Sometimes one needs a taste of home, which is the only reason I can think of that Whole Foods is able to stay in business here in the UK. I’ve no idea how the damned place stays afloat back home, but no matter. It is a strange church to which most if not all North Americans living in the UK will make a pilgrimage at some point. Usually a low point, but there you are.
I don’t live near the Whole Foods and it’s so far out of my way and into town that I have to be feeling near suicidal with homesickness to be arsed going. But, I do happen to have a lovely health food store down the street from where I live and I visit it regularly.
It’s very North American, and by that I man it caters to self-diagnosed hypochondriacs with more money than sense. It’s got beautiful wood floors, everything is arranged in an appealing way, there are varieties of food that you’ve never heard of and didn’t want until seeing them at which point you must have them immediately. I have never before needed heirloom tomatoes so desperately. Or sprouting beet root.
I don’t know what it is about the UK that has yet to grasp the North American need to be constantly improving oneself. Here, you go to the gym and then as a reward you go to the pub. In fairness, I do see the logic in that, or perhaps not the logic, but it sure is a damn sight more fun that going to the gym and going home to eat kale and brown rice. But the idea that food will make you look and feel good has yet to catch on in quite the same way here. Especially if the supermarkets are anything to go by. There are readymade meals as far as the eye can see, tons of them, some dressed up as being good for you, others in no way interested in even trying. I mean, things like microwavable sausage rolls are never going to be good for you, so why try?
Well, my health food store does try. It tries a lot and it rarely gives up. There are breads made with and without all kinds of things, there is quinoa at a decent price, there is sugar free cranberry juice, there is applesauce for eating and not just as a weird sugary garnish for meats. There are vegan cakes and dinners and an entire section of things that are made of or can be made from tofu. These are the strange things I grew up eating and now and again I am gripped with nostalgia for things from childhood. Like the rice bread we used to get from the heath food store near my old sports therapist. It was a loaf that looked a lot like pound cake (which is something I didn’t know about then) and it crumbled apart when you looked at it wrong. You had to store it in the fridge and then toast the bejesus out of it, twice, before slathering it in butter. And it was some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever eaten. This health food store does not have that bread, possibly because things have progressed a bit.
And it doesn’t have quite the range of beauty products that one might like, as in, it doesn’t sell makeup that won’t make my face swell,but that’s alright as I rarely wear makeup anyhow. It does sell soap that doesn’t make me itchy though — which is nice.
All in all, it’s pretty much an embassy for wayward North Americans living in the east end of London. But, as a nod to the neighbourhood and the natives, it does stock two essential items that must be found in all British supermarkets: booze and tobacco.
Yes, and it’s a health food store too. Granted the booze and tobacco they have is organic in the case of the booze, and hippie-looking in the case of the tobacco, but still. Imagine trying to get away with that in North America? You’d be laughed out of town before you even got the words out of your mouth. But I like the place. The Mom would as well, I think. She could get a good bit of unpasteurised cheese there and a nice bottle of organic wine. It’s perhaps the cross over area that I like most: it’s a health food store, sure, but it’s also in England, so you know, health, that’s a sliding scale. The best of both worlds, you might say.