Corner shops: I didn't realise how special you were and for that I am sorry. You can band around phrases like 'shopping local' and 'using independent retailers' all day long- especially on days like today, Earth Day- but putting this into practice at every meal time is trickier. Especially when fields and farm shops are a treat for weekend trips and 24 hour Turkish corner shops are the norm.
I am aware I spend plenty of time bemoaning London's snail-pace take up of veganism, but I think I have been underselling something it does incredibly well, and that's all the little shops. It wasn't until I took my brother around my favourite Turkish local shop in Stoke Newington and found him gaping at the litre tubs of hummus that I realised how much there is that does get taken for granted about our retail scene here. Spend a bit of time working out which ones are the all-stars and which ones are total duffs and you'll have some wonderful produce just a few streets away that doesn't come in a Tesco bag. In the past five years of a rising organic food trade, alternative diets and the craft beer movement, the shops I've popped into for odd bottles of £5 wine or Kettle crisps en route to friends have totally transformed. Yes, gentrification is at the centre, but for these businesses the impetus to shop local and skip the multinationals means more footfall and money in the till.
You know summer is here in London when the crates of watermelons appear on each curbside, the unfathomable range of soda water (nine types? Sure!) sat chilling in the stuffed fridges, berries on the turn, Turkish pide bread the carb of choice for park dinners and pre-gig drinking.
I've spent nearly eight years doing the majority of my shopping in these places- getting to know every shelf, every label displaying every language but English, every different way of describing giant couscous. It *might* feel like there’s not much for vegans here, but usually the opposite is true. I love the surprises of never-heard of products, stuffed vine leaves in gloriously packaged tins and bunches of herbs that are actual handfuls and not the pithy stuff you get sold in supermarkets.
Last night one of my best mates brought a nondescript looking bag of groceries up to my flat- it came from the Lebanese shop near his work and it was full of things he'd bought on a whim, delicious, exotic, totally-overlooked foods you'd never come into contact with if you only shopped in Metros and Extras and Locals. If there's a cheap way in London to eat seasonally, locally and help independent retailers, it's this.
Top 10 best vegan things you can buy at the local shop
+ Pide bread
+ Ajvar hummus (thank you Seamus!)
+ Huge bunches of coriander, parsley and mint for 60p each
+ Tomato paste (double concentrated in big tins for tomato sauces)
+ Multi-vitamin juices for your next day’s hangover
+ Giant or Israeli couscous
+ Amica crisps – Italian crinkle cut crisps with ‘MEAT FREE’ written all over the packet
+ Watermelon to wash your beer down with
+ Limes and lemons for really cheap with the beautiful wrappers on them
+ Amazing Portobello mushrooms without all the ridiculous packaging