Food nourishes the soul. It connects family and community. Communities that come together around food grow stronger. Their shared experiences of food can tackle inequality by empowering individuals, bringing them together and making tasty, healthy food more accessible. Strong communities can create systemic change by asking: ‘what does inequality looks like in my neighbourhood, and what can we do to challenge it?’.
One inspiring organisation that’s taken this approach is Made in Hackney (MH), a community kitchen in East London. MH encourages people to eat from scratch, and works to dispel the myth that you have to have money to eat healthily. Participants are taught cooking skills, but a key focus in cookery classes is the effect our food choices have on the environment and climate change, as well as our health.
MH works with the community to provide what it needs. It is open to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, including people with learning disabilities, stroke survivors, those living in sheltered housing or recovering from addictions, and more. For many, the social aspect of coming together to cook, talk and eat is just as important as learning to cook healthy meals.
Granville Community Kitchen (GCK) helped build – and is rooted in – a strong food community. Operating in the most diverse area of Brent (which is also one of the most diverse areas in the UK), the community is at the heart of the project. It began by asking: ‘with a community that represents so many parts of the world, what can we do together? What can we build?’. From this, a community gardening project was born, and soon followed by a community kitchen.
Since then, GCK has become a centre for repair, resistance and resilience, a place that breaks down barriers and brings people together. It was set up as a society for the benefit of the community, which means that everyone involved are members.
Realising that food is political, GCK began to write about food growing, community-led housing and the environment. This led to them feeding in their experience and ideas to wider audiences such as the London Food Board and the People’s Food Policy.
If food communities were resourced to build capacity, skill-up and share knowledge, they’d be an even more phenomenal force for change. Taking collective responsibility for examining what’s happening in the food system, modelling alternatives to the mainstream and challenging the status quo are all desperately needed to ensure that food continues to nourish the soul.
Note: key questions to ask and/ or top tips
Ingredients for a successful food community
- Have an idea? As a first step, find your tribe. So much is already happening, you’re bound to find likeminded people.
- Volunteers are key – they have skills and energy, and often go on to be a paid employee or Director.
- Involve participants in the running of the organisation. They know best what’s needed in the community.
- Reflect the diversity of your community – encourage growing food from different cultures, and open up your kitchen for traditional food and sharing so people can learn from each other.