Why I’m looking on the bright side of food in the doughnut of despair.
A couple of hours ago I wandered along Armley Town Street, looking for something lazy for lunch. I called in at one of those cut-priced food shops popular in parts of town like this.
Basically it’s a row of back-to-back freezers topped by shelves full of tins galore and random boxes, bags, and plastic bottles of stuff so perilously close to sell-by date you wonder if it would have been better going straight to landfill. Stuff that doesn’t have a “best before” date. Because it wasn’t any good in the first place.
It’s not the sort of place I’m normally tempted to buy much.
The fresh food section is a few trays of wizened apples, a jumble of cellophane-wrapped limp, greyish, stringy things that look like a reception class’s half-hearted attempt at plasticine veg, and a stack of sickly spuds (how do they make potatoes look so unappetizing? That takes marketing genius.) And it’s a quarter the size of the cake and biscuit offer.
I’m pretty sure they stock a dozen varieties of HobNobs here, catering packs of custard creams for 79p, and a Kit Kat that’s vegan, low fat and gluten free. Which counts as health food, I suppose?
On the positive side they do sell the cheapest Linda McCarney sausages in Leeds. That’s a good thing to know if you are a vegetarian and in the mood for some easy comfort bangers and mash.
99% of the stock doesn’t really appeal. I like to cook. And I prefer to know what I’m eating. Most of the stuff on these shelves looks like you’d need a degree in chemistry in order to understand the ingredients. But I love these places. There’s always something that’ll catch your eye if you take the time to look. And it’s fun hunting down the few edibles amongst the culinary crimes against humanity.
Today, an Innocent smoothie the colour of ectoplasm, an interesting vegan pasta sauce, and some fava bean pasta. Not bad for just over two quid. And great for when I’m feeling lazy and can’t be arsed to cook.
There’s also vegan cheese, which I’ve heard good things about, but in my experience fake cheese generally looks and tastes like damp and trodden on Winalot. I gave that a miss.
But what provoked me into writing – and what makes this a bit more than a rhetorically extravagant shopping list – was the young couple in the queue in front of me.
Late teens perhaps, early twenties, very sweet, chatty and amusing. And, by the sound of their conversation, it was probably their first food shopping experience together. Lovely!
They’d both got two large baskets toppling with booty. And they were giggling and nudging each other, saying how much they were going to enjoy sharing the Cornettos and the pasties and the Doritos. And the lad, as the last item went ringing through the till, surreptitiously but demonstratively, whipped a large novelty chocolate cake (it had an icing face!) from behind his back and placed it ceremonially on the counter.
“We’ve got dessert!” he said.
His partner beamed. The woman on the till smiled. I smiled. The whole queue smiled. It was a touching moment.
“That’ll be £42.78,” said the woman on the till, smilingly.
The shopping couple agreed what a bargain they’d snatched as they bagged up their swag. Six crammed shopping bags. Easily a bootful in the taxi home.
“It’ll last us all week.”
I left the shop with a warm fuzzy feeling. I’m pretty sure I was humming “Spread a Little Happiness,” and maybe did a little dance in my head like I was in that Bjork video. It’s nice to be around people who are enjoying life. Uplifting.
But it didn’t last.
I got to thinking what the kids had bought. The bulk was mostly packaging I reckoned. Once they’d got it home and unwrapped everything, most of it – cardboard, paper, plastic, cellophane – would end up in the recycling bin (hopefully!)
What was left, what they were consuming, was mainly white flour, white sugar, some kind of fat, and lashings and lashings of additives.
Not really food. More “food adjacent?”
And, as for cooking, knowing when the microwave should ping doesn’t really count.
So yeah, pretty depressing as a snapshot of the local food culture.
And, mostly I do get depressed about this sort of thing. Not the kids choices, or their obvious enjoyment. But, well, is that all there is?…
Up until a few weeks ago I would probably have thought, yes, that’s just Armley. Shut up and have another Cadbury’s Chocolate Orange. Pass me the dandelion and burdock… Btw, does anyone know why the only place you can get dandelion and burdock is in the chippy, and why it’s the colour of coal slack? Asking for a friend.
But recently I’ve found out that there’s an Incredible Armley being set up. A community freezer. A seed library and a veg box. And I found out last week that my local community centre (New Wortley, shout out to Rhea who I met the other day who’s the Food and Facilities Projects Coordinator, and has invited me over to have a look around and I’ll be writing about that soon) is doing some amazing stuff. Recipe packs, good, healthy hot food, cookery courses, a Cultural Cafe, and food parcels. And an allotment.
Not so depressing after all.
Makes me feel like I’m not such a crank after all.
Anyhow, I’m off to make some of my award winning sprouted chickpea hummus (it won the David Mills Recommended Hummus of the week at High Trenhouse in July 2022) and work out what to do with this mountain of mung bean sprouts. Any ideas gratefully received.