Recently, at a lunch I attended, given by a left-wing magazine to which I sometimes contribute, the matter of food poverty and food deserts came up, and it was with some pride that I heard an area, not more than a mile from where I live, described as the very worst of these deserts, positively the Atacama of food.
As the only person present with personal knowledge—what Bertrand Russell used to call “knowledge by acquaintance”—of the area in question, I felt constrained to point out that I frequently shopped there, at a small Indian store in which one could buy, for example, 22-pound sacks of onions for about $3.40, and in which a huge variety of extremely fresh vegetables could be bought at prices less than half of those in the supermarket chains. Yet the only poor people who shopped there were Indian immigrants or their descendants—housewives who sifted through the produce looking carefully for the best. Practically no poor whites (or blacks) ever went there, though plenty of both live in the area. Only a few members of the white middle class from outside the area took advantage of the wide range and exceptionally low prices.
Moreover, unlike the people who spoke so fluently of the food deserts, I had, in the course of my medical duties, visited many homes in the area. The only homes in which there were ever any signs of genuine cookery and of eating as a social activity, where families discussed the topics of daily life and affirmed their bonds to one another, were those of the Indian immigrants. In white and black homes, cookery meant (at its best) re-heating in a microwave oven, and there was no table round which people could sit together to eat the re-heated food. Meals here were solitary, poor, nasty, British, and short.