Gourmet Ghetto

“How much would a small chicken be?” I asked the butcher. It was one of the cheapest items per pound at the shop. We rarely buy meat. Our son is allergic to milk and soy and so is on a prescription formula that costs $30 per can of powder. We’re looking for ways to ween him off of the formula and meat seems like the best way.

The butcher put the chicken on the scale. “It’d be about $28.”

I mentally exchanged $28 for British pounds (around £19). There’s no way I ever spent half that for an organic, free range bird from a local farm when we lived in Scotland. “Umm, I don’t think I’d be comfortable telling my wife I spent $28 for a chicken… Let’s see, how much is a pork chop?”

He placed a single pork chop on the scale. “About $2.”

“Okay, I’ll get that.”

To be fair, I was at a fancy butcher which names the meats after the farms where they’re raised. I knew I would be paying more there than at a grocery store, but I’m a bobo. I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, after all. Also, my son has eaten very little real food and I’d rather what he eat be of high quality.

The butcher is very close to my house—only two blocks away. But it’s not the closest butcher to my house. That would be Payless Meats: “Where Your $ Stretches.” There are many things I’m willing to try, but something about that store makes me shudder. I’m told the owner is very kind to his clientele and caters his business to people in the neighbourhood. Perhaps I’ll get a steak in there for myself one day, but I don’t feel comfortable filling my son’s already delicate stomach with whatever grade meat he has. Call me a snob.

And yet I also don’t feel comfortable filling my son’s stomach with meat from a $28 chicken.

The location of this new fancy butcher shop is right at the centre of the Downtown Eastside, but it’s not an anomaly. Just one block north of it lies a tiny boutique restaurant with a new menu everyday. One block east of that little restaurant is a high end pub with 30 craft beers on tap (once owned by Jason Priestly). Going further into Gastown means more fine dining and drinking.

These upscale eateries are not everywhere in the neighbourhood and exist mainly on the outskirts, but they are growing and seem bolder in their choice of locale. It’s also becoming harder to determine which are the older established diners and coffee shops and which are the newer ones exploiting the ethos of their surroundings. I walked by a ‘diner’ yesterday that sold $12 hamburgers but looked similar to the Ovaltine, which has been on Hastings for 70 years and has served the locals for that long.

A few years ago, my wife and I were visiting the Bay Area and decided to celebrate her birthday with a meal at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. We couldn’t afford the “restaurant” so we ate at the “cafe” which was still the most we ever spent on a meal. Chez Panisse is in what people call the Gourmet Ghetto since it is on a street with several other fine dining establishments. The name “Gourmet Ghetto” is, of course, ironic. North Berkeley is far from ghetto.

The Downtown Eastside, on the other hand, is very much the ghetto. It is the poorest neighbourhood in Canada but is becoming a destination spot for foodies. There are many problems with this trend, but it doesn’t seem likely to end. I’ve seen the man who owns Payless Meats. He might be looking to retire soon. What would be his reason for not selling his store to an ambitious proprietor-chef?

Of course I have no right to protest too much. I walked right by Payless Meats the other day to get a cut of Pemberton Meadows sirloin. The boy’s got to eat, after all.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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One Response to Gourmet Ghetto

  1. Kathy Castor says:

    Hey Drew,

    I am enjoying your posts. It is fun to see your wit and humor speak through them, as well as your wisdom.

    Ken and I will, at random times, think and talk of our days at Regent. Often, you come to mind and Ken and I invariably end up laughing as we recall funny stories or interactions with you. As well, we think back and say, “poor Drew…living in our basement!” Looking back, though we did not have loads of room upstairs – with Zac in his room and only that tiny little office space/closet as an alternative – I’m sure we could have squeezed you in somewhere else. 🙂 I can’t even recall how long you lived with us…I know it wasn’t very long.

    Anyway, I would love to hear / read more about what you guys are doing in Vancouver – I saw you were on to lecture at Regent (way coool!), but am not sure what else brought you there. And, why the Downtown Eastside? I have my suspicions, but don’t want to make assumptions (they are good ones, however). If I missed it on a post, feel free to direct me to it. Or, if you have a chance to send an update, it would be great to hear from you.

    Take care and God bless you and your gang!

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