The need to nourish mind and body
After some years spent working in food research and education, I was fortunate to get a chance to work for a fantastic grassroots community project in my hometown of Rosyth in Fife.
Since 2016, EATS Rosyth (Edible And Tasty Spaces) staff and volunteers have worked hard to improve the town’s appearance, growing spaces and importantly, the health and wellbeing of those living there. It has now developed into a valuable community resource where we teach people to grow food and look after the environment. We have a beautiful community garden and orchard and we also share meals together and develop our cooking skills.
We share surplus food on a pay as you feel basis from our small community hub, a converted post office. We give out what we have collected from local businesses and suppliers in a community larder style shop. We offer freshly cooked community meals, free healthy takeaway meals for children and school holiday food activities. We think we offer a dignified food provision where everyone is welcome to shop or eat with us regardless of income.
Whilst food poverty cannot be addressed by simply sharing out surplus food, I see no point in allowing the 10 tonnes of quality food we have intercepted to date, to continue on its merry way to landfill. The majority of the food we collect is perfectly fresh, within its’ use-by date and aside from our business overheads, we access much of our food for free. There is most certainly not a lack of food in Scotland, there are literally mountains of food. As always it is more an issue of fair sharing and creating shorter chains of distribution. But where we meet our obligations to share out the food, and while we try to offer a range of options and choices, we do not see the hidden hunger in our town. Some will visit EATS out of curiosity, some for fun and company and some out of desperation, but some will not have the energy to leave their homes, and some will find the anxiety of coming into a new space too much to deal with.
We are settling into our role in the community and people are gradually getting more comfortable with the concept, but it will take new innovative moves to help us meet the real root causes and needs of those experiencing food poverty in our town. One idea we are working with is meeting challenges at two particular stages of someone’s journey. One is working with school children to encourage them early on to taste and enjoy new things, to not waste food, to appreciate where their food comes from and teach them how to grow it for themselves in local growing spaces.
The other is to offer compassionate support to the adults, a place where they can be welcomed and less at risk of being isolated and ultimately to help them on the journey to a place of being more mentally resilient. With 8% of people in Scotland experiencing persistent poverty, not only struggling to put food on the table, but also experiencing the ongoing stress and pressure of simply trying to survive, there must be recognition of the impact on mental health. Or, is there an even more real possibility that it is the absence of mental resilience in a growing sector of our population that is the real facilitator of poverty, particularly in those individuals and families where they struggle to find and commit to the demands of employment. The solutions of welfare benefits and employability are only work if the person is able and ready to engage with all the required processes and systems and this is not always possible. We are trying to be a society that nurtures openness around mental ill-health but, there remains a great deal of ignorance and a real lack of compassion around the apparent lack of commitment to the steps towards employment which is actually a symptom of ill-health.
We all need to help find ways to feed body, mind and soul before solutions to food poverty can really be reached. Until the current dystopia can be replaced with right policies and resources to improve the current state of emergency in mental-health support, more compassionate processes for those struggling with employment and, more help for those on low incomes, we have an obligation to share fairly and support efforts to measure food poverty and the impact of any innovative solutions we attempt, big or small.
It is my hope that some aspects will be addressed through the introduction of the Good Food Nation Bill in Scotland, for which I am currently being an ambassador. This is an ambitious plan to provide a better food system, potentially including targets for health, reducing food poverty and food waste and my hope is that many people take part in the current consultation take up this timely opportunity and we finally see a breakthrough in a quite broken food culture.