Back in 2011, during my second week in Nottingham as an exchange student, I finally decided to go grocery shopping. Following my roommate’s advice, I ended up at Tesco where I found, as he had warned me, the cheapest prices in a gigantic supermarket containing numerous variations of exactly the same product.
Signs that hung above the aisles indicated what could be found there. However, what really caught my eye was the ‘world food’ section. What was there? Spices and ingredients for dishes typically cooked in various places around the world. Yet the first thing that sign reminded me of was the expression ‘world music’, and how it simply connotes anything that is not in the Western music scene. My first reaction was to frown and then laugh because in that same supermarket, I had already passed by sugar, vegetables, coffee and many other products that are seldom – if ever – produced on British soil. Yet, they hadn’t been displayed under the ‘world food’ aisle. I began to wonder if people who shop at Tesco ever stop and think about the meaning of the aisle’s name. It was intriguing to see how British supermarkets are organised and I came to the realisation that it is really quite bizarre.
The British are large consumers of fruits and thus they are placed in the ‘local food’ aisles; but kiwis and pineapples for example, would never grow in the United Kingdom, and are sourced from abroad.This inevitably leads to the question, what is the basis of categorising something as ‘world food’ or ‘local food’? What if, for instance, a Brit of Indian ancestry were to buy a traditional Indian spice for a recipe handed down to them from their family? They are British, potentially born and bred in the UK, as a great many people are, but with foreign ancestry; what does the ‘world food’ aisle imply? ‘Remember, you are not truly British.’
I think it most intriguing that products from around the world are treated as more British than most of the ingredients in the ‘world food’ aisle, even if they have been produced in the UK, as the result of global trade. The British market is a large importer of food from around the world, but not all of it will be labelled ‘world’ or ‘ethnic’. It is not, thus, about where the food and other products come from, but about how they relate to the aspect of normalcy of what locals consume.
Cartoon by Rafael Balbueno