Most of the time bars are happy to accommodate, though a little confused as to why anyone would prefer a slice of cheese over a dry and tired looking meatball. But its not just bar owners and waiters in Spain that raise an eyebrow to dietary preferences. Most omnivorous acquaintances - upon discovering my chosen diet - will point an accusatory finger at my plate of Pulpo a la gallego or gambas al pil pil and exclaim with a salivating and slightly crazed look: “But don’t you see! You can’t be a vegetarian and still eat fish! Thats a contradiction!”
My reply, is usually two fold: First, I tell them that I thrive on contradiction. It gives moisture to an otherwise parched and bleak landscape. This generally prompts further crazed dribbling and so I am forced to point out that I am not a vegetarian, just someone who does not eat meat. “Y ya esta”. It’s not meant to be an example of philosophical logic, nor a stand on behalf of the Vegan Movement.
It rarely works though. I normally have to resort to probing as to how they can be stroking the head of one animal, attached to a leash sitting under our table, whilst consuming the head of another animal on top of it - and still sleep at night. Diet, it appears, is a particularly sensitive cultural as well as gastronomic issue.
THE GREAT BRITISH DIET
Given there has been no new businesses opening in town since the collapse of the building industry back in 2008, I went to take a look. I was curious for a number of reasons. First, because the expat community had more or less dwindled to negative figures these last few years as homes were abandoned, and pool maintenance work became harder to find than a honest politician, and secondly because I was simply curious that an obscure food merchants catering for an undemanding exiled group, could be bucking the global economic downturn. (Read More.....)
Beneath the dripping banner of the British Food Store, tied hastily to the front of the building, stood groups of individuals pulling on damp cigarettes and huddled as only outsiders know how to huddle. When I lived in East London, you could see the same huddling technique as you walked through the different ethnic barrios: groups leaning towards each other, whispering conspiratorially in their foreign tongues.
“Don't eat anything incapable of rotting.” Pollen
And it was possibly this very fear - a nuclear holocaust or an escalation in the Ukraine - that prompted shoppers to gather supplies in such vast quantities, pausing only to ponder over a new satellite offer for British TV desperados, before trekking back up their mountain paths, back to the safety of their rustic retreats, back to their Custard Cream Castles.
The Consequences of Choice
When I gave up eating meat, it was relatively easy. What was difficult was the shift from pre-packaged, pre-cooked, pre-prepared foods to something that needed thought and preparation. No longer could I simply whip out a boil in the bag.
Today I live in the casco antiguo (the old barrio) far from the outer regions where dwell the drive-in stores. I am fortunate to have in my street two grocers that sell fresh veg on a seasonal basis, a sweet shop that sells under the counter free-range eggs and a bakers that bakes assorted rock-like loaves in an olive-wood-burning oven.
So my choices are limited. And yes, with limited choice comes a lack of “freedom”. A lack of freedom to buy things you did not come out to buy, a lack of freedom to buy produce that reflects its true age in appearance, texture and colour, a lack of freedom to smell an item of food above the aroma of disinfectant or air freshener. A lack of freedom to know about ingredients, longevity, or real nutritional value.
During the apartheid-eighties, many of us refused to buy South African apples. There was - we argued - a hidden price that relied on our unconscious complicity in a corrupt and unjust regime. Our choices of food today carry the same weight. Our choices to buy - to engage in consumerism locally or in the aisles of a national supermarket chain - have consequences. Look around your town. These consequences are visible: Employment numbers, health queues, obesity, diabetes, local commerce etc.
“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't. ”
“The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending. What have been called the “cultural contradictions of capitalism”—its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on—are on vivid display today at the modern American dinner table, along with all the brightly colored packages that the food industry has managed to plant there.”
Supermarkets the world over are the same. Packaged junk that passes itself off for real food. Pollen: Food has become packaged and pre-cooked to “save” us the time and effort of doing so ourselves. Supermarkets thrive on this ideology and sell it to us every waking moment.
Its quicker, cheaper, more convenient and just as nutritional - goes the argument. But is it? Its certainly more profitable for the vendor. Its certainly more convenient to sell me something with a shelf life of plutonium than that of a chirimoya (notorious custard apple fruit). And some research has even suggested, it may actually be more nutritious to eat the packaging than the contents.
And that was where I found myself. In the rain. Wondering about cardboard nutrition, the absence of plant based foods in food shops and our crumbling cultural hegemony in this industrial wasteland.
But there was One Last Thing. Not just what we eat but how we eat too. Pre-prepared food means we no longer take the time to think about what we stick in our bodies. The Great British Diet had degenerated into a microwaved, one-person boil in the bag TV dinner culture. Where was the joy in collective act?
The Mediterranean Diet
Maybe the whole issue of diet and food is just a personal obsession. Maybe the food suppliers are right and that we all live now in one global supermarket and it matters little whether our tomatoes are in season or not. Whether they were grown in soil or in a laboratory, whether they have a taste or not.
Maybe we have other more important things to do than prioritise the act of eating alongside one other, maybe we have more important things to do than look after the well-being of ourselves and loved ones.
Is the Mediterranean diet still alive and well? Watch the video below and chortle....