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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

A cereal question

Whilst perusing the Internet (and by the Internet I, of course mean Buzzfeed) this morning, after under-toasting my bagel and spilling my coffee all over me, the kitchen and my computer, I came across an article that read “The Shoreditch Cereal Café Was Attacked By Anti-Gentrification Protesters.”

OK, I know the title is not all that attention grabbing, but the reason I stopped was because, while studying abroad in London, I happened to visit that particular café, which is better known as the Cereal Killer Café. I did indeed purchase very overpriced American cereal, which to be honest was not the best use of my limited funds, but c’est la vie. And in the pit of my stomach, I knew that after reading this article, I was going to regret my purchase of a “Double Rainbow:” Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, freeze dried marshmallows and strawberry milk.

Now for a little background on the Cereal Killer Café. On its website, the café boasts of 120 different kinds of cereals, 30 different varieties of milk and 20 different toppings. Names like “chocopotomas,” “bran gran, thank you ma’am” and “unicorn poop” are written on a chalkboard, and cereal from around the world plasters every wall, including lots of limited edition products that must have expired years ago. Basically, this is a hipster tourist’s dream. Ridiculous names, overpriced food and, of course, the perfect place to Instagram the hell out of your particular cereal. And yes, I went there. Make what you will of that.

The fact that this café is the target of an anti-gentrification group is hardly surprising. Cereal Killer Café is a beacon for the middle class who want to experience “Shoreditch,” but only from the inside of an artsy café. It’s on Brick Lane, a street that has a diverse history and is situated in the middle of the East End, which is slightly edgier but still a very classic example of gentrification. However, I was surprised to see the group who decided to riot outside the Café was in fact Class War, an anarchist group we had learned about in my Politics of Protest class in London.

Class War started out as a newspaper written among a small group of anarchist friends that gradually grew larger. At 8 p.m. Saturday, members gathered outside the Cereal Killer Café, wearing masks and bearing torches, and proceeded to throw paint at the windows. On a website devoted to the protest, the organization described part of its reasoning for the riot: “Our communities are being ripped apart — by Russian oligarchs, Saudi Sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money tw*ts and our own home-grown Eton toffs.”

Whatever you think about its methods, Class War does have a point. Gentrification plagues many major cities. Wealthier people move in to historically working-class neighborhoods, pushing up the prices until it is impossible for the inhabitants who have lived there for years to continue to feasibly do so. While there are benefits to having wealthier inhabitants (streets are safer, jobs are created and there are more store options, including better groceries), they change the character of a neighborhood, and not necessarily for the better. So much is lost when the diversity of a neighborhood changes and you force inhabitants who have lived there, worked hard to be there and formed the character and culture of that area for so long to leave. Rioting may not be the best form of discussion, but it certainly forces people to face the hard questions.

Now, I don’t really think the Cereal Killer Café is going to bring an end to the culture of East End and Brick Lane. It probably won’t even last that long; Fads die, and eventually people are going to realize they are wasting their money on overpriced cereal. There will be some new hipster thing everyone in the London study-abroad group is thrilled to try, and I will probably be right there along with them.

But maybe also stop in at that little corner shop or “caff” that’s been there for the past 50 years, and give them a little bit of your time and money as well.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.