Until recently, London’s streets were packed with hawkers, crying ‘Strawberries, ripe!’, ‘New Mackerel, new!’ and ‘Milk below!’ For centuries, these traders fed the fast-growing city with perishable produce and snacks — oysters, oranges, pies and more — wolfed down on the go. The first book-length study of these vital retailers, Street Food shows how London has a long history of hawking, like Mexico City, Lagos, Bangkok, and other sprawling metropolises that still rely on street vendors today. As ‘street food’ flourishes as a fashionable dining trend, I tell the very different story of the poor women and men who took up baskets and barrows to scrape a living and feed London’s dramatic expansion. Understanding their working lives and economic significance complicates what street food really means, while offering a long-run, bottom-up perspective on metropolitan growth.
Street Food: Hawkers and the History of London will be published by Oxford University Press in 2022. The book:
- tells the social, economic, and cultural history of food hawking in London between the late sixteenth and early twentieth centuries
- reconstructs the working lives of the poor women and men who sold fruit, fish, vegetables, milk, and dishes like pies and sausages on the capital’s streets
- offers a fresh perspective on key processes of metropolitan history, including urban improvement, economic polarization, the rise of retail and shopkeeping, and the grand narrative of modernization
- reflects on the demise of street trading in London and the return of ‘street food’ as a culinary trend