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Feature - issue #3

Food for Thought

Community groups and retailers are finding ways to change the way we engage with food and with each other. We examine three urban-focused schemes that are having an impact both locally and globally.

Preparing food with Kitchen Social at Triangle Adventure Playground, Oval, London, UK.Photograph courtesy of Kitchen social © Ben Stevens

It is important that everyone can access nutritious, affordable food. It takes many attributes to build a successful, healthy, thriving community, but food is a key component. Good, nutritious food should be everyone’s birthright.

Where poverty exists, it is often accompanied by poor education and social disconnect, with an overabundance of fast food and a diet lacking in nutrition leading to poor health. But that doesn’t have to be the case, as Cleiton Campos shows us in his article about

Eduardo and Leonardo Santos, who are using social media to introduce organic community growing and a plant-based diet to a low-income audience in Campinas, Brazil. As Leonardo says: “On the margins there is access to food but not access to information.”

Every community around the world should be able to access healthy food, fostering an understanding that the food system can promote a positive connection to the planet and in turn a positive connection to each other. Clara Widdison examines how multifunctional food hubs can link consumers to providers with the aim of making people interdependent participants - growing, processing, cooking, and eating.

The final text by Laurence Lindar considers the Kitchen Social scheme in London, England, where local children from families suffering food poverty and from the wider community can come together in the school holidays to socialise, engage in a range of activities, and eat a nutritious meal. As one participant states: “It’s nice to know there’s a space where you can have a say in how things go, that could be the lunch menu or it could mean being creative.”

We need these examples of how people are challenging the status quo to improve access to healthy food in cities around the world. We must design our food systems to care for, heal, nourish and support us, and future generations to come.

Eduardo and Leonardo Santos. Photograph by Ricardo Lima.

ON THE PERIPHERY

How two working class brothers from Campinas, Brazil, began a social media movement to introduce veganism to a low-income audience, inspiring hundreds of thousands of followers with their simple recipes for plant-based meals. Words by Cleiton Campos.

In June 2018, on a countryside highway of the São Paulo state, an accident involving a truck loaded with live pigs gathered a crowd. Nearby residents rushed to loot the cargo. The action was all recorded on smartphones and the videos went viral.

Far from the scene of the accident, on the outskirts of Campinas, the third largest city in the state, Eduardo Santos watched the videos in shock. It was the trigger he needed to question his whole diet, he says: “If I love dogs and cats, why don’t I see similar animals in the same way?”

That realisation led him to become vegetarian. Not long afterwards, he encountered someone on the street wearing a T-shirt embossed with the slogan “milk is cruelty”. That chance meeting in turn led him to research the milk industry and resulted in his removing eggs from his diet. His twin brother Leonardo followed his example.

Ironically, several years earlier, the brothers had worked at McDonald’s, where they had both been promoted to management positions. Today, Leonardo works in a vegan burger shop, while Eduardo, along with millions of other Brazilians, is unemployed.

Veganism arrived in Brazil through the 90s underground hardcore music scene and today is gaining supporters among the upper-middle classes and fitness bloggers. But the movement still finds it difficult to penetrate the base of the social pyramid: neither punks nor playboys, the twins soon realised that vegan voices did not speak directly to the working classes.

The duo decided they would try to spread veganism in a more accessible and direct way. They started the Instagram profile @veganoperiferico, which translates literally in English to “peripheral vegan”, although it might be more accurate to say “vegan on the margins”. The logline of their Instagram page reads: “We believe in a cause that is accessible to all. It doesn’t matter where you live, it matters how you think.”

With simple language, they try to fight the stereotype that a vegan diet is only for those who have a lot of money. Without posting selfies, promoting posts, or any other trick of digital marketing, their account already has almost 300,000 followers. The reason: posts of simple recipes, based on existing popular meals.

“The popular meal is food that is found in the corner shops of the poor neighbourhoods or any small markets in the suburbs. And that’s what the real people eat: tomatoes, lettuce, sweet potatoes, yams, cabbage, beans, beets, carrots. If you remove animal protein, it’s essentially a vegetarian menu,” explains Leonardo.

Eduardo and Leonardo Santos. Photograph by Ricardo Lima.

“We weren’t really waiting for this boom on Instagram, we just did what we believed in a very honest way, close to our own reality, and we began to receive very positive feedback from people who thanked us for breaking the myths surrounding the vegan diet.”

Of course, reconfiguring their daily menu was not enough for the brothers: they decided to reconfigure their entire lifestyle. They started paying attention to clothing labels and buying hygiene and cleaning products that were not tested on animals. They stopped wearing leather, wool or silk clothing. They became concerned with the social issues around veganism and embraced activism more broadly.

Aware that vegetables grown in Brazil for mass consumption were often exposed to pesticides and other chemical agents, they knew that they wanted an organic diet but were concerned about the prohibitive price. “That’s when we noticed the work in the Campo Grande vegetable garden, in our community, which is an incredible job, a communal garden that is about 16 years old,” says Leonardo. The initiative was started by a group of families that live close to the site, and what used to be a landfill where garbage was thrown out has become a source of health and wellbeing for the community.

“Our organics come from the communal garden and at really affordable prices. One foot of organic lettuce is sold for two reais (around £0.30). Organic consumption must be encouraged to make it more accessible. But we do believe in this model of family farming, as, for example, the work done by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (Movement of Workers Without Land),” he adds.

But despite their large following on social media, the twins are still struggling to convince low-income Brazilians to rethink their menus. They believe there is a direct relationship between class and the consumption of industrialised products, and especially meat. “On the margins there is access to food but not access to information,” says Leonardo. He and his brother are hoping that, slowly but surely, their social media campaign might help to fill that vacuum.

Follow Vegano da Periferia on Instagram @veganoperiferico

Tamar Grow Local is working with a number of small-scale farmers and producers in the Tamar Valley, Cornwall, England, to help increase markets for produce and encourage growers to scale-up.Photograph courtesy of Tamar grow local © Rachael Forster

RETHINKING FOOD PROVISION

Combining food retail with education and community outreach, multifunctional food hubs aim to bring us together and make us active participants in the food system rather than just consumers. Words by Clara Widdison

At Fico Eataly World, a food-centric theme park outside the city of Bologna, Italy, a whole food system is squeezed under one very large roof. Fico looks, at first glance, like an indoor shopping centre with food outlets and stores running down each side of a bike path, which winds its way around the former wholesale market. Each unit showcases a different aspect of Italian food, some of which is made in front of visitors in the glass production kitchens onsite. As well as watching the production process take place, visitors can walk among rows of grapevines growing outside, watch a cow being milked or see new forms of agritech being demonstrated.

According to Sara Liparesi, the managing director of the site, the intention is to make visible the main food chains, such as cheese and meat, with visitors able to become part of the chain via interactive experiences, like bread-making workshops. By compressing the food chain Fico aims to increase understanding of food production in Italy among both Italians and foreign tourists, as well as help artisan producers reach consumers by closing the gap between them.

Tamar Grow Local, based in Cornwall, UK, also aims to balance its business model between driving a sustainable retail offer and providing opportunities for local residents to grow their own food, access local food education, and socialise using food as a convener. The company runs several community food projects, including The Pig Society (a scheme for cooperative pig ownership) and a honey cooperative. Its director, Simon Platten, says: “For us it is about making a contribution at a system level. This means weaving multiple businesses, community projects and services together so that they can be mutually supportive.” Tamar Grow Local also commits a portion of its profits to developing and resourcing new growers in the area.

FoodShare, based in Toronto, Canada, has developed a food retail model in which increasing access to affordable, fresh and culturally appropriate food is paramount. Aiming to reach as many people across the city as possible, its 46 Good Food Markets sell produce that is grown locally, including in school farms. They also supply produce to over 250 student nutrition programs in Toronto that provide breakfast, snacks and lunch for 200,000 youths every day. However, its philosophy is that access should not be thought about in a narrow way, limited only to consumerism and consumption. Instead, it must also incorporate access to activities and relationships that allow us to meet a broader spectrum of needs, changing the way that people see their relationship to food through changing the world around them. It aims to do this by bringing good food into schools, adding growing spaces to playing fields and training teachers to deliver first-class food education, delivering business support to smaller organisations who share in their mission, and training parents to start community kitchens.

Fico Eataly World includes 40 farming factories, where visitors can discover all the steps of food production, recovering the direct and physical contact with what we eat.Photograph courtesy of Fico Eataly World.

Tamar Grow Local’s beginners beekeeping course.Photograph courtesy of Tamar grow local © Dale Wood.

What Fico Eataly World, Tamar Grow Local, and FoodShare all have in common is that they are multifunctional food hubs. The term “multifunctional” refers to their delivery of community activities beyond supplying food for retail. Agreed definitions and the understanding of these models are still developing as the sector is in its infancy, but many hubs have a retail offer that is built on a values-based supply chain, which can incorporate locally-grown produce, organic products or fair trade ethics. Taking their cue from American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, multifunctional food hubs were created with the understanding that we need a secure food supply to keep us alive, but beyond that we also have deeper needs: to have a sense of belonging, to build relationships and community, to become confident and knowledgeable, and to realise our full potential.

Activities at multifunctional food hubs stretch across nutrition knowledge and cookery-skill development, community meal clubs, and resource-sharing through, for example, a community fridge, and this approach to food hubs is on the rise: a 2019 survey conducted by UK academics Christian Reynolds and Paola Guzman found that many of the existing models for emerging food hubs in the UK were multifunctional food hubs, building non-commercial functions into their core offer. Likewise, in the US, nearly half of food hubs surveyed in the 2017 National Food Hub Survey reported delivering community services.

Multifunctional food hubs seek to redefine our relationship with food: a richer, more fulfilling relationship, based on people acting as interdependent participants. The UK-based Food Ethics Council has deemed this relationship “food citizenship”, and Anna Cura, the council’s programme manager, sees multifunctional food hubs as a key part of the movement.

“Food citizenship is about redesigning our roles and relationships with the food system. It tells us, and others, that we are not just consumers at the end of the food chain, but participants in the food system as a whole,” she says. “Food hubs offer communities the ability to act as empowered food citizens and shape a foodscape adapted to their needs.” Across the world, multifunctional food hubs are playing an increasingly important role in bringing us closer to nature, and to each other.

Fico Eataly World: www.eatalyworld.it

Tamar Grow Local: www.tamargrowlocal.org

FoodShare: www.foodshare.net

Food Ethics Council: www.foodethicscouncil.org

Summer birthday barbeque at Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground in Islington, London, UK.Photograph courtesy of Kitchen social © Tom Nicholson.

KITCHEN SOCIAL

Children in London, England, describe how access to food through holiday provision can affect nutritional and social wellbeing. Words by Laurence Lindars

Sat below a social housing block in a repurposed car park in north London, England, a group of young people are weighing up the suitability of their homemade patties - a Jamaican staple consisting of a filling in dough and turmeric - for the upcoming barbecue. One teen enthuses over the patty’s spiciness and lurid yellow colour, while another, accounting for his misshapen effort, protests that he’s “a marinade not patty man, you know”. The barbecue marks the end of a six week stint for these children at a Kitchen Social.

As a form of holiday provision, Kitchen Social is one of several food aid initiatives designed to act as a buffer for deprived families. Launched in 2017 by the Mayor’s Fund for London - the charity that was also behind a city-wide school breakfast programme - Kitchen Social covers 110 hubs across 23 London boroughs. These hubs support local community groups and voluntary organisations in their provision of food and social activities for children and young adults.

For the 13 weeks of school holidays each year, UK families face the pressures that come with meeting the social and nutritional needs of children that are met by schools in term time. Dubbed ‘holiday hunger’, the likelihood of families suffering food insecurity increases when term time ends. As free school meal entitlement ends at the school gate, there is a shift in responsibility from the state to the household. There is a stigma attached both to parents who are unable to feed their children, and to young people whose needs are different to many of their peers.

Part campaign, part delivery program, Kitchen Social provides healthy meals and facilitates children’s social development in the holidays. In stark contrast to food banks - charities that distribute food to people in need - that often require recipients to ‘justify’ their receipt of food aid, any young people from the area around a Kitchen Social hub can attend. The upshot of this is that attendees rarely see holiday provision as a source of stigma even though most recognise that food provision is an important reason for being there, with one boy dryly remarking: “Why else do you think I’d come?”

Lunches at many of Kitchen Social’s sites are cooked from scratch each day and the food reflects the diversity of young people that attend. From West Indian dumplings to vegetarian patties, those hubs with well-equipped kitchens see that young participants help with preparation. It’s not unusual for children to dictate the menu according to the ingredients available that day. This was a welcome change for one 10 year old attendee in Lambeth, south London, who described it as “food food“.

Menu design is just one instance of young people making their voice heard through holiday provision. One teen, speaking at a hub in Hackney, east London, recognised that this fosters an agency lost in young people’s restrictive experiences of holiday hunger, saying: “It’s nice to know there’s a space where you can have a say in how things go, that could be the lunch menu or it could mean being creative.”

Making shepherd’s pie at A.p.p.l.e. at The Art Block in Acton Park, London, UK.Photograph courtesy of Kitchen social © Ben Stevens.

Summer birthday barbeque at Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground in Islington, London, UK. Photograph courtesy of Kitchen social © Tom Nicholson.

Some children were vocal in their backing of a health-oriented approach that sees fruit and vegetables included in meals across all hubs, with one saying: “Such healthy food is really good [you] know, I’d never have been eating this healthy otherwise.” This championing of nutritious food represents a welcome muddying of what is too often a straightforward polarisation: although the socio-economic circumstances of a deprived young person shouldn’t be equated to a preference toward junk food, popular media has been left wanting in painting children’s food practices and preferences as the inevitable outcome of their social standing.

When asked what they’d want more of at the hubs, the young people were unanimous in their declaration: “Activities.” Attendees talked effervescently of the extra-curricular offerings at each hub, with most suggesting it was their main reason for going. Food was simply “good ‘cos it’s there, you know”, one boy clarified, but the hubs serve a wider function in allowing children to realise overarching social goals. This sentiment was most evident in a conversation with a 14 year old at the Islington hub, who made his feelings clear on what holiday provision meant for him, saying: “You can just be yourself and, you know, eat chicken.”

The chicken remark was a tongue-in-cheek reference to an earlier conversation over lunch. He felt that across London, young black children were unfairly depicted as problem-children loitering at takeaways and chicken shops. Holiday provision, he felt, offered a space, within the confines of the city, where he could enjoy his holidays without the experience of discrimination that he is subjected to as a young black male. In this vein, food at Kitchen Social is a conduit for young people to enjoy a level of social wellbeing they would otherwise be deprived outside school.

Kitchen Social: www.mayorsfundforlondon.org.uk/kitchen-social

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