When the team was asked (I volunteered) to write a blog about the war being waged on our food systems for the next Shake Intensive course ‘#FoodFight’, I started to consider my own relationship with food, what I have personally seen with regard to changing attitudes and patterns of behaviour around food, and found that reams of questions poured out of my finger tips as I typed.
2013 and my finances were particularly low post-London 2012 Olympics. If you had not been recruited with some kind of an Olympic themed large scale poetry project or spoken word education initiative, 4 months of your existence in that year was like being left out in the cold with your face pressed against a window while the party raved inside because you weren’t on the guest list. So, in November, broker than I had been for a very long while (2003 and just starting out as a poet), this freelance artist had to be scrupulous with her food shopping.
Purchasing food in the local superstore took on a more ominous tone. My vigilance peaked and my brow knotted as I price-filtered my way along the aisles. Over time, as I accustomed myself to being more thrifty, I found that only own-brand tinned and white carb foods – white bread, potatoes, pasta – and low cost foods with high and salt and sugar content were available to me. The quality of own-brand food stuffs fluctuated dramatically from packet to packet and tin to tin. Fruit was a luxury. Especially oranges.
Eyes glazing over at the cash till, I remembered delicious foods cooked for me on open fires by street children in the clamouring, hot, dusty city of Mumbi and on Forodhani beach on the island of Zanzibar; honeyed milky bread served to me by the impoverished Khoisan Aboriginal tribes people in the Khalahari desert corridors (reservations). And how I heard their own empty stomachs roar at my privilege.
These memories informed me that going further back into my roots was the way forward for a wholesome and healthier a diet – root vegetable curries, sweet potato, cassava, black eye peas and corn stew; back to my student roots to the humble jacketed spud, pasta and pesto, brown rice and lentils. I’m not a meat fan and fish was a treat, so pulses, beans and ground maizes became staple to my diet.
After a good 6 years of convenience food living, grabbing what was pre-packed and pre-cut after working for no-fuss rapid, efficient “cooking”, I was forced to go back to the street markets in Brixton and Dalston and memories of shopping days with my Mother, having to carry heavy bags of food shopping for the week and big Sunday dinner cook ups that took all day. Those days brought us together as family and they were now long gone. I became more strategic in my food planning. I found I only ate what I needed and packed lunches (sometimes breakfasts for those early meetings) had my stomach straight for the day until dinner. I began to find a flow.
As I write about of food monitoring and planning, I’m reflecting on a couple of my teen years. I remember being an angsty young woman of colour whose identity was heavily influenced by fashion trends. When I looked in the mirror I rejected most of myself, especially those diasporic curves and took such a hard-lined approach to how much I ate, to the degree of taking diet pills that were simply capsules of fibre and gel extract that expanded in your stomach to make you feel full. But what does it mean to “feel full?” How I saw myself had nothing to do with my appetite so how and why did my emotions begin attaching themselves to food? Food as a device for punishment or as a treat is not uncommon across the generations as body consciousness becomes obsessive in the century of selfies.
Weighing in at…
Obesity has been labeled an “epidemic” in the West. However, obesity in the UK and US is being closely connected to discourses about class. Low cost but poor diets loaded with sugars and salt are causing heart disease. NHS spokes people stress the need for more education about healthy eating and exercise as it strains under the weight of illness and ailments due to the rise obesity, especially in children.
In some cultures a wide girth is considered a sign of wealth. African diasporic communities find high levels of diabetes and high cholesterol levels due to eating habits reminiscent of “what was left” from “his master’s table” as chattel enslaved Africans, relabeled as “soul food”. So there are cultural aspects to consider when food is a vehicle for communicating and expressing culture and lived historical experience. However, a lack of awareness of food’s nutritional value as nourishment and not something you “do” as a consumer activity or a form of cultural expression is putting lives at risk. How informed are we about the addictiveness of the food on supermarket shelves?
What types of rocks and hard places are citizens of a nation placed in when we want to actually change our attitudes toward food? Food advertising campaigns seem scattergun when in fact they are strategically focused to have maximum psychological impact to very targeted viewers. Product placement is a craft. At varying times of the day and year children are targeted, this insecurities of women are played up on and an increasing numbers of men are now being documented with having Body Dysmorphic Disorders. What responsibility do food manufacturers have in their product placement and the illusions they sell in content of their advertising?
Ingredients of slavery
We are now forced to think vigilantly about the content of our food as corporates like Monsato, Nestle and Coca Cola step up the disseminate of distorted information about how they manifest corporate responsibility. But the morality of their take-over strategies project and evidence their expansion as brutal disenfranchisement threatening the livelihoods and lives of hardworking people and their families.
Deforestation for palm oil as a cooking ingredient for prepacked goods and snacks, for cattle grazing, and breeding factories, these anomalies raise numerous issues around animal rights and Earth rights at the same time as ecosystems are destroyed when a trees are mass felled. But local people are fighting against this new economic enslavement via mass food production processes which have mortal impact. Climate issues and food intersect and many campaigns bring powerful arguments against corporate control over government policy.
Aid travels with a bomb, Watch out! Aid travels with a bomb!” – Jean Binta Breeze
The Starving West
The UK’s version of food poverty manifest itself in the figures put forward by organisations like the Trussell Trust. The number of people using food banks has risen exponentially since 2009 and there are varying reports of religious community centres over stretched feeding low income hungry families as part of their faith practice. And austerity is set to hit even harder over the next 5 years.
The American public, starved of information, continue to fight for transparency regards naming the ingredients on the packaging of their food. The implication of a life time consuming carcinogens from petsicides and cancerous potentional of genetically modified foods is now unavoidably disconcerting.
GMO products have entered the planet’s ecosystem and we have no idea of knowing how food will manifest itself in the next few decades. How well will our bodies adapt, after all we are what we eat? While the rest of the world sees the obscene (GM) abundance and waste of food in the US, millions still struggle to get food daily, living on less than a dollar a day. But at what cost?
Final thoughts…So as I sift through the aisle I am squinting at the back of bottles of cheap pasta sauce checking the suger content and I’m trying to ignore glow-in-the-dark tomatoes in the vegetable section but need them for my own homemade tomato pasta sauce. With no sugar. I look for the yellow stickers to see if I can save a few extra pence here and there and I wonder – How does it come about that supermarket bosses consider sell by dates on the packaging of food as waste markers and that this now deemed “waste” food is a health and safety risk for the homeless and active Freegans foraging superstore waste bins? And when a tomato can sit in a fridge for three months and not deteriorate in any way, what do sell by dates mean anyway?
“We live in an economic system where sellers only value land and commodities relative to their capacity to generate profit. Consumers are constantly being bombarded with advertising telling them to discard and replace the goods they already have because this increases sales. This practice of affluent societies produces an amount of waste so enormous that many people can be fed and supported simply on its trash.”
The most chilling (and empowering) aspect of my thoughts around food is being aware of how our civil liberties and human rights are consistently at odds with the principles of profit and gross expansion. Fatal illnesses, mental unwellness – for example, farmer suicides from lost crops and ‘disappeared’ eco-activists – are considered acceptable collateral damage to corporates leveraging the interests of shareholders and CEO bonuses. Where does the moral compass needle land when food and water – the building blocks to a healthy body and mind, a healthy family and community – become pawns in economic profit battleground?
Shake’s Food Fight intensive summer course 2015
This time Shake! looks into the reclamation of the right to a clean food chain and interrogates (in)equality in universal food distribution. We’ll be asking what are the next radical steps people are taking to decentralise and decolonize the monopoly corporates have over our bodies through food – for example locals in cities and rural areas all over the world are reclaiming economic agency by developing plots of land into community gardens and promoting local green economy initiatives. May Project Gardens is one such initiative and Ian ‘KMT’ Solomon from May Projects will be joining the Shake team for two days workshopping about how it works.
Ultimately, damage to the earth because of food abuse places the rights of the planet at the center of the discussion too, as the earth IS our food, and for out survival as a species urgently needs to be respected and healthily sustained.
· Specials of the day week menu
· Food and the History of Power- colonialism, consumerism,
· gentrification, cultural appropriation
· Food & violence –body and trauma, GM giants & corporations and state violence
· Food & Oppression- racalized and gendered oppression through systems
· Food and Healing Justice- radical health & self care, building resistance and
Shake! welcomes and looks forward to applicants from all backgrounds. In our efforts to centre marginalised communities and create safe spaces, we will prioritise applications from people of colour, LGBTQI folk and residents of Tower Hamlets. Please state in your application if you want us to consider your application with this in mind.