The East End Tour took us around what used to be the poorer end of London where Miller’s A Child of the Jago took place. The neighborhood has consistently been home to recent immigrants to London, be they Jewish, Huguenot, or, recently, Bangladeshi. The neighborhood had a lot of interesting graffiti, which, while illegal, isn’t completely discouraged by the community. There was large, mural style, graffiti, which our guide told us is appreciated by some businesses, as it can give the buildings some style. However, there is also a lot tagging graffiti, which is both unartistic and territorial, suggesting gang activity. The tagging also detracts from the artistic level of the murals. We were lucky enough to see a few Banksy pieces, which were protected from tagging. There was also a Banksy lookalike called Bambi, of whom no one no one knows the identity. They say it could be anyone from Ginger Spice to Adele. Obviously.
The former housing estate of the Old Nickel, or Jago, is gone, replaced with housing that the previous tenants good not afford. They were also subjected to rules that they didn’t want to follow, so, in a sense, they were forced out without having to literally forcing them out. Londoners, generally, in the Victorian times didn’t care about the problems of destitute poor, preferred to not even know about their problems. Getting rid of them in a way that allows them to continue to condemn the poor for being lazy or lesser maintains the wealthy’s sense of righteous entitlement.
Current East End London is a mix of wealth and poverty. There are still some streets that seem run down, though certainly not to the extent to of the Victorian age. What’s interesting is seeing what could almost be called usurption of the East End by fashionable or posh businesses. I get wanting to be an innovator and finding or creating what’s new, but is it really authentic to put in a fashionable store or restaurant that couldn’t not price out the people who moved to the neighborhood because it had been affordable?
I’ll admit to being culpable for the gentrification I have discussed, as I today went to a restaurant today that I saw on TV. That made me feel pretty yuppie. It was Fergus Henderson’s St John outside Spitalfield’s Market. I had learned of the restaurant on one of food writer and travel program host Anthony Bourdain’s shows, either No Reservations or Parts Unknown. Henderson is famous for literally writing the book on bringing back using the whole animal in cooking, which he calls “nose to tail.” I say “brought back” because it became common for the the rich to have what they considered the best cuts of meat, like the sirloin or prime rib. The “lesser cuts” or innards, also called offal, went to the poor. Henderson is taking the complex cooking recipes cultivated by the poor who had no choice but to make the “lesser” meat good and presenting them as high cuisine. It used to be poor people food, now it’s fashionable. There’s an ethical gray area here. I’ll argue that Henderson doesn’t claim ownership of these dishes–he’s said they’ve always been there. I feel some guilt by contributing to the gentrification. My one consolation, or what I tell myself my contribution to gentrification, is that it is important to use the whole animal, for sake of life and the environment.