Sharing, dangerous ideas and a feast for hundreds:
FoodCycle Bristol goes to @ the Edinburgh do festival
At the heart of FoodCycle’s work is awareness-building and skill-sharing around our two core issues of eliminating food waste and reducing food poverty. The Edinburgh DO was a beautiful opportunity for us to do this. With the headline ‘Make, Share, Do’, this festival was a coming-together of young people to celebrate projects working towards a sustainable, inclusive and resilient future. FoodCycle was invited to transform salvaged food into a feast for hundreds with interested young activist-volunteers, to run a ‘pollination’ session in order to spread the good word of FoodCycle and how to run it, and to discuss the big ideas behind it all – why is there simultaneous food waste and people in food poverty? What would a fairer food system look like? A small, eager team of present Bristol managers, and some of its old founding lions, ventured up north to represent FoodCycle: Anna, Dan, Louis, and Jon.
The weekend started with us scrambling through the cold streets of Euston laden with luggage to catch the Caledonian sleeper train. We made it with 90 seconds to spare: a FoodCycle classic. It was then time for business, so we headed to the onboard bar. Introductions, plans and visioning around a midnight drink as we sped through the Home Counties.
We arrived to a biting Edinburgh morning and were greeted by the loveliest people – thanks Flik and Francesco! – with tea, enthusiasm, and impressive initiatives -Edinburgh university seems to be an amazing catalyst for social projects, especially with the foundation of Transition Edinburgh University. Transition Edinburgh is an inspiring example of how Universities can demonstrate what a positive society can look like. They work practically and imaginatively to find new ways for communities to sustain and thrive. Whilst we were there, we saw students in the process of setting up a space to give repair workshops and sell all kinds of objects that are abandoned by students at the end of each academic year. Akin to FoodCycle, they reclaimed and saved objects from across the city that were being thrown away, and turned them into something special. They used a progressive and dynamic business model as a co-operative, where students could join as members of the co-op to get clothes and equipment throughout the year at a cheap price and get credit if they volunteered hours at the shop.
After a recovery nap, we set out to familiarise ourselves with the food and kitchen. This beautiful image greeted us:
A moment of panic washed over us as our food-safety-trained selves considered the spilt pasta and salt, the halved squash, and… the floor. Things got more beautiful, and more worrying, as the lights were turned off and candles were lit throughout the mandala as outdoor shoes stepped among the carefully laid out food, brushing against the odd broccoli. What could possibly have motivated this messy, mad mandala of macerated macaroni sticks? Naomi from Embercombe explained that it’s an opportunity to reconnect with our food. So often we rush through our food, have fast food, packaged and flown from who knows where? A food mandala is the opportunity to celebrate food through ceremony, building connections to what we eat. Why is it so important to form these connections? Naomi has written a blog piece for us about it here – http://wp.me/p1m40P-bv.
A short quotation from her: Connecting with what we eat, the seasons and community feels like an essential part of how we fit into the bigger picture of the world. Thanks Naomi!
The feast for hundreds
With the ritual played out, things got serious. We had to learn a new form of measurement as our eyes tried to visually assemble the food into boxes. Then ideas rolled out.
It wouldn’t be a typical stew. We wanted to give 150 people more than that! We could do lasagne. But what about oven space? Ok, ‘lasagne assembled on a plate’. It would be something that would allow the food to cook through deeply. A root vegetable soup? Where do you get to combine parsnip and tomato? The brainstorming ended with this: Daal with multi-vegetable curry and bombay potatoes and parsnips, followed by a multi-fruit banana bread. The transport team was sent out with trailers to buy up missing ingredients from another amazing co-op (thanks New Leaf!), and the volunteers arrived.
At this point, the kitchen thermometer read 12 degrees. It was a cold day in Edinburgh. We handed out the hair nets (important for group solidarity), sat through the health and safety video (important for the insurers), and started assembling same-type food for washing and chopping. As always, things flowed from each other. Packs of spinach left over from lunch came to join the food on the menu; thus a beetroot and spinach salad spontaneously took shape. Delicious bread waited in bags. We chatted under our hair nets, as banana mush was being turned into dough and what looked like 50 kg of onions sizzled away on the hob. The fruit that couldn’t be added to the banana bread was assigned to become a ‘compote’, then dubbed a ‘jus’, before finishing its semantic journey as a ‘coulis rouge’. Trayfulls of potato chunks were coated in onion juices. The bread rose in the oven, as brave volunteers stirred away at the massive curry. Tea and tasty out-of-date cakes were circulating. The temperature had risen.
At 7pm hungry DO-ers started walking in, and the food was distributed out. Success! Everyone was fed, but the DO-ers being the great people they are, there was a huge movement of volunteers to do the cleaning up, as we suddenly realised we had about 15 minutes to leave the premises.
The dangerous ideas
Whilst all this was happening, Louis and Jon led a workshop to discuss problems and solutions in the food system, and we heard some great ideas from all those that came. How could it be that there are almost 4 million people in food poverty in the UK alone, whilst 15 million tonnes of food is wasted before it gets to the plate? Why worldwide are there so many farmers struggling to make a decent living, when food prices are so high? We discussed many ideas, including the narrative of Food sovereignty, an international movement of people reclaiming the food system.
Food sovereignty is important as a backdrop to the work of FoodCycle as it explains many of the problems with the current food system. Books like ‘Stuffed and Starved’ by Raj Patel discuss how the food system has been taken over by huge businesses. While the poor in the west are encouraged to buy unhealthy and processed food, the poor in the developing world are having their agricultural autonomy ripped from them. From the expansion of genetically modified food to the use of unsustainable petrochemical fertilisers, corporations like Cargill or Monsanto are making billions whilst world hunger prevails. The same supermarkets that facilitate unnecessary waste here are linked to the exploitation of farmers both in the UK and across the world. Food sovereignty is about the right of peoples to define their own food systems. Advocates of food sovereignty put the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the centre of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations that they believe have come to dominate the global food system. This movement is advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastorialists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations. For more information see: www.wdm.org.uk/what-food-sovereignty
After a hard Saturday of educating and sharing, Bristol FoodCyclers took the Sunday off, and used the opportunity to absorb some skills from those around them, and have some fun. Anna dabbled in some rhythmic drumming, whilst Dan, Louis and Jon were let loose on the streets of Edinburgh playing (and subsequently designing their own) urban games. We ended the day with a wonderful walk around Edinburgh, to its many beautiful sites including Arthur’s seat, where we looked over the city with sweet shortbread in our hands and cityboy Jonathan moaning about the cold, height and precarious pathways.
The Do weekend gave us the opportunity to do lots of skill-sharing and we hope we inspired the genesis of an Edinburgh FoodCycle hub – there were certainly a lot of keen, interested DO-ers. The festival fostered a real sense of community around projects working to build resilience in communities, and we’re excited and proud to be part of this community.
As Katie Roberts, festival organiser puts it: “Young people are passionate and bold and creative. We want to take hold of the direction of our future”… our opportunity is now!