A market that aims to showcase the finest produce and foods, indulges in its own assumed superiority and expects us to do the same
Producers that claim to offer: ‘ “Real food” at honest prices’ enabling you to help ‘support the natural environment through sustainable food production as well as the local economy’.
It is perhaps no small irony that on my way to King’s Cross station I should encounter a young man, squatting pathetically with his head buried into his knees, and weeping. All this, less than five meters away from the opulence of the now weekly food market.
No denying, it is a feast for the eyes and mine were certainly sparkling at the abundance of temptations on display. Twice I had to check myself from unzipping my purse and yielding to the desire to sample a cheese pierogi (basically, a mini fried pie), or buy a deliciously scented Earl Grey with a powerful bergamot aroma. Something stopped me every time; it was common sense.
It’s not necessary to be especially contemplative to understand that the produce on offer is expensive (I will avoid saying overpriced, since one person’s rip-off is another’s bargain). But the fact that the food stalls have been strategically placed right in front of King’s Cross station, is very telling of the target buyer. As I was admiring the range of high-quality breads on offer, including a proud looking wholemeal sourdough, an elderly woman walked passed concluding to herself that ‘it’s very expensive’. Indeed, at £3.50 (I could be a few pence off) for such a loaf, this is bread not for the budget-conscious but the nutritionally attuned connoisseur. Nothing wrong with that, of course.
The trouble however is that many, including myself, are walking around these stalls, smiling and sniffing appreciatively but not buying. This is food for the hungry and gullible tourist, the wealthy commuters, the socially disengaged and the puerile. It looks good, but most of it can be made in your own kitchen for significantly less.
Undoubtedly, there is a booming trend around London and elsewhere that trumpets these types of markets and ‘ethically’ grown foods as being incontestably superior. And it’s working. With a pleasing aesthetic appearance and that rustic ‘homemade’ marketing strategy, this is a sure winner. The buyer, distracted by the mountains of additive and preservative-free, organically made, lovingly nurtured and pranically imbued foods on display, forgets everything.
The Real Food website news section tells me that sugar is bad, it causes fat to accumulate: ‘all you really need to know or do is to avoid highly processed, overly sweetened food and drink peddled by multinationals … in short, stick to real food’, it advises. Why, thank you! But pray do tell, how exactly is your food better for me? Is there a clear percentage of fat and sugar content that your producers adhere to? Do you provide the food’s nutritional value next to the item? — I suspect the charcuterie stall selling ‘high-welfare’ British pork salamis would suffer considerably.
When three giant, red velvet chocolate cookies are being sold at a better price than buying just one, and a young girl decides to go for the bargain offer — can we really insist on ethics?
With food piled high, consciously beckoning you to engage your primal instincts and buy a bulky, though organically made, super-duper chocolate and caramel, with a hint of ‘real’ Bourbon vanilla — brownie; while a man sits hungry and weeping just a few meters away, we need to be realistic. Most of the produce on offer (I did not encounter any fruit or vegetable stalls) save the breads and teas, is not exactly healthful, it’s marginally healthier given that certain conditions are met, such as self-restraint, for instance.
Food made ‘cleanly’ with the intention of respecting the environment and helping people to live better, should be encouraged. But let’s not raise it to the level of saintdom, justified by vague ethics and claims to health. This is better-made food for those who can afford it, and the price speaks of its self-appointed worth. As for it being ‘real’, you can decide for yourselves.