ColumnIf you want to better the community around you, start with food.
Over the last year I have been following Three Course Story, a project launched by my friend Rosie Spinks to document stories at the intersection of food and community.
The setting is St Paul’s Church West Hackney in London, where every Monday afternoon and Wednesday evening the community-based project North London Action for the Homeless (NLAH) serves up a three course vegetarian meal to whomever wants it, providing healthy, locally grown food to those who may not otherwise have access to it. A budget of £8 for two weeks of food is something most of us would have a hard time sustaining ourselves with, and it’s operations like this that keep people healthy and eating well.
But it’s not just the food that is the draw. As Rosie, herself a volunteer with NLAH, puts it “twice a week, dozens of people show up for dozens of different reasons to share a meal and some conversation.”
Three Course Story tells the story of the people, from recovering addicts to opera fanatics, that attend the meals and provide a deeper understanding of their own livelihoods and perceptions of the world around them.
What’s touching about the people highlighted is that though they often come for the free meals – many, but not all, are in situations of extreme hardship – but even for those individuals, it’s not just about the food. It’s about the community. It’s about sharing. “They need to eat but they need to talk to people too,” says Spinks.
Food is a means to conversation, it provides us the space to interact with fellow human beings, something that we so very much crave.
As one woman said during an interview:
“When you’re homeless—and I have been and so has Arthur, living in hostels and all that—you can’t underestimate the power of social contact. So coming here is important because we all live in different parts of London
You need a certain social contact that comes from meeting other people and realising that they’re all in the same boat. And also not eating on your own is very important.”
Ultimately, we care about food not just because it sustains but because it helps us be with others; no matter who we are we need social contact, crave community, and food makes that contact much more attainable. Cook a meal and there are few that will say no to sitting down around a table to eat it with you.
Food nourishes us, but so does being with people. As Theresa, one of the Three Course Story interviewees, mentioned in regards to the benefit of the shared meals, “It does definitely help me. I was actually thinking of not coming today because of the rain and everything but I suppose I was hungry so I made more of an effort to come. But I can leave here feeling a bit better because I’ve had a bit of socialising and a filling meal.”
Food is after all a building block for creating community. It’s a reason to have conversation. Talk with our neighbors. Connect with someone we otherwise would have never had an interaction with.
If you want to better the community around you, start with food. And don’t just serve it, share it.
To celebrate the completion of the Three Course Story project, it’s coming to life with an exhibition devoted to the stories and a fundraiser for NLAH with illustration prints for sale, held on October 1, 2013. If you’re in London, be sure to check it out: Three Course Story: An Exhibition.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Images: Three Course Story