38 minutes ago
I think we swanned back from our trip dramatically enough, don't you? We've thrown open the doors accompanied by a crack of thunder while wearing a voluminous red cape and one emphatically arched eyebrow. Housing drama! Career confusion! Illness! Actual thunder! Pink eye! Pink eye again! Internet disasters at home and abroad! NEW YORK! WE ARE RETURNED! LOOK ON YOUR PRODIGAL RESIDENTS AND DESPAIR!
I'd hate for all this life-noise to obscure our trip, which was fantastic, or the many foodstuffs and adventures we had while visiting London and Cremona, which I'm dying to share with you. I'm just all kinds of fuzzy from this cold, which is making it difficult to concentrate on writing. (Man, I wish I was still high on DayQuil like I was the other day. That was fun. Nothing like taking cold medicine for the first time in a year and a half to make you feel like a special guest at Studio 54. I'm fairly certain I flew to work. And then I picked up a car and threw it at the Met Life Building. Don't worry, I missed. My laser vision is a bit off.)
Anyway, London was amazing. I get the same feeling every time I land there: that I'm finally where I'm supposed to be. Everything makes sense to me there; I can find the right aisle in the market EVERY TIME. Everything smells right, even familiar, in a way it never has for me anywhere else. I prefer tea to coffee. I know this sounds crazy, and it may be residual goofiness from the cold medicine talking, but it is, I think, my real home, and someday I'll get there, and drag my little family along with me.
So let's start with London then.
One of my favorite parts about visiting friends who live in other cities is that they aren't afraid of a good walk. New Yorkers are walkers by trade, even if they do something else to earn their paychecks, and we often find that out of town guests are shocked at an amount of walking we take for granted. London is a terrific town for walking, particularly if you happen to be in the south east part of town, where you might get to wander through Borough Market.
Forget your farmer's markets people. REPENT. Borough Market makes the Union Square Farmer's Market look like a sad and paltry bodega. If I could, I would take up residence in the rafters. They would call me the Fantom Foodie, and blame the stupid spelling on the fact that I'm American.
Take a gander at The Borough Market's wikipedia page, you'll see that mentions of the market go back to 1276. If that isn't sufficiently impressive, check out some of the (highly illegal!) pictures I took while there.
I quizzed my friend Sala about food in England while we wandered around with our little boys, about the English interest in what she called "provenance". Turns out they are just as invested in knowing the origins of the food they eat - down to the breed of pig.
The United Kingdom gets a bad rap for food internationally, but I can say without reservation that I've eaten some of the best food of my life in England (and in Scotland for that matter), and Sala's local market (the less high end of two) has a pate section that would make both Dean and Deluca blush.
Everything was just so...beautiful. So lovingly crafted. So available. So reasonably priced.
The truth is I am painfully jealous of this market and the people who have proximity to it. I spent a lot of time on the trip wondering, as I often do when out of this country, when we got so complacent about our food. Who said it was OK to fill our grocery stores with garbage? Who made the new rules whereby only the wealthy can afford food that is seasonal and free of pesticides? At what point did the person saying "I don't care if this tomato tastes like shit, as long as I can get a tomato in the dead of winter." become the loudest voice? There is just something so staggeringly unfair about it all. Our produce, our choices...they are a disgrace. Yogurt in a tube. Woody, stiff broccoli. Characterless, identical baby spinach leaves plastered against the side of plastic bags. Snack packs of tasteless pudding. Electric yellow chickens. Mushy, flavorless grapes. Hard, tart berries. No wonder we're in the state we're in as far as obesity rates go - the only food that tastes good is the stuff that's been manufactured to do so in a lab. And even then it is never enough. We have to eat more and more of it just to recreate the satisfying pleasure of a single, perfect, ripe bite of real food.
Am I being a little dramatic? Of course. I wouldn't be me if I weren't. Does this really just come down, in part, to my rampant Anglophilia? Obviously. But I can't help but wonder why good food in America is just so damned expensive, so classist in a way. It just seems to me that we stack the deck against health and enjoyment and flavor when that happens. Who does it serve? And how? And how can we turn it all around?
And where can I get me some lunchtime duck confit for $7, because I will meet you there and the mulled wine is on me.
posted Monday, April 25, 2011