H E N R I E T T A G R E E N
Author of The Food Lovers' Guide to Britain
It was a bold, exciting Friday — a Friday in 1998 that changed the face of food and food shopping in the UK. That Friday was the day I held my Food Lovers' Fair at Borough Market. When I first came up with the idea of the fairs the producers just weren't interest, I couldn't get the farmers to come. They didn't seem to understand what I was trying to do. Frankly, back then I had no idea what it would be like, or if anyone would come. But they did — in their thousands.
I was inspired in New York City. I went there in the late '80s and something serious was happening. I could feel the winds of change. Farmers' markets were emerging.
It had to happen here. London desperately needed something like Borough Market. It has sparked a food revolution that has spread through the country. We were way ahead of our time.
'Where is it?' That's what I famously remarked when Randolph Hodgson from Neal's Yard Dairy told me about Borough Market. He's the one who suggested I hold a Food Lovers' Fair there.
Many stallholders sold out on the first day and had to go back to their farms to stock up for the rest of the weekend, as the first market ran right through from Friday to Sunday.
"Is it you I have to blame for the worst weekend of my life?" That's what one couple asked me. I think they made a total of five trips and spent £600 on quality produce.
It is not enough to pay lip service. You can't go to the supermarket and then whinge about there not being good markets, or fishmongers and butchers. Every purchase we make has its implications. We should all remember the power of the purse and shop accordingly.
People go to markets on holiday. It's a pleasurable experience, but they don't associate it with everyday life. Back home they think of shopping as a chore that needs to be done as quickly as possible. And end up going to supermarkets.
Supermarket food is sanitised. Consumers think of the white, neon light, bright, airless windowless supermarket as somewhere in which they are being looked after. They feel what they buy there is safe. But is it? The food lacks so much — taste, texture and character to start.
There are some equations consumers just don't make. If you have two chickens costing £1.99 and £6.99 respectively, people probably think the higher prices are about frills, not what must have been done or sacrificed in terms of rearing to make the other so cheap.
People who go to Borough Market have lost their fear of food. They're learned to trust and question and have woken up to the fact that there are British farmers who produce with love and care. Perhaps they should question the other things they buy too — clothes, for example. Where and how have they been produced? Maybe the food revolution will make people look at this and other aspects of their lives.