When I was a kid it was enough to be vegetarian, the hardcore became vegan, now in Glastonbury Raw Food is all the rage. For those who endeavour to ascend beyond the carnal altogether, there is Breatharianism. I became a vegetarian at the age of 16, I’d like to say it was out of some great moral principle, but actually, it was because some boy I fancied was vegan and I thought I might work up to that.
Everyone in Glastonbury seems to have at least one food sensitivity. The advantages of this appear to be, like teenage veganism, that you can bring it up in every social situation. Having a restricted diet is useful too in that it scores double points in the endless game of spiritual one-upmanship. Not that I’m dissing those with a genuine allergy or medical problem, just those with a fashionable one.
In the Western World we have the luxury of expressing our personalities through our chosen diet, in Glastonbury this tends to get taken a step further – diet and spirituality become interlinked. I find it quite ironic that, say, the diet of a Japanese ascetic Buddhist monk, based on food which is cheap and native to his part of the world, then becomes the choice of someone in Glastonbury for whom those foodstuffs are then grown, packaged, marketed and flown across the world to end up on the shelves of the wholefood shop at premium prices. I’d be interested to see how a raw fooder gets on in a British winter if they were restricted to what could be grown here, rather than feasting on air-freighted mangoes. Grated dehydrated turnip anyone?
A very strident woman gatecrashed my birthday party a few years back, there was a varied buffet in the kitchen. She pointed to each item and demanded “IS THIS VEGAN?”. I finally lost my rag when she pointed at some slices of raw, unadorned vegetables and shouted back “Yes, of course, they’re bloody vegan, they’re carrot sticks!”. I don’t have a problem with gatecrashers, I generally find they are the people who are doing the washing up the next morning, I just don’t think they should be demanding. I still see her around sometimes, I can’t remember her name so I just think of her as ‘Mrs Is This Vegan’.
There is something about the local wholefood emporium (the size and atmosphere of a small aircraft hangar) that winds me up to the extent that I don’t think the advantages of eating organic will be enough to compensate the elevation in my blood pressure. Service has at times been so slow I’ve wondered if the assistants are practicing tai chi whilst checking out my items – “brush knee and twist step while lifting tofu from basket to bag”.
Glastonbury cafes are not always renowned for their speed of service, Holly told me “Mandy & I once sat in the ******* cafe’s garden for a whole hour (which was how long we had on the car in the car park) without being served. Mandy went in and reminded them we were there halfway through, but still no one came. We enjoyed a very comfortable hour chatting and then left without having had anything o eat and drink. Only in Glastonbury, I thought!” (I removed the name of the establishment above as it’s a recent story and they are still operating – if they were the only cafe renowned for slow service I might have kept it in!) On more than one occasion I enjoyed La Terre’s free wifi for a good hour without actually buying anything simply because no one came to serve me.
If it’s not the staff who are winding me up it’s the other customers. I had to stop going into the organic food co-op for a while after encountering a woman with an egg. She was explaining to someone how you can remove serious illness simply by rubbing the whole egg (in its shell) on the skin nearest to the afflicted part of the body. Generally, I have a pretty tolerant attitude to delusional behaviour in this town, but there is a limit.
I’ve never worked in a Glastonbury cafe, I suspect if I had a few awkward customers might have ended up wearing their dinners. I asked some friends for their tales of working at the sticky end of the Glastonbury service industry.
Sonia worked in The Spiral Gate organic vegetarian cafe and juice bar on Glastonbury High Street back in 1999-2001. She said “Everyday there were various (frankly bizarre at times) food requests and sweet ‘normal’ looking old ladies would whip out their dowsing crystals to help them decide which cake to buy. Once I had a customer start tuning into me psychically and pretty much shouting his mystic insights across the length of the cafe. He was calling out things like “you were really good at art! Why did you give it up?” in a slightly aggressive manner. All the things he said were true but it wasn’t asked for or private. Luckily I found it funny.”
I guess if customers are dowsing all the food on display before choosing that may explain the slow service in Glastonbury. Customers have other ways of being annoying too. Sonia went on to say, “Another classic at Spiral Gate was when one of us went into the upstairs room and smelt gas. Naturally, we were worried and got the cafe owners to come up too. We were all checking the pipes, sniffing and debating where the gas leak was coming from when we collectively realised that: there were no gas pipes in the room, the gas smell was actually coming from the two customers up there who were both into raw food and I think one of them had just come back from India.”
Sonia did eventually lose her patience “I remember being very unsympathetic to someone who found a teeny tiny slug in their salad. I think they were expecting profuse apologies and a freebie. My response was “Well it is organic and fresh from the field, picked yesterday.” I think I did take it away and put the food without the slug on a different plate. I can’t remember if I replaced the salad. The salad really was local, picked the day before and delivered straight to the cafe. It was my job to wash all the slugs off. There were hundreds of them!
Kassie contributed a similar gut-wrenching tale “I used to get paid £1.50 a bloody hour to work in the Assembly Rooms cafe in 1998/9 and I had to squidge freezing cold, minging tofu with my fingers. It was straight from the huge Tupperware tubs filled with water in the fridge. I was making tofu mayonnaise and cheesecake. Why couldn’t we have used a blender FFS?! It made me feel nauseous!! And I had to deal with daily cases of the disturbed. I wasn’t even 16! And every day I heard “No.. I don’t want bovine lactate with that!”
I thought the Mocha Berry might be a good source of stories of bizarre food orders, being as it’s a no-nonsense quality English Breakfast sort of establishment where the owner has a particular stare reserved for people ordering skinny soya lattes. However, the waitress I asked said that she had got so used to odd requests that they had ceased to be remarkable. After some thought she said the strangest order had been for a strawberry jam omelette. I quite like the idea of a strawberry jam omelette. Perhaps I’ll order one next time I’m in there.
I don’t want to give the impression I’m completely dismissive of healthy, ethical eating, I just don’t want it rammed down my throat. There are some shining examples of healthiness in this town who communicate their enthusiasm about food and nutrition in an engaging way, like my mate who goes by the name of ‘Free Cannabis’ and despite being older than me, looks about 20. Check out his page Hemp in Avalon.
Visitors to Glastonbury will find a huge number of pubs, cafes and restaurants serving good food, almost all of them offer vegetarian and vegan options, gluten-free meals and even raw food. There are some fantastic local specialities – seek out proper Cheddar cheese, Burns the Bread‘s Torsy Morsy cake and Roger Wilkins and Orchard Pig‘s ciders.
There are also some great local food initiatives:
Feed Avalon is a social enterprise dedicated to developing food systems that are socially and economically empowering in order to build food resilience in Glastonbury, Street, and the surrounding areas. Somerset Local Food Direct and Bridies Yard Food Co-op (just avoid anyone brandishing an egg in a healing manner). For organic fruit and vegetables there’s the Tuesday Market, the Glastonbury Fruit and Veg shop in Abbey Mews at the top of the High Street and Plotgate CSA.
In September 2016 I reviewed the food in the Rifleman’s Arms in this post. The chef at the time of that review has since left, to be replaced by Sky who produces excellent burgers, Sunday Roasts and possibly the best chips I have ever eaten, so I would highly recommend going there to eat.
I also reviewed the food at Abbey Tea Rooms in my post about Tor’s Tour of the Tor. Middlewick Farm Holiday Cottages have regular ‘make your own’ pizza nights, great fun for visitors and locals. Check out my post Pizza and People at Middlewick on their blog here.
If any local cafes or restaurants would like to demonstrate the tastiness of their food and the speed of their service please feel free to give me and a friend a free lunch, or dinner. Contact Me!
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All photos and text copyright Vicki Steward