I wonder what it’d be like to work together to build a bigger movement? One that improves food for everyone, not just those with the knowledge, capacity, and resources to do so. One where those who are in positions of power and influence (whether it be a veg box employee, a grower, or an MP) listen to people’s needs and respond to them. I wonder what it’d be like to invite people to feel more empowered over their food choices – regardless of their level of understanding – and I wonder about the existence of a movement where no one is left behind, no matter what limitations a person has because of the way society is run or what’s expected of them by their peers. And finally, I wonder about the possibility of a better food movement that doesn’t just work for a small proportion of society, but one that is open, curious and collaborative.
Hi, it’s Chess (they/them) here! I’ve been working in the sustainable food sector for just over 4 years. Welcome to a blog series that intends to free as many of us in the movement from our echo chambers by speaking to people about what ‘Better Food’ means to them – without expectation.
To start, here are the highlights from my conversation with Belinda (she/her). We talk about her feelings about food and the kind of changes she’d like to see in the current system.
Are these gonna be deep, these questions?
Do you love or hate marmite?
Oh, deep question straight in!
Sorry, I’ve gone too deep, too soon.
Ok, erm, hate it…..well, it’s not bad…
On a spectrum, would you say you prefer sweet food or savory?
What’s your understanding of the term ‘UK food system?’
What comes to mind about what the UK food system is – is unfortunately – we have now classified food. We’re making it more and more privileged for certain segments of society [rich and white]. I think the alternatives are trying to bring it back and make it for all, but for me, it seems it’s going in the direction of becoming more and more privileged to have nourishing, real food.
What kind of food did you eat when you were a kid, and what did food mean to you?
Ok, food to me as a kid was half and half: Jamaican/Caribbean and English food. So, my Dad cooked for us in the house and my Mum a little bit from what my Dad taught her. But it was dumpling chicken, Ackee and saltfish, lamb – all the Caribbean food from that side of the coin. So, yeah, strong Carribean influences; homely; hearty; full of culture; full of nourishment; warm and lots of beautiful memories around that. Family is what comes up when I think about food, right back to when I was young. That, mixed with going to visit my friends who were English and seeing very different food. For example, going to my friend Daniel’s house for the first time and having Sunday roast and seeing that the chicken was cooked differently to the way I was used to having it. And I was like, ‘oh, that’s how you cook chicken in a different way.’
Could you expand a bit on how you felt about food?
Yeah! No it was amazing, because before you can even see the food, you can smell it. So, you’re getting more and more excited and the smells get richer and deeper, and then, ya know, you’re concentrating on what you’re doing but you’re kinda being swayed. It’s kinda like there’s a snake charmer coming through the house. You’d hear the shout and then that was it – it was a rush; a run to the table.
If I gave you $5 billion to make the UK food system better, what would you do?
I would start with the schools. I think that the schools, from the children in nursery all the way up should be having real, organic vegetables. This is what the body needs when we’re very young. Real nutrients are not going into the body at this age, which you’re very aware of when you’re working in schools.
Next, I’d make more affordable real food. I shouldn’t have to travel to Chorlton [just to find a shop that sells organic food]. Ya know, at the end of the day, it’s great, but it’s just one place in Manchester. You shouldn’t necessarily have to go to a place that is JUST selling organic produce. Ya know, there should be that option – even if it’s a tiny, small option – in every urban area and every shop.
Also, especially from where I live now to where I was living before, places do have different energies and you kinda feel like when you’re going to south Manchester and that side of the coin, you’re entering into that neighborhood and another energy field. Sometimes, you’re like, ‘why can’t it [an organic local veg shop] be here? Why can’t it be on this side of Manchester? Why can’t it be in this local shop? That’s when I say, again ya know, food starts to feel very privileged when it’s organic produce – like it can only be in Chorlton or it can only be in Didsbury [an affluent suburb of south Manchester]. The people in this neighborhood and the people around here have the same right as the people anywhere else.
As someone with growing experience, do you have any reflections on what you think better food could mean for growers?
As with all the diversity you have in nature, it would be really amazing if it was represented in our growers like it’s represented in the food that we grow. We have people from all different walks of life who produce all different types of food in this country – ya know, like the Jamacian guy who grows over in the allotment. I think it’s incredible to see the food that he’s growing from his culture, dya know what I mean? The food we used to eat. It would be very enriching to have growers from all walks of life and different backgrounds because this will show in our veg boxes and in the stuff we sell and produce. I mean, there’s many people from all different places in the world here and I think it would make things a lot more exciting. And through different cultures and walks of life, it pushes us to think about things in a different direction instead of the very old school traditional white way. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think there’s definitely other stuff we can put on the plate and start mixing around – kinda going, ‘ah, that works or this works, but have we thought about that?’ So, for me, I think if we mixed it up a little bit, growing has masses of potential. I think there’s a lot more people who want to do it but don’t know anything about it. That’s the kinda thing I had. I think it’s about exposure and knowing that, actually, you can do it; it is available to you, and it’s not just available to one type of person.
When you talk about ‘real food’, what does that mean to you?
Real food is organic food: food that’s not had pesticides and whatever other stuff thrown on it. It’s another thing that really annoys me – we just keep coming up with another term. I mean, if you go to the other side of the world and tell them it’s organic, they’d probably look at you very strangely and say, ‘well, that’s just an apple. It’s real food!’
What would better food mean to you?
For me, Better food should mean that everyone, no matter where you are, who you are, whether you’re financially stable or unstable, has access to real food. I think this is really important from birth, all the way straight up.