World Food Day; Food, Food Culture, and Food Justice – Well, Almost Just
One word: Wow!
What a great event. Over 300 people attended our “World Food Day” event. And 200 of us had lunch.
And what an incredible lunch!
Traditional bison stew and bannock from the Chocolate Shop. Sudanese Kisra bread and Sambusa from Nyam Nyam. And Anarchist vegan stew, snacks, and fair trade coffee/tea from Mondragon. All to the great roots music of the Dirt Road Delinquents.
Plus an insightful and multi-perspective discussion about the need for and barriers to food justice in Manitoba, followed by four rich and interactive workshops: Betty Kehler on storing vegetables, Paul Mutch on tapping urban maple trees, Dawn Buchanan on making sauerkraut, and Laura Reeves on edible native plants.
All at no cost. Outside of folks taking the time to drop by.
Check out the photos and videos as we put them up on the MAFRA website.
We are of course open to any ideas you might have for next year’s World Food Day event. Because there will be another one – for sure.But the West Broadway neigbourhood was a thought provoking context for the whole issue of food justice. World Food Day. Inner city location. Global and fairly traded lunch. And remarkable diversity.
Many of the folks that I chatted with commented on how diverse the participants, foods, and discussion was. A great contrast
to the usual foodie suspects (white, middle aged and privileged), all pretty much selling the same message to people who already get it.
While that demographic (and I am one) was certainly present, there was lots of additional diversity. Many seemingly poor folks. Students and Professors. Anarchists and governmental agency staff. Children and the elderly. Eaters and farmers. And many, many cultures all in one big room: Filipino, South Asian, Chinese, Afro-Canadian, Chilean, Sudanese, and Indigenous Peoples, amongst others. Again very unusual in foodie circles.
After about 150 people had been served, there was a bit of a lull. And then came a second wave of about 50 lunch goers. The food bank just down the hall had apparently c
ome up short (one-half bag of food stuffs vs. the normal two bags). And many community members were further able to pick up additional take home and healthy food at the end of the day. Obviously important, and speaking to a central MAFRA theme – sharing the wealth
But very few of the less privileged community members stuck around for the workshops and the discussion groups. And, ironically, the priorities of the underclass, barriers they encounter around regional foods, and the need to avoid a two-tier food system were a high profile focus of the subsequent exchanges.
Is this just another example of middle class white do-gooders holding a feel-good charity lunch with an inner city back drop? With an event that is (in)conveniently termed a “community cafe”?
I’d argue no, and here are some reasons why…
- The entire event was politicized, linking local food systems and food culture within a context of food justice;
- We did loads of outreach, delivering handbills to the nearby houses and apartments, postering, and simply talking to people in the area beforehand, to help ensure that community members would feel welcome and important; which is perhaps one of the reasons so many local folks showed up
- Many of the less privileged folks still hung around in the big (seats 150 people) lunch area, taking their time chatting and enjoying the food. No surprise here, we were the visitors. And they didn’t seemed to mind that we were taking up one corner of that room for our discussions.
- Lots of folks got to have new experiences, and to explore new types of food: many (most?) of usual foodies had never had Kisra before, as is most likely true for many of the local community members.
- Local folk hung around during the later part of the afternoon, in part to pick up any leftover food, but also because it is their place and they still felt welcome
- We hired some of the community members: to help set up and take down, to help serve the food, and to deliver handbills door-to-door. Although minor in scope, these kinds of economic opportunities are rare in the inner city, and telegraph that this is a valuable end in-of-itself
- At least some cross-cultural conversing occurred over lunch. A young hip prof (is there such a thing?) talking to a middle aged community member. Two young and expecting local women talking to some foodie types also with kids; some of the locals asking about the Sudanese food, and how it was made. etc. etc.
But it was far from ideal. So, what to do differently next year?
For sure, change our process. It was kind of last minute and scrambly, partially because none of us planning the event had coordinated something like this before. Actually, it was a huge black box;
how to do outreach, how much food to order; would 8 or 800 people show up? Looking back, much of this could have been anticipated by meaningfully involving local residents at all stages of the planning process (and not just the mundane tasks either). Something we will do next year. In part, because we now have contacts and relationships we can build upon. Perhaps also holding some focus group discussions asking a wide diversity of local folks what we might change. And paying honouraria to compensate these people for their time.
This (hopefully)will result in a wider variety of activities, ones that cater to neighbourhood interests as well – after all how many people, much less those struggling to make ends meet, are going to boil Manitoba maple sap for 24 hours at a time?
- One activity that makes sense to me (as a parent of two young kids and seeing all the other children who were present) might focus on, say, cheap, easy, and nutritious food for babies. And activities with immediately useful outcomes – so actually making baby food during the workshops.
- Mapping out some of the nearby food outlets, ones that sell food at cost or simply give it or even throw it away – insights that the freegans and perhaps some local folk in attendance can share with one another and others.
- Printing material that is accessible to folks that might not read well or that might be sight-challenged, before, during, and after the event.
- Building in follow-up interactions, perhaps linking with the activities of church and other community organizations located in the building.
- And perhaps even building on and incorporating the context for hunger, food insecurity, and the need to control our food systems in the inner city – this context including issues such as poverty, crime, housing etc.
Ultimately, any genuine exchange of information is dependent upon genuine interchanges. This year over lunch, folks generally sat with other folks that they already knew. Maybe next year, with enough lead up community involvement and outreach, we can encourage more mixing. And then find ways of building on those relationships over the following years.
And come to recognize that this process will take a long-term commitment. Many days rather than one (World Food) day.
Makes sense to me. I can’t wait to play a part in helping this come about. Here’s hoping you play too…