Other than spending time with my family, one of the main things I was looking forward to while in Lancaster was shopping. Lancaster is a very walking friendly city, couple that with the fact that my Mum’s house, where we were staying, is no more than a ten minute walk to the City center and it makes for wonderful shopping opportunities.
To begin with we still have local shops, and while the market is closed down we still have local butcher’s shops and fish mongers.
In addition the grocery stores are different. While we certainly have our big box stores, such as Asda (now owned by Wal Mart) on the outskirts of town, in the City we have a very quaint Sainsbury’s which is located in an old fruit and vegetable warehouse down by the river.
Inside of course is a sight to behold (for someone like me who has not seen it for a long time. At the deli of the grocery stores I am now used to in the US the cheese counter consists of five varieties, well six if you count take it or leave it. In England you get five different varieties of one type of cheese mild, sharp, strong, mature, for the usual suspects of Cheddar, Double Gloustershire, Stilton, Chesire, etc. In the case of Lancashire and Wenslydale Cheeses you also get the option of creamy or crumbly. A cursory count of the labels shows that Sainsbury’s sells at least 70 different types of cheese. You have to admit that is quite impressive.
The most wonderful sight to behold though was the bacon section.
Yes that is three cases full of bacon. I do not have to explain this to my English readers but perhaps a primer on British bacon v. US bacon is in order here (strangely enough they were having the same discussion over at the Guardian EnglishtoEnglish site recently). In Europe when a pig is slaughtered it is handled in one of two ways. Either the whole pig is cured and turned into bacon or the whole pig is used as pork. In the US only the pork bellies are cured and turned into bacon (which we call streaky in the UK). As the whole pig is cured into bacon in Europe it means that every cut of pork that you can get in the US can be had as bacon in Europe. Therefore as you can see in the above photographs you can get bacon joints, bacon chops, bacon steaks (known as Gammon), back bacon (the most common bacon served in the UK which looks like a very thinly sliced pork chop) , neck bacon, etc . In addition to that once the pig has been turned into bacon it is then smoked or not. So in addition to all of the cuts of bacon that are available they are also available in a smoked or un-smoked version. (See versions of cheese above). Ham is a large bacon leg joint that will be slow roasted and turned into Home Roasted Ham.
As you can imagine it all results in an absolutely dizzying array of options when it comes to bacon. Truth be told not many people buy streaky bacon because it has so much fat in it, and we all know how the world feels about fat.
It occurs to me, Americans are all about choice, they have an abiding desire to be able to choose what to eat, what to buy etc., and yet for some reason they are entirely happy for American food producers restricting their ability to experience anything other than “the norm” i.e., streaky bacon. By steadfastly refusing to turn any part of the pig other than the bellies into bacon they are limiting American’s ability to enjoy one of the best meals on the planet, Gammon steak, chips (fries) and peas. By steadfastly refusing to make any cheese other than Cheddar they are restricting Americans ability to experience what is the truly the caviar of cheeses, Lancashire, when it comes to toasted cheese sandwiches.
When I visit a UK supermarket I am truly dazzled by the choices that are given the UK consumer compared to those given the US consumer. As a resident of the US for 20+ years isn’t that really un American?