In defence of the Cereal Killer café: why lazy hipster-bashing won't solve inequality

Why outrage at the Shoreditch café controversially serving pricey bowls of cereal is misplaced.

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I have just paid £4.50 for a bowl of cereal. I am eating breakfast (I know, so mainstream) at Cereal Killer, a café that has just opened in east London’s Shoreditch this week, which is the first to solely sell cereal.

Its décor of saccharine nostalgia includes bedraggled Honey Monster toys, Garfield posters, dual dial television sets, a Tony the Tiger skateboard, an Eighties Smash Hits manual with a sticky picture of Wham! on the cover and Smurf-themed lanterns. The music veers whimsically from Remember You’re a Womble to Living Doll.

It’s just the kind of cloying but ultimately harmless retro-posturing east London dwellers have come to accept in the new establishments and projects popping up all over the area. And I do feel a little bit foolish tucking into my large bowl of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut, strawberries and Mini Oreos (I panicked, OK? There’s so much choice). But this particular business venture has been controversial, slipping from receiving the usual wry media mockery of hipsters to all-out class war.

You see, Channel 4 decided to pay the owners –  identical twins from Belfast, Alan and Gary Keery – a visit to ask them about the ethics of serving overpriced bowls of cereal in one of the poorest London boroughs, Tower Hamlets.

Here’s the video:

 

Yes, the owner seems unaware of the desperately disparate context in which Brick Lane’s buzzing businesses operate, and it is never a good idea to end an interview because you “don’t like” the questions.

But this report’s attack completely misses the point. Because if you’re going to pick a fight with someone selling cereal at an eye-watering mark-up in one of the capital’s prime locations, then you should also pay the boutique nail parlour down the road a visit – because it’s far cheaper to file and paint your nails at home – or tear apart the vintage clothes shops, because being handed down second-hand clothing is more economical.

Cereal Killer’s detractors would most likely argue that such an establishment is a symbol for everything that is wrong with the jaunty yet unaffordable lifestyle espoused by hipsters in east London’s otherwise impoverished boroughs.

And yes, the cutesy kitsch can be grating, and the owner’s Instagram beard and smooth, smooth silver hair would tempt many a reporter to take a journalistic swipe.

But really, this is lazy discrimination against an incipient culture that is easily lampooned. Because the reporter would most likely have received just as discombobulated a reaction if he’d asked one of Brick Lane’s multiple curry vendors why they are selling curry at far higher prices than it would cost to make at home in such a deprived area, or a barista in any of London’s coffee houses why they are selling coffee for three times the price it would cost to buy a jar of instant from the supermarket, when there are people who can hardly afford the weekly shop living just around the corner.

There is a sinister, worsening problem with inequality in London that becomes starkly clear with food banks popping up just streets away from thriving thoroughfares of artisan bakeries. Tenants living in the tenements above Russell Square's Brunswick Centre could never afford to eat out at the Italian chains whose smells waft up through their windows day-in, day-out.

But if you’re going to blame something for this sad situation, it should either be unfettered gentrification due chiefly to a rabid rental and housing market (people are being priced further and further out of London), or the entire concept of capitalism (everything we consume, from our lunchtime soup to evening pint, is priced at a mark-up). Ensuring the capital’s communities aren’t irreparably segregated due to market forces is the responsibility of government ministers. Feeling a bit sick as I have a final slurp of sugary milk tapped from capitalism’s unforgiving teat, I think I’d rather attack them than an entrepreneurial man with an innocuous idea and a silly beard.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.