As the television advertisement goes: ‘I love horses, they’re my friends!” It is true that horses have a proud tradition in serving the people of Bermondsey and are well loved by many in the area. Farmers of old used to leave their livestock in the surrounding Bermondsey fields. Back in the 19th century when Samuel Bourne Bevington and other entrepreneurs were using horses to transport the leather and other goods produced in their burgeoning businesses, Bermondsey would have been used to the comforting sound of horse shoes on its narrow cobbled streets. Today, local people still use horses, giving them pride of place at the front of funeral processions, or less often for pulling along horse-drawn carts. Yes, Bermondsey loves to stroke, ride and admire horses; it does not expect to eat them!
Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating horse meat. The French do it and so does most of Europe. However, the recent discovery by the Food Standards Agency of Ireland that some Tesco and Aldi beef burgers contained 29% horse meat is nothing short of an absolute outrage! Once again, this is an example of less well-off individuals suffering through being served sub-standard ‘value’ products. It is perhaps equally as worrying that without the horse meat, so called ‘economy’ beef burgers must by law contain a minimum of only 47% beef. So hang on a minute: less than half of the average ‘economy’ beef burger actually contains beef? I’d like to see the farmers at the Bermondsey Square farmers’ market try and get away with that! Its oh-so discerning patrons would be up in arms with disgust! They would turn their backs on the market, taking elsewhere both their trade, and their organically-produced jute shopping bags.
Bermondsey Square farmers’ market is one of the jewels in Bermondsey’s multi-faceted crown. Together with the excellent nearby Maltby Street & Spa Terminus markets, they are superb places to purchase food and other produce manufactured to the highest possible standards; they are helping put Bermondsey back on the map. Their burgers and sausages contain nearly double the amount of meat than their economy cousins. Browsing, choosing and buying are aspects central to the experience of shopping in these community spaces. These markets are places to meet friends old and new, make contacts and most importantly buy healthy, clearly labelled food. The problem is that they are effectively gated-communities that exclude the majority of local residents. Indeed, the right-on inclusivity that their predominantly middle-class professional patrons so highly prize is noticeably absent from these and most other farmers’ markets up and down the country. These markets are poorly advertised and as such, are only discovered on the middle-class grapevine, or through a chance passing on the way to the supermarket.
|Maltby Street Market|
Ordinary Bermondsey residents are literally priced out of the market! Yes, they can browse and perhaps treat themselves to a small black coffee, but they could not stretch their valuable weekly shopping budget to buying the kinds of foods that their families really need: well-made produce with the best ingredients. If they could join in this game of farmers-in-the-city, Bermondsey folk would be as sure as they could be of buying ‘what it says on the tin’, without additives, nasty chemicals or horses: their children’s health might even improve as a result.
Why should ordinary, respectable people have to put with such uncertainty around the content of their food? It’s horse meat in burgers today and something potentially dangerous tomorrow. This is discrimination and exclusion on a massive scale. Why can’t the Tesco supermarket on Southwark Park Road provide economy burgers, fish fingers and the like with the highest possible content of meat or fish? The pricing argument does not wash, as this super-corporation made a mammoth £2.5bn profit last year: some of this should be ploughed back into improving people’s diets, opening up good food for all.
Perhaps as they meander through the farmers’ market buying Bermondsey cheese and other locally produced products, the patrons could spare a thought for those on lower incomes who have to survive on a daily diet of value and economy products. These innovative local markets should be opened up to all, with lower or subsidised prices and better advertising to welcome the whole community. A greater variety of stalls offering good food at a range of prices would be a sure way of promoting inclusive values.
Ordinary people still have limited choices over where to buy the best food. But, at least the remnants of a once thriving working-class fruit and veg market remains at ‘The Blue’ – and they don’t sell horses!