The Raw and the Cooked

Eating Out in Glastonbury

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.

Glastonbury Cream Tea at the Abbey Tea Rooms. Definitely not Vegan.

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’s Infamous Customer Service….

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.

An Egg – in case you were wondering

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!”

Ali from the Mocha Berry, with her trademark fag in hand

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.

Glastonbury Frost Fayre 2017 (16)
Local veg from Plotgate

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.

Burger and Chips. The Rifleman's Arms, Glastonbury
Burger and Chips. The Rifleman’s Arms, Glastonbury

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, I’m not sure who is cheffing there now.

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!

Enjoy this post?

Then you’ll love my books – ‘Normal For Glastonbury: Life in England’s Most Magical Town’ (the new fully illustrated edition is now available) and my ‘Crap Views of the Tor’ Postcard Book. There’s more in my Online Shop too.

My readers support this blog to keep it independent and ad-free, so I can continue to write about and photograph Glastonbury Town and its wonderful creative community.

For more of ‘this sort of thing’ join the We Are Normal For Glastonbury membership site, for exclusive content, a comprehensive guide to making the most of your visit to the town, a personalised membership certificate and more. Membership is only £20 a year.

You can also subscribe to Normal For Glastonbury by email, follow the Normal for Glastonbury facebook page, share my blog and facebook posts (this is really important – it’s how I reach more readers!).

This post was not sponsored. Would you like to commission and sponsor me to write an article about what you do, for Normal For Glastonbury? You’d be reaching thousands of readers who love the Town. Please click here for more information.

16 thoughts on “The Raw and the Cooked”

  1. Another highly entertaining article. I so enjoy reading these! Hearty congratulations from a meat-eating, tequila-drinking Methodist!

    • Thanks Andy. Rainbows is counter service so you always get served, but I understand it can be slow due to the customers who insist on dowsing every single salad before making a choice!

  2. Brilliant post, couldn’t have put it better myself. I also work in catering in a nearby town, but we get the occasional Glastonbury person in too. My favourite was the one who claimed that the food was inedible – after clearing their plate to the point where they almost took the glaze off.

  3. Does this mean u won’t invite me to u r parties anymore now I have a food intolerance (she doesn’t invite me to her parties anyway). I eat baked roadkill squirrel though and we roasted a badger at Pilton one year.Does that count?

    • I haven’t had a party to invite anyone to for ages! I have a horrible idea that you’re not joking about the squirrel or the badger. Damn, roadkill! I never mentioned roadkill in the post….

    • Is that the Abbey Tea Rooms? Has it been going that long? I have never been in there. I hear they do a lovely meal on Thursday evenings now with a harpist playing.

      • tep!, was around the back nr car park… ran, (then), by very sweet lady…. We also used to buy fresh hot bread, butter and honey and have breakfast in my friends caravan that was parked on Gypsy hill… water came from the chalice well outflow for our tea…. good times… back later with real foodie story! 🙂

  4. I worked at Rainbow’s End Cafe for a while and oh my god… The conversations I used to hear were priceless. I used to struggle to conceal my snorts when scrubbing a table next to two ladies in purple corsets talking earnestly about how they have ”just started working with snake energy” or something similar. I also remember one woman telling me she has a nut allergy and then with no trace of irony asking if the nut roast would be suitable. (But I guess people being stupid with allergies isn’t unique to Glasto). I’m vegan and try to eat healthily, but not to the extent of raw food, veg juices, flax seeds etc…. So I seemed relatively mainstream!

  5. Selling food always is fun. When I had Fruition, a local who offers healing juice cleanses ranted at me because the organic beetroots that had been harvested the day before were not as hard as billiard balls. How frequently does he replace his juicer? Then there was the well known local musician who threw a wobbly four days after buying a lemon that he had selected himself because one end of it was a bit soft. Oh, yes, the woman who asked for a taster of parsnip and ginger soup and then exclaimed, “Eugh! It has ginger in it!” is a favourite. And the man with the long white beard who juggled with four avocados, changing one at a time (going through every one in the basket) until he had found a quartet that were evenly balanced, was a star. He didn’t buy anything


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: