This blog series is about widening the conversation about better food to understand different people’s take on the current system. We want to achieve our vision of improving the food system for everyone, not just the few with the capacity and resources to make different choices. To do so, we need to listen to different people’s needs and limitations when it comes to food, and respond to them so no one is left behind.
I’m Chess (they/them), and I’ve been working in the sustainable food sector for over 4 years. I believe in an open, curious and collaborative approach to change, which is why I’ve interviewed a variety of people to hear their take on the current state of affairs, free from expectation.
Here’s what Surraya (she/her) had to say about what food means to her, what she’d like to see change, and why she hates fast food!
Do you love or hate marmite?
I hate marmite.
Strong words! Sweet or savory?
Right bang in the middle.
Using your own definition, would you say you feel confident having a conversation about the UK food system, or would you lean towards apprehension?
I think I’d lean towards apprehension because I don’t know alot about it. I’m sort of a simple person in the sense that I just go and pick food up and just, you know, get on with it.
That’s understandable. The UK food system is big and can be really complicated.
What did food mean to you as a kid? Would you cook?
My Mum would regularly get me involved in the cooking: me and my younger sister, and even my brothers. She was sort of like, ‘none of you are not gonna be able to cook; you need to be able to get by; you need to know how to do things.’ Mum would say, ‘go on, put this spice in. Add a bit of this and a bit of that – this is why you do it. This why you add this spice. Give it a stir and when it goes this colour, you know it’s right!’ And I remember her teaching me how to assess when meat was cooked.
We had a Sunday bake-off. All of us would get together and make something. So either the girls, coz I’ve got two brothers and then there’s me and my sister so the girls would be on one side and then my dad and brothers would be on the other side and we do it where we would make a desert and they’d make the main meal or we would switch it round, it turned into a bit of a game really as well so it was really fun too.
How does food relate to your relationships and your community? Is it involved? Do you ever have food rituals where people come together over food?
Regularly! So, every Thursday, being a Muslim, we have something called a Khatham, which is when all our family relatives usually get together. We’ll sit and eat and my Mum and all my relatives, including myself, will cook something, sit together and pray on it. It’s for all the people who have passed away.
Eid is the celebration at the end of your 30 days of fasting where you have a big feast. That’s what it is basically – you wear nice clothes and go to each other’s houses. So, put on a spread, my sister will put on a spread, my Mum will put on a spread, and we’ll move from house to house, hour upon hour, and eat. So, yeah, food is a major factor in our family, especially when it comes to bonding and spending time together.
If I gave you £5 billion pounds and I said – ‘what changes would you make to how you buy food?’ – what would they be?
Well, I’d want to change it all around to be honest. In terms of supermarkets, I’d want them to be closer than they are. I don’t think they’re accessible to everybody. I’d get rid of all the off-licences and takeaways – not all of them, but there’s too many at the moment. At an off licence, it costs you 67p for a pasta sauce, £1 for a bag of pasta, and it costs you £2 to get your cheese, and then you get 2 for £3. Then, before you know it, you’ve spent a fiver on pasta when you could just go to Mcdonalds and have a 99p burger. It doesn’t make logical sense to me. People are fuelling on that because it’s quick, cheap, cheerful and convenient, but it’s not good for you, so I’d be changing all of that.
I sense so much passion here! I feel like we need to get you on a board or something…
There is so much passion! It really irritates me! It irritates me how cheap takeaways are and how expensive everything else is.
I remember years and years ago there used to be trucks with fresh fruit and veg – things like that. There even used to be businesses that would come to your door – even meat stores. They’d be easily accessible because they’d be in your street! Mum would nip out and get all sorts. She used to get fruit and veg from them and she didn’t have to go so far. It was easy and it was cheap, but also fresh. It didn’t go off. It was freshly grown and everything, which makes so much more sense than an off-licence.
Even now at popular coffee chains, they do offers where you sign up and get a card and an unlimited supply of coffee or whatever for a month. Why can’t they do that for something healthy? Why can’t they say, ‘do ya know what, sign up and you can get a week free of something healthy like fruit pots, fresh produce or fresh sandwiches or things like that?’
I think I had that as a kid. I had a mobile library and I’m pretty sure I had a mobile grocers too!
What does better food mean to you?
I would say, and I know it probably isn’t possible, but I think better food would be fresh, locally sourced produce that is cheap and organic. It’s like the UK [people in power] want us all to become obese and unhealthy. They don’t want to see us live out. And I think the stuff that is made available to us isn’t healthy. It’s so easy and so cheap, and it shouldn’t be.
It would be an ideal of local fresh and organic food, but it’s gotta be affordable and convenient. Otherwise, the system is just throwing us all this ‘come buy this’, ‘come buy that’ stuff.