The Battle For Croydon’s Stomach

By - Wednesday 9th January, 2013

Andrew Dickinson analyses the front lines of Croydon’s culinary campaign

There’s a new initiative that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said that he will get his weight behind. It is a ‘toolkit’ that is being issued to Croydon Council and all London boroughs to target the ever increasing, nay, soaring number of fast-food outlets in the borough. Allied to this, we as a borough have a serious obesity problem, with one in four (63,000) adults, 12,000 children – 750 of whom are one year olds classed as obese.

Recent figures highlight that the borough is one of the top ten London boroughs for the highest concentration of takeaways. Apparently, seven in 100 shops is a take-away/fast-food business.

It got me thinking (with tongue firmly in cheek) that these outlets could/should be encouraged to do their bit in sponsoring street names. I know some have a conscience – they send staff out to collect their packaging dropped on the streets or they sponsor the provision of bins. Greasy pavements and the general mess left by the consumer are just the immediate problem. But street names? That would be something else. Imagine the map of the Croydon of tomorrow!

Take-away stores do have their place and yes, we all find them convenient from time to time. What is worrying is how quickly they appear, and seemingly no sooner is a void in a high street created than it is rapidly filled by such an outlet. It needn’t be this way. Croydon is seen as a fast-food town, but we don’t need the Mayor of London to draw attention to this fact and to initiate a plan to our council. As a borough, we already have a lot to be proud of and to build on for lovers of good food.

For example, as far back as 2007 a rather good book (and I still have a copy) was published by the council’s Community Development Unit. It was Heritage Lottery-funded and called ‘Urban Feast: World Cooking in Croydon’. It was inspired by, and details, the variety of cooking styles across the borough, highlighting Japanese, Jamaican, Polish, Ghanaian, South Indian, and Vietnamese dishes and the individuals who were creating them. It then shows how the produce for these recipes can be found at a huge selection of outlets across the borough, from the vast Oriental supermarket on the Purley Way to huge Asian food warehouses in West Croydon and a variety of specialist food shops that run for miles along London Road, from the town centre to Norbury as well as Surrey street market and then numerous individual shops dotted around. With the ingredients being so readily available, the individuals involved contributed a typical recipe for readers to try. As mentioned before, it was published in 2007 and I imagine if published today there would be quite a few additional recipes to add in.

As recently as April 2012 we had a South Croydon Food Festival to celebrate the world cuisines that are available in the Restaurant Quarter in that end of town. Part of the Croydon Recovery Campaign, it demonstrated the area’s unrivalled global cuisine by providing live cookery demonstrations, free food samples, al fresco dining, and a variety of restaurant offers. It was a huge success with a very big attendance demonstrating the underlying interest that there is in the excellent food available. My understanding is that this is a one-off event and this is what I find a great shame – we, as a borough, should be able to pull together and offer up an annual ‘World Cuisine Day’ celebrating this ‘unrivalled global cuisine’ as an antidote to all of these fast-food outlets. We should be demonstrating that the food, and more importantly the attitude to food, in Croydon is more than the swathe of convenience fast food shops suggests, that these shops are only a small part of an offer, and if you are a real foodie then Croydon is the place to come. We have the restaurants to do this, as proven in South End. My co-contributor to The Croydon Citizen, Liz Sheppard-Jones, backs up this view with her recent, excellent article on Croydon’s ‘Street Food Revolution’.

It will be great once we know who the winning developer will be who will be tasked with regenerating and rebuilding the Whitgift Centre and environs. It cannot happen soon enough to inject life in to our dying retail sector. Where once we were a leading light as a shopping destination, we have fallen away dramatically over the last few decades and it will be some achievement to get amongst the top ten destinations in the UK. Next week, I’ll present what I feel is the strategy for our businesses and community that will make us a town that lives to eat, not eats to live. If you want to prepare yourself, I suggest you grab a shovel.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • Kake

    It’s worth mentioning perhaps that the problem of “obesity” has been greatly exaggerated. A recent meta-analysis showed that the hazard ratios for all-causes mortality (in relation to a “normal” BMI of 18.5-25) were 0.94 for BMI 25-30, 0.95 for BMI 30-35, and 1.29 for BMI ≥ 35. This means that people with BMI between 25 and 35 have a lower risk of death than people with BMI between 18.5 and 25. The New York Times puts this into perhaps more understandable numbers: a 5’4″ woman weighing between 10.5 stone and 14.5 stone has a lower risk of death than a woman of the same height weighing 7.5 stone to 10.5 stone.

    This is not to say that a “normal” BMI in itself is unhealthy; the picture is much more complicated than that. But it seems clear that the pooled cross-sectional data don’t support the assertion that “obesity” is a big problem in itself.

    In addition, there’s little or no evidence that losing weight has a positive effect on health in the long run. We don’t know how to reliably make fat people thin for more than a couple of years (see yo-yo dieting), which makes it hard to conduct the type of longitudinal studies that would be needed to find out the actual effects of body size changes on health — the “sample size” of people who started out fat, lost weight, and kept it off forever is just too small. In contrast, we know a number of effective ways to help people stop smoking or drinking, and hence there is a wealth of evidence for the benefits of cessation — long-term studies including large numbers of people who have remained “dry” for decades.

    Litter, lack of diversity in the High Street, lack of diversity in one’s diet — all valid concerns. But please, let’s focus on health rather than on the size of a person’s body.

    • Liz Sheppard-Jones

      Kake is absolutely right. Obesity can be (often is) a marker for poor health if it is caused by poor diet and lack of activity but body weight per se tells you nothing about a person’s nutritional or exercise status. In a Utopia where everyone focussed on good nutrition rather than appearance and had the facilities and resources required for healthy lifestyles, a natural range of sizes from moderately skinny to moderately fleshy would all appear in the population and all would enjoy good health.

      Back to 2013 and the increasingly vindictive blame culture that is developing towards obese individuals :-( Education, motivation and resources are so important to lifestyle that it’s pretty much meaningless to lecture socially disadvantaged people about their ‘bad choices’ and I believe that big government action is
      required. From a personal political perspective I have no problem with ‘close the junk merchants down’, but it would be a VERY hot political potato and obviously wouldn’t be taken seriously in the present climate. I wonder if that will change as the rising cost of obesity impacts? Policy-making at a local level is also important and I will be very interested to read Andrew’s proposals for action in Croydon to address the problems he identifies so clearly.

      • Kake

        Thanks for the input! I would suggest though that assertions such as “the rising cost of obesity” actually contribute to the blame culture you so rightly condemn. Being fat is not intrinsically expensive, and as a marker of health it’s very unreliable and arguably not even particularly useful.

        Indeed, the situation might more accurately be characterised as “the rising cost of poverty” — socioeconomic status has also been associated with health, and unlike BMI it actually measures something scientifically valid. (BMI is basically a measure of whether you’re “well-proportioned” in the opinion of one particular 19th-century Belgian statistician.)

        • Christian Wilcox

          Please see my comments.

          Kake is highly inaccurate and must not be listened to. In fact I’m going to accuse her of being dangerous.

  • Christian Wilcox

    Obesity, full-stop, is the wrong way to go. As is being overweight. Bodyweight is a good place to start.

    Sorry Kake, but please stop peddling this rubbish. When the boss of the RCGP’s disagrees with you then you’re wrong. Get used to it.

    Being overwieght is bad for you. It mucks up your Mental Health ( self-esteem, and thus triggers a mild depression ). This usually causes people to eat and drink more ( Sugar has a mild antidepressant effect ), thus causing the downward spiral.

    Each persons body chemistry is unique. What works for one may cause medical problems with another. You are just not skilled enough on this one, and your ‘healthy at any size’ agenda is an utter fantasy backed by a small group of low skill quacks.

    In plain english if you are overweight you need to loose the pounds. Think of others. With every extra pound you gain you increase your risk of incurring a medical problem. That medical problem will be caused by your lack of discipline in the kitchen, and will cost The NHS money to fix. Money The NHS has not got.

    You mustn’t be overweight, and you mustn’t be underweight. Big is not beautiful, and nor is ‘skeletal’.

    It costs The NHS £7b per year to clean up the mess of over-eating and bad control of diet ( The Obesity Bill bit ). There is also a link between depression and overeating ( it’s a Vitamin D thing ). And seeing as 75% of depression sufferers don’t get help due to ( amongst other things ) people like you insisting they’re fine ( practicing medicine without a license is illegal for a reason ) and don’t need a doctor is… Leave these decisions to the qualified GP’s.

    And if you must know I’m an NHS Executive, blackbelt in Mental Health, and mates with Clare Gerada. I’m also considered very skilled when it comes to Nutrition by Croydon NHS ( they authorised the website I wrote for the Mental Health Forum you refused to endorse ).

    Stop spreading these lies. People need to shape up before it is too late for them and something more serious comes along and clobbers them. It’s a lottery the NHS & country can’t afford, and the bigger someone gets the higher the risks.

  • Christian Wilcox


    Much as I agree with you when the country is 30% obese, and about 50% of adults are overweight, something is wrong.

    And medically we cannot afford it.

    The initiative is backed by both parties as my own website ( under The Mental Health Forum ) has been cleared/ approved of by both parties ( as well as Croydon NHS ).

    The problem with obesity is that it is a lottery. And the heavier you get the worse your odds get. Everything adds up. You could wear out your hips and knees requiring expensive replacements, stuff your circulatory system, or leave yourself with diabetes. None of which is fun at all.

    It costs The NHS £7b per year to clean up this mess. So what causes it?

    Part of it is a lack of knowledge ( hence my website ), but part of it medical stuff. Depression. 75% of depression sufferers do not get help ( when they should ). That is a terrible figure, and many comfort eat or substance abuse ( both of which are a type of self-harm ) to get the sugar that they use as their anti-depressant.

    We need more resource into Mental Health, AND a major initiative ( a good 10 year one like in the war years ) to get Public knowledge of how their food works back up and running. Too many people listen to the likes of Kake and her ridiculous agenda ( healthy at any size? Ludicrous ), don’t go to a Dr, and then end up huge. And it costs us a fortune in both NHS resources and human misery. You may feel fine when big for a bit, but you won’t feel fine forever.

    I have to walk with a cane due to bad muscles AND use psychiatric medications ( well known for weight gain side-effects ), and yet I’m not huge. It can be done. But people need to believe it is required.

    I have tried to get The Croydon Citizen to get behind the campaign for better Public Health. This isn’t a debate. It’s real. Proper science.

    But some people were too afraid to actually work with the experts.