinner and sandwiches, boiling the bones for broth. I keep a ready supply of fruit and veg on hand to grab for snacks.

I'm not interested in arguments about the merits of organic certification, because organics are generally fresh and simple. I don't want wax on my apples, artificial colours in my biscuits, wheat and corn where neither belong, any sort of food shot through with preservatives. Remember, this is not an abstraction for me: I have cancer. I have a serious auto-immune disorder. Factor in growing children, or a partner with debilitating allergies? You bet I buy organic.

Beyond that, truly free range eggs and meat (if you must eat them) taste better. And if you consume in a sensible way that harkens back to the food pyramid we used in the 70's, limiting animal proteins, they don't cost that much more. I'm not going to spend an hour of my life traipsing around looking to save 30 pence on a carton of eggs. The economics don't work: I earn more than that in an hour if I sit at my desk.

Even in my desperately poor youth I bought the same basic stuff; it was often difficult, but as a budgetary category, it made more sense to buy good food than bad. I just did without elsewhere. Now? While it is true that I will occasionally buy expensive cheese, or olives, or chocolate, the luxury is still acknowledged as such: these are treats. My weekly spend on food has been the same for twenty years - it only represents a different percentage of income depending on how much I earn.

I don't buy processed foods, no matter what the provenance. I believe that juice is the devil's handmaiden. The categories of consumption not allowed in my household are a better savings measure than any chain supermarket could offer.

So of course I am thrilled that I can walk out of my building and within a block find fresh basil, kale, garlic, blocks of tofu, espresso beans, organic milk. And yeah, if you know me in real life I will either lecture or mock if you criticise my choices. All this effort, for all these years? It was fundamentally about the food.

To quote the song we learned as children, you are what you eat, from your head down to your feet.