The things we eat

In Others
August 18, 2009

It’s funny. In theory this is a very open-form project. “A new place” could be literally anywhere. I could have spent the past 18 days visiting menswear shops or interior design studios or famous gardens or private banks or sporting events. But I suppose the very open-form of it means that it becomes quite revealing. What am I interested in? Apparently: places of worship and repose, and grocery stores of many cultures.

To me there are not many more intimate or fascinating things than looking at how other people worship, or bury their dead, or eat – they’re universal activities but so varied, influenced by geography and history. There’s a great quote in Daniel Dennet’s book “Breaking The Spell” in the section on shamanistic cures:

“to a first approximation, in every culture on every continent, human exploration over the centuries has discovered all the local edible plants and animals, including many that require elaborate preparation to make them nonpoisonous. Moreover, they have domesticated whatever local species have been amenable to domestication. We have had the time, intelligence and curiosity to have made a near-exhaustive search of the possibilities – something that can now be proved by high-tech methods of genetic analysis of domestic species and their closest wild relatives.”

Isn’t that weirdly inspiring, in a ‘humanist’ kind of way? We have all these famous heroines and heroes of culture who we celebrate: writers and artists, politicians and humanitarians. But all those people who worked out how to turn milk into blue cheese or wheat buds into flour, or how to breed wolves into helpful sleigh-pulling dogs – our whole human world is founded on them, but their names are entirely forgotten. Which is all another way of saying: sorry, today is another grocery store. But *I* find them endlessly fascinating, and hopefully that partly explains why!

I went to Wing Yip superstore in Cricklewood today. It is enormous and expansive and a little intimidating because everyone else seemed to know just what they were doing, and had brought their whole families along to do it, whereas I was wandering like a tourist along the aisles, gawping and taking photos just as I expect I’d do if I ever visited China.

The only place that everyone stopped to stare was the fish tank. I overheard a very cute conversation between father and daughter:

– Daddy, are they *alive*?
– Yes darling, of course they are!
– Are we going to buy one?
– Yes I think so.
– But what if we take it home and it jumps out and bites me!
– Then we will bite it right back!

I remember reading a picture book about children’s lives in different lands when I was about seven or eight and it showed a fish tank like this. I think the book was quite approving of the ‘freshness of the fish’. In a way, I think that showing children where their food comes from is probably quite healthy. Yes, this fish you are eating used to be alive – they killed it for us in the shop. I wonder if bringing fish tanks like this into every supermarket in Britain would end up creating more vegetarians or fewer.


In other news, my blog is now the top result on google for: weird people in Hendon. Yay!

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