This weekend, I visited Brick Lane — a street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in east London — with a handful of my classmates. The street was busy. The walls were tattooed with colorful, vibrant street art that added to the artsy, trendy character of the street. Clothing, arts, and food stands lined the crowded street, somewhat overshadowing the stores rooted permanently in their spots. In the background, a live band enhanced our walk with peppy, high-spirited music (guitar, bass, drums — the works).
When we arrived at Brick Lane, we first passed through the section of the street where the food stalls were located. The options were quite varied, and I realized that the foods that were tempting me were really from all over the world. For example, there was “The Patate (l’Original French Cuisine),” right next to “Mama Girty’s Jumbo (Proudly African),” which was only a few stalls down from “Hola Guacamole (Mexican Street Food).” There was also a stall serving Italian-style pasta dishes, another serving Asian food, and several Bangladeshi restaurants around the area that served curry.
In Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, the narrator acknowledges how the influx of immigrants from the West Indies led to an increase in the presence of food commonly found in the West Indies in London: “The grocery it had at the bottom of the street was like a shop in the West Indies…Before Jamaicans start to invade Brit’n, it was a hell of a thing to pick up a piece of saltfish anywhere, or to get thing like pepper sauce or dasheen or even garlic. It had a continental shop in one of the back streets in Soho, and that was the only place in the whole of London that you could have pick up a piece of fish. But now, papa! Shop all about start to take in stocks of foodstuffs what West Indians like, and today is no trouble at all to get saltfish and rice. This test who had the grocery, from the time spades start to settle in the district, he find out what sort of things they like to eat, and he stock up with a lot of things…All over London have places like that now” (Selvon 2006 63-64).
Thinking about this passage from The Lonely Londoners and this idea that when immigrants enter new countries, their arrival might inspire an increase in the prevalence of their native foods makes sense when acknowledging that London is an immigrant city. London is considered one of the most diverse cities in the world, and according to a 2011 census, 44.9% of London’s population are White British, and 37% are born outside of the UK, including 24.5% born outside of Europe (“Ethnic groups”). The diverse food options at Brick Lane can mirror the ethnic diversity of the city as a whole. While Brick Lane itself is geared towards consumers, and maybe even tourists, who might be interested in trying varied types of new, exotic foods, the selection of foods at Brick Lane is not uncharacteristic of that of London as a whole. In the past two weeks we have tried Indian, Thai, Italian, Japanese, among other foods.
Even though the availability of a wide variety of food can serve to illustrate how diverse of a city London is, it cannot serve as proof of inclusivity. In The Lonely Londoners, Moses and other immigrants continue to feel “lonely” despite the fact that some of their native food has followed them to London. Seeing the diverse food options in the city can skew our understanding of actual ethnic and racial politics: even though London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities of the world, as is evidenced by the different food options available, it is not necessarily a genuinely inclusive city.
— Meredith Bergman ’19
Selvon, Samuel. The Lonely Londoners. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.
“Ethnic groups in London.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_groups_in_London.