We ran a Revaluing Food for the Future course for community leaders - people who live in the community and actively wanted to make a difference. Each week, we allowed participants to envision ways that they could make a change and then give them tools and support to make it a reality.
Carla Jones, had an interest in how people interact with their local food landscape. She helped us to put on a free community Walk, Talk, Taste! event in Shepherds Bush, which offered residents a chance to explore the rich array of local food shops that they unknowingly had under their feet.
This is what Carla found out.
The walk saw around thirty people set out onto the streets of Hammersmith to explore the local area. As I prepared seed beds for the new growing season over the long Easter weekend I had the chance to reflect on three things I took away with me.
Lesson 1: Build health on a plate
We played a game with string and jumbling up fun to figure out the recommended proportions of the main food groups.
The proportions for the pie chart were taken from government guidelines; a good place to start and a springboard for me to look deeper into understanding the importance of fresh and whole foods. This is so pertinent when you consider over 60% of adults in the UK are said to be obese.
Lesson 2: Local food history is rich. And the high street needs supporting
Over the last decades our economy and lives in the UK have undergone big transformations. This hasn’t missed our high streets – most notably in the massive decline of independent food retailers. For instance, there were 10,000 fishmongers on our streets in the 1950’s. In 2000 this had dropped to 2,000. A similar story for butchers and greengrocers which numbered about 45,000 each in the 1950’s, this had fallen to 10,000 each at the turn of the millennium.
We witnessed this locally on Goldhawk Road. Local residents are fervently campaigning to protect the street from complete redevelopment as its shops face decline.
Talking to a local butcher, John Stenton, we learnt about his commitment to sourcing local and organic meats over his almost 30 years of trading in Brackenbury. He represents the retailers with deep roots and strong support locally that won’t be budged so easily.
Lesson 3: Reconnecting with the origins of my food
A typical, average, find-me-on-a-street-corner banana costs about 20p. The entire chain of production and trading that brings this fruit to my breakfast bowl was brought to life in a legendary game that morning. Designed by the Otesha Project, the Banana Chain Game prompted me to think about the inequalities built into our food system. The slap in the face for the characters representing the production side of the chain was evident on their expressions when they learnt that 1p of that value had to be shared between them representing the tiny proportion of value that accrues to producers.
Straight after, a volunteer from the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association told us about what could be done to reconnect people with food production and distribution chains that are much shorter. And easier to see from start to finish.
Before we’d had a chance to retrace our steps, the morning’s travels were over and we’d uncovered some of the social, environmental and health implications of the food we buy. Thinking about the games, smiles and chats we’d had with shopkeepers, we all drew maps to remember them by… We realised that we’d covered a lot of ground for one spring morning.
I hope that when I’m next out shopping I’ll refer back to these before I just let items drop into my basket.