There is a great deal of excitement around today about an interview that Channel 4 News did yesterday with some quite smug chaps who have set up something called a ‘Cereal Café’ in Brick Lane and are charging customers £3.20 for a bowl of Lucky Charms. To be honest, if I’d worked out a similar method of persuading mugs to give me their money, I’d be pretty smug, too. In fact, I suspect this is how the founders of Pret feel every time a fool like me spends £2.35 on a pot of porridge on the way into work, as I did this morning. Baroness Jenkin would be so disappointed.
The interview focused on why the Cereal Killer Café was charging so much for cereal when the surrounding borough is the poorest in London. A question that the interviewee took exception to, as he’d clearly been hoping for something along the lines of ‘how is your beard so great?’ or ‘are Lucky Charms or Golden Grahams your most popular delicacy?’. He grumpily tried to stop the interview, which made him look briefly even more of a mug than the customers he’s serving.
But why didn’t Channel 4 ask the owner of the curry house they interviewed later why he sells his dishes with a mark-up? It is much cheaper to cook a curry at home, after all. Or the market stall holders who manage to sell all sorts of clothing and jewellery for much more than the cost of making them? The interviewer seemed to assume that the only people offering food in a poor area should be soup kitchens, not people trying to make money.
What might have been more interesting would have been how the area is being gentrified at the expense of those who have lived there for many years. The same has happened to Clapham over the years, with the area turning from a diverse, affordable part of London to the first place public schoolchildren head for after university. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, or perhaps it does, but it sparks a more interesting debate than whether or not some chaps should try selling cereal.
Look, I’m not setting out to become a defender of hipsters. But the point surely is that if people are mugs enough to put money into their local economy by buying a £3 bowl of cereal rather than hunching up on their sofa with a bowl of the stuff like the rest of us, then that’s jolly good. What was once just a brief encounter between a cardboard box, a bowl and a splash of milk has become a small business employing people, paying taxes, paying rents and attracting customers who clearly have a fair bit of money to the area. And if many of those living nearby are struggling, then perhaps a business like the Cereal Killer Café is just what Tower Hamlets needs.