Living in an area of Spain where the tapas come free has its obvious plus points. But as someone who doesn't eat meat, I end up refusing 50% of everything offered, and this is a delicate operation. Such 'sending back' - if not done diplomatically - may cause offence and result in the denial of a substitute tapa. Such an outcome is unthinkable.
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
This week, a new store opened in the industrial outskirts of town. Calling itself the British Food Store, it purports to supply all those essential british foods so difficult to track down, and that form such an essential component of 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.....)
Perhaps it was a sign from above, but that morning the heavens opened and a steady downpour cast a grey and damp atmosphere over the mornings celebrations. Not helped by the typical ambience encountered on industrial estates across the land, jungles of weeds growing between abandoned lots, half-finished pavements, broken lighting and a plethora of empty warehouses greeted the newly arrived.
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
I pulled up my hood and shuffled into the grey building, to be greeted in all its long-life glory: I strolled along aisles of Patak Pickles, poppadoms, Jacobs custard cream biscuits, plastic bottles of Golden Syrup, minute jars of marmite, sexy cardboard cylinders of instant gravy and shelves upon shelves of Heinz baked beans. Yes, indeedy - here was the crème de la crème - Food to survive any apocalypse.
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 departed from the British Food Store, it was still raining and the clouds followed me back home. It had been a rather surreal experience on the whole. Confronted with products so identifiably part of my old culture, I felt both nostalgic and abhorred at the same time.
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
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Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here
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Choose Your Tapa