Mudlarks know the tides of the Thames. When the water is low, you see them hunched over on the silty banks, near London’s Tate Modern, lugging plastic bags and clunky metal detectors. The lucky among them discover historical wonders – Neolithic tools, the skull of a man who died in 3,600BC – while the rest content themselves with clay pipes or the occasional Roman coin. They’re archaeologists of our capital’s detritus, the stuff that got lost or thrown away. It’s fun because the trash tells stories – even the heaps of empty, grey shells scattered around like greasy cardboard boxes outside a chicken shop.
And that’s what those shells are: fast-food containers. Though today thought of as a luxury, the oyster (or the “foul oyster”, as Shakespeare put it) was long viewed with suspicion. Which is, perhaps, understandable: with its HR Giger folds and snotty gloop, it resembles a facehugger’s vagina. “He was a valiant man who first adventured on eating of oysters,” King James I supposedly said. Valiant, yes, and probably broke, too, since the abundantly available and easily transportable mollusc was once largely the preserve of the poor. Those shells dumped on the banks of the Thames are the centuries-old litter of cheap meals scoffed in a hurry.
Perhaps there was – and is – no better food for the stressed-out urban worker. Oysters are a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which a study by the National Natural Science Foundation of China found were effective in safely curbing depressive symptoms. A plate of six oysters contains three times your recommended daily intake of omega-3s, as well as an abundance of zinc – a deficiency of which has been linked to mood disorders. These nutrients also support healthy ageing, male fertility and even brain function, while helping to temper the kinds of inflammation that contribute to almost every chronic illness, from cancer to heart disease.
So, why not queue up outside your local fishmonger and treat yourself to a fresh half-dozen? Given these benefits to both your mind and your body, they’re well worth shelling out for – even at 2020 prices.
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