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Feature - issue #3

Kitchen Social

Children in London, England, describe how accessto food through holiday provision can affect nutritional and social wellbeing.

This is an extract from Food For Thought. To read the full article click here.

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“.

‘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.

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.” 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.

‘Such healthy food is really good [you] know, I’d never have been eating this healthy otherwise.’

Summer birthday barbeque at Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground in Islington, London, UK.

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 ofthe 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.

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