How food can bring us together
By Zoey Henderson
Food should be at the heart of communities - the market, the baker, the allotment. The post war attitude to cottage gardens, allotments and importance of self-sustainment drifted away as we could relax from rationing into comfortable consumerism. Our ability to independently feed our communities changed as big supermarkets came to dominate our towns and cities. Drive towards convenience led us to choose the ‘big shop’ over the independent and by doing so drove up the price of the smaller retailers to further push consumers away. A frustrating cycle, that dominated our foodie landscape but one I feel is changing.
Well before Covid-19 created the ‘new normal’ there was a resurgence in farmers markets, farm to table delivery services and reopening of the independent amenity. Saturday morning wouldn’t be complete without a moustached hipster riding through Broadway Market with a loaf of bread under his arm*. Jokes aside there are a generation of people, that after growing up thinking it was cool to eat McDonald’s and drink Starbucks, eating TV dinners and putting anything they could find into a microwave, have now understood that health and the health of their families comes first * As we become distanced from the source of food we become disconnected to its purpose of nourishment and our ability to thrive mentally, physically and as a community. If the next generation is to grow up understanding that food is their fuel and fast, processed food is a short cut to long term health issues, then it must be instilled in all our communities not just those with the ability to choose.
(*snapshot stereotype -however niche is an indication of a changing marketplace. How often do we see ‘artisan’ and ‘craft’ put on big brand products? People still crave for this close connection and provenance of their food.)
Choice of course comes easier with privilege, there are many in the UK, in our community and globally that live on the edge of hunger. Food deserts made famous by the USA are creeping into heavily urbanised, lower income areas and it is a system that needs to change.
Empowering the collective
There are however some amazing grass roots initiatives that are striving to make a change in the way people tackle the health of their communities. Helping to educate those without the privilege of choice on their doorstep to make better decisions and to understand that healthy eating can be affordable, tasty and easy to make.
Empowering some of the most vulnerable to take control of their food and health, MIH has been teaching free plant based cooking to lower income boroughs of London for over 9 years. They are proving that a balanced, healthful diet can be accessible and easy. Not only showing their recipes, they help communities access fresh plant based food through local community veg box schemes and growing cooperatives such as Growing Communities.
Going for over 20 years, Growing communities creates urban veg schemes that empowers communities to grow and sell their own produce and help to make good food and the ability to source it open to everyone.
Karma – Restaurant food waste is responsible for 1.85m tonnes of tonnes of good quality food being thrown away each year. Swedish born Karma is enabling great quality food to be sold at a reduced price at the end of each day, tackling waste issues and quality food accessibility.
Food as vehicle for change
Food and our ability to share and nourish those we care for seems genetically engrained and in times of crisis or celebration it is food that reaches out. That first special dinner date, having tea and cake with your grandparents, cheering up a friend with chocolate, the wedding breakfast…all demonstrate that ‘breaking bread’ with another human has always been deep rooted in our social structure.
One way we can help another human in need is to provide food. Either as an essential life giving force or simply as an emotional support mechanism. Taking food round to a neighbour; the bare essentials or a cake to just to cheer them up, taking surplus food to those in need via food banksor through collaborative projects such as The peoples supermarket.We deeply understand food as a way to support those around us.
It is now the restaurant industry that is reaching out to help others in this time of crisis. Restaurants started as a service to weary travellers and those in need of a hot meal during a long day. They still hold that function but have since become cultural icons, objects of desire, celebrity and a need that goes far beyond simply feeding us. Hubs of our community and icons of our highstreets, as we now go back to basics no amount of neon lights, vintage lightbulbs and crispy table cloths can be relied upon to drive sales. We are seeing brands reaching out to their customers at home to once again provide that most needed service, providing physical and emotional sustenance.
Force for good
A final demonstration of food as a power for good can be seen in the amazing uptake of brands and caterers pulling together to get healthy, nutritious meals out to front line workers and the support of the public to help them do that.
The Bear Kitchen has been overwhelmed by the support people have shown to help donate meals to the NHS. We know how food can heal our bodies, fortify our immunity and enable us to be at our very best. Processed, sugary foods are not what those fighting so hard for us all need. We must start to recognise the value in our food and how it can not only bring us together but enable us to stay fit and healthy too. Food can comfort us, empower us and it might literally save us.
Next blog - food and immunity, fabulous foods and where to find them