From a young age, food took an important role in my life. Every evening, I watched my mother home-cook a meal from scratch. When it was ready, I ran about the house shouting ‘dinner-time!’ to the rest of the family. We rarely ate alone; eating dinner bought us together, to feast and to share. Each time, I would leave the table and ritualistically say, much to my sisters annoyance and mocking, ‘Thank you for dinner mum!” Our communal eating habits were something peculiar amongst my classmates, who, most nights, ate their own personal meal, alone in their rooms or in front of the T.V. I grew up with a strong connection to food and began taking food into my ‘own hands’ when I became vegetarian as a teenager, eventually transforming into veganism as a form of internal protest against what I had learned about the food industry. My food interests led me to apprentice in a community kitchen cooking ‘traditional foods’, where I began the journey of understanding the connections between history/diet/health/wellbeing. I came to realise intolerances to processed food like wheat and through the years began understanding the connection between what I ate and the way I felt. After suffering from a severe burst appendix, these issues became even more prevalent, and my irritable bowl syndrome became apparent. Food makes up my everyday interest, because it controls so much of how I feel, what I do, what I think about – I started to realise, through studying it more and more – that food was not just a health issue, but tied into almost every aspect of our lives as living creatures of the planet. From community to environmental politics and situations of global power. Food is not just an internal and individual situation but an external societal issue too.
My interests bought me, of all places, to the Garden of England – Kent. To study Cultural Studies and Anthropology which entwined together my interests in food, people and society. Why does such a county deserve to be named ‘The Garden of England’? The county has been titled as such for over 400 years, supposedly originating from King Henry VIII love for Kentish cherries (Wainwright 2006). The county is known for its diverse agriculture, where many crops grow in abundance under the warm southern sun. Orchards of apples, cobnuts and hazelnuts line the Kentish countryside along with the soft fruits that serve the majority of the country its sweet national crops in summertime -raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, cherries, plums and even berries for local winemaking. Cider making is a big business here too and do not forget the Kentish hops which make up most of our beloved national beverage – Ale. Diverse veg is grown throughout the year, from all the hardy roots and leafy greens in winter, to the juiciest cherry tomatoes of summertime! Summer food and drink fayres are everywhere, ready to show off not just the plant harvest, but also free range luxury meats and some of the most varied cheeses in England – that are contending even with the not too distant French borders. The short channel between Kent and France provides even more availability of select foods.
Lest not forget this sea between, for Kent is surrounded by coastline in all directions. Whitstable Harbour is known especially for its Oysters and Broadstairs for its fish and chips. Despite this, it is surprisingly difficult to find fresh local fish in the area, and only one small fishmonger and fish restaurant exists within the walls of Canterbury. Only 15 years ago it was “really hard to get local and organic good quality food” in the area (Jo Barker), but now almost every town in Kent has its own farmers market. Britain is not exactly known for a refined food culture, so it is not a surprise then, that ‘The Garden of England’ is heavily referenced in the marketing of products and well-known prizes pushed in the ‘Taste of Kent Awards’.
Despite all this, Canterbury is clogged with a plethora of corporate food stores, with every supermarket chain imaginable. With upwards of 11 supermarket outlets dominating the food economy. Plus, a large range of the typical fast food outlets with multiple McDonalds and Subways, to cater to the tourist and student crowd. There is also a large variety of restaurants, many of them chain restaurants, but some run by independent restaurateurs. However, there are also a number of options to shop at local suppliers, there are various small shops, largely selling cheap eastern produce and dried goods. A weekly high street market selling meat (sometimes wild) and traders with cheap foreign fruit and veg. A Whole Foods shop selling organic produce and specialty health items. A small high-street greengrocers and the main alternative on offer – The Goods Shed. A 6 day a week farmers market and food hall, which focuses on providing fresh and local, sometimes organic produce, meat and fish – along with more luxury artisan items. Canterbury, has it all.
Canterbury has many different food purchasing options, and thus quite distinct and differing consumers. Through direct experience, I have witnessed a thriving alternative food culture here, spending many hours observing, interviewing and participating in the local food culture. I have researched this project largely through relationships I have built up over time through the Goods Shed – through experiences and interviews with colleagues, shoppers, local farmers, food experts, etc. I also work part-time running the Goods Shed vegetable stall, giving good chance for observations, and another day promoting the hall locally – writing price comparison boards, running a Facebook site, and designing flyers, etc.