Sunday, 8 February 2015

The recognition of confusion

Yesterday one of the papers decided it was a good idea to let us all know that supermarkets that sell daffs have been asked to make sure that people are aware that they aren't a vegetable and therefore not to eat them. And needless to say on social media there was an immediate backlash, with comments such as who "would be so stupid" abounding. And I guess to us, to the converted who know what ingredients look like and understand that narcissi are poisonous, it's pretty basic knowledge and something we are unlikely to do. But, the question is, what if you don't.
What if you don't cook from scratch? 
What if you don't recognise certain veg? 
What if you can't read the label?
Now some might raise their eyebrows at these questions but let me tell you a tale of an afternoon I had last year.
During Food Connections Festival in Bristol there is an awesome series of lunches run by, among others, Fareshare's Surplus Supper Club. The food is cooked by the chefs from the supper club from food that sound otherwise be wasted, along with several people from the immediate community, which in this case was the Silai Centre in Easton, an amazing place where there is a nursery, the Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) offices and several other community organisations. The ladies who had helped the chefs were all Somali, and they told us some things that really made me sit up and think. The most shocking and sad of these things for me was that whilst they feel they're struggling to be a part of the community, that there are also huge issues surrounding food. One lady described attending a class where they were to make leek and potato soup, and how she had felt in that class not recognising a leek, let alone what to do with it. Not knowing which end was to eat, whether any of it should be thrown away or if parts of it were poisonous. And then knowing that her English wasn't good enough to be able to ask someone. It was clear this was causing serious issues both for this lady and her friends and fortunately the SPAN had picked up on the issues and begun classes that were accessible to this community. But what of the many other pockets of new communities across the city or, actually, countrywide? 
I can't imagine being in that place, and I genuinely hope neither I or anyone I know ever are. Feeding ourselves, our families and loved ones should be something we can take for granted. And more importantly something we are prepared to help people with if we see them struggling. Imagine not feeling that you could feed your family on top of the struggles of a new country and not being able to access help to change that.
As Emma Cooper has pointed out today in her blog, Chinese Chives don't look that dissimilar to Daffs just before they break into flower and let's assume that the public health body that asked for this to be done has done so because people have made the dreadful mistake already. Suddenly it's a truly tragic and human story, that could be touching any of us who live in a multi-cultural and vibrant city. I say shame on the papers for reporting it in a way that was open to mickey taking and good on the overrun public health organisations for getting their concern out into the public sphere. 

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