Updated: May 1
I've now shared 10 ideas of ways to cook, eat and grow in ways that help support our environment and our community and I've been left thinking about the incredible privilege inherent in just being able to consider these things as priorities. In the context of the Covid19 lockdown, it's even more apparent that accessibility of food and food knowledge is subject to huge inequalities and that emergency situations create extreme vulnerabilities in communities that have no determination over the systems that operate to bring them food (food sovereignty) and therefore no control over supply in times like these. This is why in rural Wiltshire (where I am currently living and where Custom* Food Lab will be partly based for the foreseeable future), where the population is sparse and household income is relatively high, we've been gorging on new season asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli picked on the farm the same day it gets to our fridge and milk in refillable bottles from a local dairy - all without having any concerns about close contact with other people or possible contamination. Meanwhile, we hear about food shortages in the cities because of the breakdown of the supermarkets "just-in-time" buy-in models, people not able to get hold of first toilet roll, then flour or yeast, having to join long queues and rely on other people to maintain social distancing in urban spaces that were designed to pack people in as tightly as possible. This seems neither fair nor sustainable.
In some ways, it feels like we've been arguing the case for food sovereignty for years - Custom*, with its concept of the "Locavore" and it's commitment to local sourcing and getting inside the processes of production and supply, was conceived for this very debate. But when we started, it was more of an instinct. We felt certain that it was important to connect the way we eat back to the methods of production of the food itself. We knew that our location in Kent had both current and historic significance in the way this discussion about food production might unfold and that if we started to unpick this history and the development of peoples' relationships with food now, we might be able to start discovering new ways forward - but we didn't have the answers or even the language yet. It seemed clear that we needed to discuss this in the context of climate change, but we didn't yet know how to describe the relationship between the two. I don't pretend to have all the answers now either, but nothing prepared me for the way this virus would expose so clearly why we had felt instinctively that this was vitally important timing for this conversation to take place.
At this point I should clarify that we in no way invented the idea of food sovereignty. In fact, if you're interested, I really recommend that reading "Nyéléni 2007" The report from the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Sélingué, Mali in 2007. It is a really helpful document that delineates the simple argument that the right to appropriate and healthy food should be universal. It also demonstrates how important it is to take an intersectional approach to tackling this challenge, which ultimately requires the complete deconstruction of "Imperialism, neo-liberalism, neo-colonialism and patriarchy, and all systems that impov- erish life, resources and eco-systems, and the agents that promote the above such as international financial institutions, the World Trade Organisation, free trade agreements, transnational corporations, and governments that are antagonistic to their peoples ".
Food is at the heart of everything: it is a product of our natural world, we need it for sustenance, we create events and rituals around it, we share it with other people, and significantly our entire economy has been built around it. It has been built in a way the creates opportunity for some and withholds it for others, in the name of fair competition - but this means withholding sustenance, the ability to sustain ourselves. If you consider this (i.e. access to food) as a right, not just a privilege, it necessitates reconstructing your entire envisioning of the economy.
Just before we opened Custom Folkestone in 2018, our curator and director Madeleine Collie introduced a wonderful workshop in our unfinished building led by Bek Conroy (creator of the Marrickville School of Economics) called "the Guts of the Economy". During that workshop, a group of 10 participants were asked to examine the ways in which they might be able to reimagine the economy in the model of our own bodies - specifically the gut. Fascinating conversations ensued - I mean just imagine if our economy responded to our needs in the same way as our own bodies, perfectly imperfect, always learning, growing, changing to suit. Bek told us about the vagus nerve, the body's own communication network, linking all the major organs and allowing them to 'talk' one another. We drew parallels with the way trees communicate in a forest through underground fungal networks. We talked about how some bodies "work" better than others and pondered the many reasons why that might be and how that could effect our gut-like economic system. I took so much away from this amazing workshop and am so lucky to have been able to continue many of the conversations started then with Madeleine and many others since. One particular thing that I return to often, is this network of unconscious communication, the vagus nerve.
In the spirit of the quest for food sovereignty and Marrickville School of Economics cry to "F**k your Extraction Economy", I am planning to take this blog into a slightly new direction, one where I will try to conduct most of the writing as a conversation with at least one other person, in an effort to uncover more of the instinctive or unconscious communication that goes on within us to create a connection to food and the environment that is about more than just sustenance. I'm particularly interested in ancient and instinctive knowledge that was lost along with our control of our own food production systems and replaced with food products and medicines we rarely fully understand, this includes knowledge of our own bodies and how to listen to their needs. I hope that this will gradually shed new light (from the inside out) on the future of food production, governance, distribution and markets, because in this era of climate crisis it is inevitable that COVID19 will not be the only international emergency we will experience in our lifetimes.
First up, I'm excited to open a conversation with Renata Byrne, Founder of Samadhi Yoga Folkestone, a multi disciplined yoga instructor whose practice includes Vinyasa, Swara, Yin, and doing less hands on biodynamic work, instead addressing the ‘subtle’ energetic body through mind-focused approaches, such as Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Intuitive Wisdom Guidance and Hypnotherapy. Our preliminary chats have covered a huge range of subjects including Ayurveda, breath work, meditation and even that ubiquitous vagus nerve! I'm looking forward to talking about holistic practices, learning to listen to the body and how historic systems like Ayurveda have developed completely different philosophies around food and the body that are not simply about eating for physical survival or satisfaction. Watch this space. P.S. There will still be recipes and ideas!
https://viacampesina.org/en/ - International Peasants Movement
https://nyeleni.org/spip.php?rubrique80 - Nyeleni Food Sovereignty Newsletters