It’s easy being Primal in London

April 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

My local butcher (aka my happy place)

I may have previously enthused about my favourite butcher – the Ginger Pig. In addition to sites in Marylebone, Borough Market, Hackney and Waterloo, they were good enough to open a shop not ten minutes walk from our house about 6 months ago. Along with meat from their Yorkshire farm (responsibly reared, and the whole of every animal slaughtered used) they sell eggs, vegetables and some fruit, cheese, condiments and homemade pies, pates etc. Their meat is fantastic, and the vegetables are pretty good too, but what I really like about going there is that I know most of the staff, and feel that I have a relationship with them. I get greeted when I go in, they know what I’m interested in cooking (anything and everything), I get suggestions for what to buy, and enquiries later (“How did that clod of veal work out for you?”). I feel like I’m a small part of a cycle when I shop there, rather than part of a chain – and that’s really the true nature of food production. If there really is a food ‘chain’ then we will surely get to the end at some point, but if we remember that it’s a cycle, with death an integral part of life, perhaps we have a chance. I don’t shop at the local fishmonger as frequently, but have a similar feeling. The counter staff at (insert name of your supermarket of choice here) may be polite and helpful but I don’t have the sense of them being invested in the food that they’re selling to anything like the degree that the butchers at the Ginger Pig are. Perhaps it’s because they’ve been to the farm, and they’ve also butchered the whole animal.

And what has this got to do with it being easy to be primal in London? Well, this: I was recently in California (the home of ‘The Primal Blueprint’s author), and it seemed really quite hard to buy good food. I was staying in Orange, apparently one of the few cites that has anything recognisable as a centre. It was quite charming, but lacking in food shops of any kind, and food shopping had to be done at one of the supermarkets in the many strip malls. I visited several supermarkets while I was there, and one had a meat counter with real live butchers. Another catered predominantly to the Latin American market and had a great variety of produce (and enough corn tortillas to sink a battleship). Otherwise, there was an overwhelming array of sugar and wheat based products – whole aisles devoted to variants around the wheat cracker theme, and freezers full of pre-made, ready to microwave ‘sandwiches’ – burgers, fried egg muffins and other such horrors. Essentially, lots of food products, and not so much food. I don’t want to suggest that everything was terrible – the Wholefoods that I visited was amazing for its range, and Trader Joe’s was pretty good too, but the thing that struck me was the impossibility of actually getting to know, maybe even be on first name terms with, the people selling (let alone producing) your food. I found myself craving a High Street, and hoping fervently that we can halt the slide toward a US model of fringe of town/industrial area shopping in superstores. I can see now why a lot of American primal/paleo followers buy food online, and do things like ‘cow pooling‘. (I love this idea, you buy a share of a cow, along with like-minded people, so that you can have a say on how it’s reared, and then you share the meat when the cow is slaughtered).

I have come to believe that a great deal of disease, auto-immune conditions etc. can be helped or healed by changing one’s diet. It seems quite logical to me that the two things that impact our bodies are the environment that our body resides in, and the things that we put in our body. If something is going wrong it would suggest that there is a harmful aspect to our environment, or the food/drink that we’re consuming (or, of course, drugs). I see enough commercial TV in the UK to know that there are ads for pain relief, indigestion remedies, fungal infection treatments and probiotics. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other mass pharmaceutical advertising. It certainly seems to be the case in the UK that a prescription for statins (not shown to ever be effective in women of any age…) are handed out by GPs at the drop of a hat, but again, that seems to be about the extent of significant penetration of the pharmaceutical giants into everyday life.

The contrast in California was amazing: now I understand the term big-pharma (twinned with that other evil: big-agra). The dominant message that seemed to be conveyed by a lot of the advertising that I saw (and I didn’t watch that much TV) was: expect your body to fail you, expect that simple things like eating a meal will play havoc with your system, and don’t bother to try doing things differently – you’re not supposed to heal yourself, because we’ve got pills for you. Not only was there a wealth of pharmaceutical advertising, especially for ‘lifestyle’ drugs but, also stories on the news about freakish medical interventions for weight loss. Again, the message seemed loud and clear: you’re not in control of (responsible for) your own body.

I was stuck by how difficult it would be for me to live in greater Los Angeles and eat the way that I normally do in London, and how unlikely I might be to believe that I could eat food, and make other lifestyle choices, that would really nourish me and make me stronger. There is a proliferation of farmers’ markets in London, where you might even shake hands with your food producer; just about every supermarket sells some organic produce; we still have some High Streets, with independent food retailers, and have not quite yet slipped into the American model of moving nearly all shops to the peripheries of where we live. So, yes, barring the sunshine, it is, relatively, very easy to follow a primal (or insert alternative choice instead) lifestyle in London.

PS There’s the availability of really good 100% chocolate to consider too…

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