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. 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Innocence of Childhood

The last few days have been a roller coaster of emotions, despair leading to optimism and back again, sometimes in the blink of an eye.
And then I heard a story. And a true one at that. A story that made me smile and made me cry all at the same time. Perhaps a story of naivety, of immature innocence but still one that warmed the cockles.
Many of you will be aware of Skipchen, and many of you will have seen Sam or one of his colleagues talking passionately about their Pay As You Like restaurants that are popping up UK wide, feeding people with food that would otherwise have gone to landfill, and asking people to pay what they'd like, or what they can, for the food. Any way, Sam spoke at an event I was at last night and here's the story he shared........
Bristol has a reasonably affluent area called Henleaze, which has the city's only full sized Waitrose, who regularly throw food into skips that go to landfill. There had obviously been some conversation around food waste at school, and Skipchen had obviously been discussed. So 25 children, as only children could do, wrote to the manager of Waitrose and asked him to give his food that normally went into the skip, to Skipchen.
And he agreed!!!
There's a lesson to be learnt here. If a child says to you, but that doesn't make sense, listen to them. Ask them why. Enter into a meaningful discussion with them without using any adult rhetoric or economic figures. Just listen. 
Food that goes into skips to go to landfill?
Beans being brought from desert areas in Africa? 
Cutting down trees on our most fertile soil?
I could go on but you get my point. 
And we'll done Sam and the Skipchen crew. You're awesome. As are all the other organisations out there putting food into mouths rather than bins and shouting about food waste and the horrors of it.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Standing up for your beliefs.

I went to bed, under my nice warm duvet in my comfortably heated flat, last night, in the full knowledge that there were protestors sleeping in freezing temperatures in the trees on our beloved plot, to try to keep the chainsaws at bay. Over the weekend they had slipped onto the land where the trees are and begun to set up a camp in the trees, determined to try to stop the chainsaws that were originally set to begin today.
So today I went to site, mainly to say thank you but also to see how things were and chat with other people about the protest and their part in it. What I found was a group of people aged from 1 right up to folk in their 70s. A group of people connected to the land, not necessarily at that site, but to land all across the city. A group of people who have worked on many different community projects that rely on our land to survive. Community projects that change and improve lives and if you have any doubt of that, please read Mrs Seven Storeys Up on this blog.
There have been plenty of news stories about this today, which is great as its been nigh on impossible to engage with any national papers until now. But I think it's important to keep reminding people of a few vital points. Primarily, Bristol has the title of European Green Capital in 2015 ànd however much it is widely understood that improving the transport system must be a part of that, concreting over Grade A soils cannot possibly be. A good transport system, which connects the whole city and its suburbs well and efficiently is definitely needed in Bristol. Metrobus however, is not it as it misses out large pieces of the city(an estimated 100,000 people in East Bristol alone) and fails to support any of our hospitals or schools. The cynic in me thinks it moves people from South Bristol where there is a lack of local employment, up to huge business parks in South Gloucestershire. Business parks that are full of call centres and retail areas where people are unlikely to be earning the Living Wage. Hardly the jobs of dreams or the local jobs for local people that we should be encouraging.
We are also in the International Year of the Soil. A year in which we should be looking at the damage we have done to our soils since mass use of agro chemicals was brought in post the 2nd world war. A year in which we should be looking after our soils, encouraging good practise in order that we begin to repair our soils. A year where we look at how, going into an uncertain future, we protect the good soils we have, many of which are in urban areas where great soils such as that at Stapleton and on our Blue Finger are. After all it's not as if we have unending amounts of best and most versatile soil-there is less than 3% of such soil across the entire UK.
But for me, what's most important is that we start to appreciate locally grown food on local land. Food grown by local producers, that support their community by producing top quality produce that keeps the local economy buoyant. Unless we start to fight for our land, this can't happen. Remembering that not just an allotment site but an award winning community food project, Feed Bristol, is at risk here, I ask you to look for your local community project and support it. You never know when it might be gone, possibly in the name of progress.