Basket of vegetables

Food is politics

Dee Woods and Leslie Barson talk to Lani Parker of Sideways Times about their experiences of working in the award-winning Granville Community Kitchen.

Food is politics. Every time we eat something or we go to a shop and we decide to buy say chocolate versus locally made bread, we are making a political choice that impacts on someone somewhere in the world.

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Lani: Welcome to Sideways Times; a UK based podcast in which we talk about the politics of disability and disability justice. Through this podcast I hope to have many conversations which broaden, deepen and challenge our understandings of how to work against ableism and how this connects to other struggles. I am Lani Parker and in this edition I talk to Dee Woods and Leslie Barson about their work in Granville Community Kitchen. We talk about themes such as community infrastructure, food sovereignty and gentrification. You’ll hear more at the very beginning of the podcast. Relax and enjoy this round the table discussion.

Yeah so if you want to introduce yourself… We’re laughing because I – we had some of this conversation and I thought I was recording it and I wasn’t so now take two.

Leslie: Take two.

Lani: Yeah.

Dee: [Laughs] This is not live radio! thank goodness yeah.

Leslie: Er. Right I’m Leslie Barson and I’ve helped – I’ve been working in the Granville Community Centre for a long time on South Guildford estate and I, along with my friend, helped to found an organisation called Granville Community Kitchen, which is about – for me it’s very much about community and community building through food issues or community issues too, around…

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Yeah, yeah.

Dee: And I’m Leslie’s friend. [They laugh] Dee Woods, I’ve been involved with the Granville Community Centre, which has gone through various iterations and sort of co-founded Granville Community Kitchen, which is now an award-winning –

Lani: Ooh.

Dee: – yeah, project was recently named as one of London’s fifty Urban Food Heroes.

Lani: Yeah, yeah. Very proud. So yeah, it’s made me feel slightly stilted again now because [laughs] we’ve had like a twenty minute conversation already. But, as you might know, my name’s Lani Parker. This is Sideways Times and I’ve brought these two wonderful people around the table because I think the work they’re doing is brilliant and I like them both very much –

Dee: Thank you. [Laughs]

Lani: – and I wanted to have some conversations with them about food and community and infrastructure, what we need for survival and how we get to actually build what we need and in the context of the UK as a colonial nation at a time of Brexit and all of those sort of things. So I just wanted to, yeah have this conversation. So I hope you enjoy it; the people who are listening.

Dee: How long do we have?

[They laugh]

Lani: We have however long we like –

Dee: OK.

Lani: – but about forty-five minutes [laughs]. So yeah… tell us a bit more about whatever you want to tell us for a bit.

Dee: Granville Community Kitchen was set up to sort of meet the needs of a community that was in sort of deprivation; long-term and entrenched deprivation. So our sort of tag-line or whatever is empowering community through food and within that we saw that we have a community – a very diverse community and people who have skills, knowledge, especially coming from various countries, that they could pass on with regards to food and food growing and cooking. But you know as Leslie just said, it was also about community building because the area has been under regeneration again. We saw that the community was being divided and we wanted a way to bring community back and to build those bonds again and yeah, just sort of community resilience, basically using food as a way to build that.

Lani: You were saying before about one of the most – one of the things that you thought was the most important thing for Granville. What’s the biggest achievement, what’s the thing that you think works well?

Dee: Our Friday community dinners that we do in partnership with a charity. We offer a free meal, like you can sit down and enjoy with our wonderful company and our wonderful community characters. But you know, it’s also a place where people can get food to take away, be it the cooked meal, we have a surplus food parlour – larder, whatever you call it – pantry, you know, where people have a choice in what food they take away. We consciously  –

Lani: So it’s not like a food bank.

Dee: No. We’ve consciously decided we are not a food bank; that we wanted to use our – our strengths as a community and sort of uplift each other rather than doing charity.

Leslie: So people chose what they want to take and we also have a table of stuff; so people bring old stuff, clothes or –

Dee: Sometimes new stuff.

Leslie: – household items or yeah, stuff they don’t want and leave that and people take it. And previously you’ve been asking about challenges and one of the challenges is that some people take according to other people, too much stuff or stuff they’re not gonna use and this is really interesting. So we get this feedback “Oh my God! Did you see how much stuff she’s taken?! She’s never gonna eat all that.” and you think well is that true, why would somebody take so much stuff, more than they need and realising that it’s a way of them feeling safe or secure and perhaps they also, at the same time, they’re also feeding someone else –

Dee: Other people yeah.

Leslie: – other people that we don’t know about. Both of those can be true and people can take too much stuff and people can take too much stuff and it gets wasted. But people’s relationship to stuff and to each other and generosity and if you’re feeling really under strain and you see someone taking a lot it makes you angry because you want a lot and you can’t take a lot. So you know, so some of these things are people’s personal psychology or their personal stress but some of them are structural stresses as well –

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: – that people are suffering and it therefore brings out… not so great things in you, you know, because you’re under stress. So part of – I see the role of us as hosts is – I think – a funny thing to call it but is to contain some of that.

Dee: And negotiate as well and sort of help people develop that empathy for others. But this whole issue around surplus food and you know, it’s use for feeding the ‘deserving poor’.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: You know when we set up our aim has, and will continue to be, our own production and having those skills to be able to produce your own food, to preserve your own food even if it’s not one hundred percent, but a percentage of fresh food, which is the stuff people wouldn’t normally buy or be able to afford.

Leslie: Yeah. So we have done a lot – I mean at the moment we’re out of the building because of this regeneration – but we had – when we had our kitchen we were able to do a lot of training – some training with young people, with volunteers – I mean people come in and say what are you doing.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Like and just – can I help? and you think oh great

Dee: Sure.

Leslie: – come and help and then you find that they’re –

Dee: A chef.

Leslie: – really great friends and yeah, we’ve got long term friends from that.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: They’re not – it’s not ‘the community’, we are – we’re all together. They’re not – it’s not a separate –

Dee: Communities aren’t static, they’re constantly evolving, they’re organic, so we’ve had different things and different people come in, we do events, we’ve had our regular sort of bi-monthly film nights, we’ve had salsa dancing.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Before we had to leave the building we started our kitchen talks.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: We found people really enjoyed crafting.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: So we’re taking that on board so that when we are back in the space, that we all have our craft night.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: But everything we do always has an element of food with it. We’ve hosted talks on nuclear energy – what else? So many different things. We’ve hosted on the Community Food Growers gathering a few times. So lots of different things. So food from seed to plate and beyond I think we’re really circular and we’re putting people at the centre of our little mini food system.

Leslie: We also, importantly have a garden, which now has three sites. So at Granville there’s a kind of – what I sort of think of as an education site, which is one of lots of things. It’s not really food to eat, there’s not enough of it, but to show people of whatever age look this is this food, that food and interesting stuff, unusual stuff. We’ve got an almond tree and cob nuts, and things so sort of – But we also have little ones who come along and go: “Ooh that’s really good!” and pull it out and you think NO! [They laugh] Put that back! Put that back! But that’s all part of it; they haven’t ruined dinner or anything. And we’ve partnered with a school opposite and they’ve got a geodesic dome which they had a huge grant for and was kind of sitting with a few weeds in it. So now we’ve got a garden trainer and he’s doing lots of work with the kids and also growing stuff and they have volunteers that also come to them. So we organised a day of events for those volunteers. And then we’ve got a third site, which is more of an allotment site where we were hoping we could actually grow a volume of food and see if, you know, we can do thirty lettuces and you know, we don’t know what’ll grow there, we just trying to get that into action.

Dee: Yeah and work and energy.

Leslie: And work and energy yeah.

Dee: Especially as they’ve been neglected.

Leslie: Yeah

Dee: But as I was saying; food is politics. People say no, no I don’t want to get involved in politics but every time we eat something or we go to a shop and we decide to buy say chocolate versus locally made bread, we are making a political choice that impacts –

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: – on someone somewhere in the world.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: And a lot of the work that we have done as well has been around what I call democratising food and enabling people to participate in discussions of food sovereignty and social justice and our impact on the food system, how we can change things.

Lani: So I was gonna ask you about that; the politics of food.

Dee: Yeah?

Lani: Around how do you integrate that sort of political education with the community building that happens organically or that you kind of support through Granville Kitchen?

Dee: I think we just do it.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: We just talk and I think a lot of times people think that ordinary people, your Joe Bloggs whatever doesn’t understand things or doesn’t know about things but people do and they just want an opportunity to express those things. The sort of really practical things that enable people to participate in sort of trying to change things was a People’s Food policy and taking part in that consultation process, which we sort of changed up to make it more accessible and more open and in which kids could participate in as well and just sort of asking basic questions of well who should decide what we eat and where we get our food from and why should you pay so much or not enough or just ask a whole set of questions. And yeah so we’re proud to have supported People’s Food Policy. I was one of the co-editors and you know, we’re being recognised as people in the know and with that experience. We host a lot of people from around the country who want to do similar things in their communities.

Leslie: But even not doing it so explicitly, doing it just in your relationships with people. Not talking about food politics but just people, you know, in this particular area, many areas of life. They come from all over the world –

Lani: Yeah.

Leslie: – meet each other. That’s one of the proudest things for me about the Friday night meals; it’s  that there are so many different peoples there, different ages and different walks of life and they talk to each other and they say; oh, in my country we don’t use it for that, we use it for something else.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Oh and I remember when my grandma used it  – and then oh that’s interesting because in Northern Iran they use it like that as well.

Dee: Exactly.

Leslie: And you get these very detailed, very intense conversations about food, about recipes –

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: – about what food means; I mean you eat that when you’re ill or that’s for weddings. And then you come here where you’re dissociated or you’re cut off from all those sort of ties people are so happy to tell other people about them.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: It gives them a connection to back home, especially if they’re interested – the people they’re talking to are interested.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: But also it spurs on everyone talking about back home – or not home necessarily, where they were born or come from and it gives – it is food politics, I mean it is we don’t do that any more because –

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: – you know like somebody was telling me the reason they’re in this country is because of people terrorising them in their home country. I mean they are here because of problems.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: They’re not here because they think ooh England’s a nice place to live.

Dee: But then you know, you talk to certain groups or certain young people and you’ll ask them: “OK. What does your mum cook at home?” or “What’s your traditional meal?” and they think well I need to eat chips, I need to eat what they think is British food. So we have lots of discussions about food.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Yeah and all aspects of it.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: And in terms of education, trying to teach people –

Leslie: Absolutely.

Dee: – different food ways, different recipes, try something different from a different culture.

Leslie: Yeah, yeah.

Dee: And looking at the commonalities and celebrating the differences. Yeah.

Leslie: One young chap comes and he only eats white rice and you think blimey and everyone says: “Oh there’s all this delicious stuff!” Anyway he says no I only want rice. I say OK that’s fine. But it goes in, he’s having an experience, he’s having people who don’t know him care about him and say why are you only eating that.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: He’s also having a bit of pressure, which is maybe not so nice but he’s coping with it so he’s gaining in confidence and he can say to a stranger: “Actually I only eat white rice so back off.”

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Good. So many subtle meanings to these little interactions, that it’s a way of learning in inverted commas without having to have a big –

Dee: I mean so it’s not just the politics, you know, it’s the whole – food sort of connects us all, builds those social bonds.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: So from celebrating with cakes – I’m a big cake person yeah you know, life is too short not to have cake but also about what is healthy food and you know, who deems what is healthy food, because my ‘healthy food’ might be different to your ‘healthy food’. So lots of different issues around food or even being able to get your culturally specific food near to where you live and not having to travel halfway across London to get it or it’s so expensive. So yeah – so we talk and we eat [they laugh] we laugh and we dance.

Lani: Yay!

Dee: Yeah and eat some more.

[They laugh]

Lani: So I was just thinking about the word ‘community’ and you’ve talked quite a lot about like those conversations, those like different conversations of what opens up space to have conversations around different food and how that food is political, where it comes from and that sort of thing. I’m wondering like if you want to say any more things about how you see community; if it’s – because it’s also a geographical community that you are working in and that geographical community is fairly close to Grenfell Tower as well.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: And I thought you know, have been major impacts I’m assuming around that or not, I don’t know?

Leslie: Yes and no. We’re about a mile and a little bit away from Grenfell, which in London is actually quite far. There’s a lot of community between – a lot of houses and so on and I would say that’s on the one hand, that’s the distance but on the other hand loads of people on our estate at least knew if not had a family member in the tower. Some were safe, some were killed. So it has impacted on the local community to some extent personally but even more than that being an estate, I think the whole issue of estates has a tremendous impact. So one of the buildings on the South [Kilburn] estate [Merle] Court has the same cladding for example that was on and that’s not been touched. There was a meeting quite soon after Grenfell, maybe a month or so, about the fire situation of people on the estate and there were seven dignitaries sitting at the top end and the MP chaired the meeting and they talked – each one of them talked for ten, fifteen minutes; quite a long time all these dignitaries talking and then there were questions and the questions were so angry and saying you’ve said nothing, we’re not safe in our homes, to say stay in our flats is rubbish. People buying harness equipment that they were gonna put on their back and throw themselves off their balcony! I was like don’t do that, you can’t – Saying in the room that they’re gonna do that because they don’t trust that they’re safe in the buildings. The meeting was called between four and six which is –  most people are either at work or have the kids so – it was a very small room, six to eight thousand people on the estate, the room could hold maybe forty.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: Wow.

Leslie: So it’s – and people were saying this –

Lani: Miscalculating.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Lani: And not wanting to listen basically.

Leslie: And not wanting to listen and not being able to say – so there was a fire chief there of London bla, bla, bla – big, fancy guy saying what we’re told to tell people is to stay in your flat.

Dee: Yeah. So no one’s taking responsibility.

Leslie: No one’s taking responsibility. So they can’t say to you you will be safe in your flat because of course if something like Grenfell happens you can’t be safe but the prevailing advice is to stay in your flat. So I think it’s the same frustrations much less than – I was going to say people who were living in Grenfell felt – You know, no one’s taking responsibility, no one’s able to say you are safe, no one’s able to say we will change – for example get sprinklers – we will now get sprinklers. Things also because of the gentrification – sorry the regeneration –

Lani: You can call it gentrification on this podcast. Call it what it is!

Leslie: So the population is being doubled so every block that comes down – apparently everyone who wants to stay is being rehoused on the estate at the same cost and the rest of the flats that are being built are being sold. Those flats for sale all have sprinklers, the social housing does not have sprinklers.

Dee: It doesn’t so –

Leslie: So in this meeting we were told no, no that’s fine because you’ll be safe, you stay in your flats, that’s fine. But people are not stupid.

Lani: Yeah.

Dee: Right and I think, you know, it shows – I don’t know; call it conspiracy theory or whatever else but it’s like this concentrated effort against poor people. I call it violent – actual state violence –

Lani: Yeah.

Dee: – against people, be in terms of food, be it in terms of access to you know, good health facilities, access to proper and decent housing and even in terms of being heard.

Leslie: Yeah, yeah.

Dee: You know it’s like a constant battle against lots of walls and when you think you’ve jumped over one you know, there’s sort of three more.

Leslie: Yeah, absolutely and this becomes very clear with something like Grenfell, so people can see which side you’re on quite immediately you know. But unfortunately you can’t keep that kind of intensity up, people have to live, they have to celebrate, they have to break their ankle like a friend of mine did. You know, now she’s sitting in a chair for three months. You can’t. HS2 vent is also coming onto the estate. It was – when HS2 was Okayed it was next to the tube station but that land is too valuable because it’s gonna have a high rise there. So they’ve now moved it onto the estate between a block of flats and a school. There’s going to be up to a hundred lorries a day coming down a single track road for six years!

Dee: At least.

Leslie: A hundred lorries a day is like one every six minutes!

Lani: Wow!

Leslie: And this is a residential area and they’re saying we’re going to give you double glazing – sorry secondary glazing on the ‘habitable rooms’ only; so not on the bathroom or the kitchen not on the balcony. You know, your mind just boggles at – You know, one resident is saying I’m seventy-eight, I’m not well, I’m not gonna be here in seven years, my last years are going to be a hundred lorries a day!

Dee: Which might hasten her death.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Dee: Right. But you know, it’s like poor people’s lives don’t matter and people who live on housing estates don’t matter. And a lot of people are hard-working people with their families and their dreams and their goals and you know, they contribute to society but yet are treated as less than.

Leslie: It’s almost not so much about money as about power I think.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: I mean living in a council flat now, you are at the whim of both the council and the housing market and the developer and HS too, central government. So it’s – cause your land is not worth that much so this vent has now been moved or this station or whatever it is – there are people suffering from HS2 who have lots of money and lots of power but for some reason this crazy thing is going through even though nobody wants it. Anyway –

Dee: It does come back to money because I’m sure local authority will compensate it.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Yeah but then how is the local community being compensated? In a lot of ways even though it’s something negative people have come together.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Sort of the work we’ve been doing with Granville Community Kitchen has empowered people  to be able to voice and organise –

Leslie: Yeah. That’s one of the most shocking things – I mean if you look at the history of the estate, it was largely Irish up till the end of the first world war – second world war, then a Caribbean community came. So sort of sixties, seventies, eighties it was largely dominated by people from the Caribbean and then you know, they got older and their children moved out, and the same with the Irish people, and now it’s a lot of people from North Africa and the Middle East moving in and there are different peoples moving in. So it’s not one – a people’s coming who come with a single food or experience or so on. There are more experiences that are represented, even the older communities didn’t have one single –

Lani: Yeah. I was gonna say. You can’t really say that.

Leslie: No but they have even more – And some of them are fighting each other at home so to speak. So the Tunisians and the Moroccans hate each other for example.

Lani: So you know, it’s always the case isn’t it that things will have impacts –

Leslie: Absolutely.

Lani: – on communities.

Leslie: What I mean is that this has a tremendous impact on South Kilburn, so it isn’t a cohesive community that’s pulling together. So even people from the islands of the Caribbean might have – even though they were different islands, they might have joined together if their similarities became more important to them as they reached England, so that they could hold on to some of the identities and some of the goodnesses of where they’d came from. But this is not so true of North African communities because they don’t see and don’t see an identity with each other necessarily. They also have different traditions, different customs and what’s happened is that coupled with the regeneration – ‘regeneration’ – gentrification where there’s many less places to meet and get to know each other. So for example, all the buildings that are built now have no tenant hall. Every building that used to be built – every building from the sixties, seventies, eighties has a tenant hall; so you can hire it for a birthday party, you can hire it for whatever not just tenants’ meetings. There’s nowhere to meet now and what’s happened is that Granville and the kitchen in particular has become a focal point where people can meet together and say: “Oh you’re from Tunisia but I really like you even though I’m from Morocco.” Whatever. And you can – we’ve had evenings of music where people did have commonalities from North Africa and those came out in the music, in the rhythms and people were talking to each other; where’s that rhythm from and so on, even though on other facets of life they might disagree. But if you have no spaces where people can come together you just remain isolated and alienated from each other. And hate; those ‘isms’; racism or whatever it is ‘isms’ can fester and become bigger.

Lani: But you also need those spaces to talk about differences –

Dee: Differences.

Lani: – in power and who has the power and in what context.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: That kind of thing and you know, some of the differences.

Leslie: Yes.

Lani: Food probably helps with that a bit as well.

Leslie: It brings people together but those conversations – I mean we have those conversations but not in those terms.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: You know I think a lot of what we have to do is break things down. So where there’s policy we break that down so people can understand it. You know it’s the same around discussions around power and privilege, sort of even patriarchy and religion and racism; we have to discuss them in terms that people will understand.

Leslie: And a lot of humour.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: There’s a lot for example, patriarchy. One poor chap gets it all the time. [They laugh] And that’s a way of pointing it out, looking at it, distilling it as well and bringing it and brining you closer as well at the same time, all in one sort of little oh the you go again, sort of little whatever – whatever it is. So it’s –

Lani: Kind of pointing it out but in a –

Leslie: Yeah exactly. So everyone can see that with the women all laughing at this chap but with him as well. Not –

Dee: Yeah and I mean, recently we decided well OK we want to do some sort of safer spaces policy but in a way –

Lani: Oh right.

Dee: – yeah that people understand. I think we ended up with one sentence, yeah.

Leslie: Yeah. Respect each other or something like that yeah.

Lani: How did you go about – I’m interested to see what the process was to try and do that.

Leslie: Well we went back to policies we’ve had; long ones at conferences, get togethers by people who are more articulate or whatever about those sorts of things and then chucked loads out and then brought it to our trustee meeting.

Dee: But also to our community as well and asked them well what do you think about this is this enough?

Leslie: But they all chucked loads of it out saying don’t need that, don’t need that. Yeah it just came down to – And in fact – I mean that came out of a crisis or a challenge –

Dee: Ongoing.

Leslie: – by a community member, which really found its own solution, it wasn’t even necessary to put it up. This is a long – maybe a year and a half or something. This person was a very difficult person with lots of challenging behaviour and lots of needs and really isolated and unhappy. And I even went to visit another local community centre, who I’d heard where this person had also gone and asked how they dealt with it and got their policy off them. But we haven’t actually implemented it at all.

Dee: Apart from just saying that we all respect each other.

Leslie: Yeah, yeah, yeah and talking a lot about this person and letting other people talk about how she drives everybody crazy.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Yeah. But somehow in my experience, things often just work out. I mean especially if it’s once a week.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: It’s not – if it was every day –

Dee: Every day then it might be different.

Leslie: But things change and the weather changes. The weather is a really big factor in community I think. When I’m feeling ooh it’s a sunny day isn’t that lovely; so is everybody else probably, mostly.

Dee: Also having enough space.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Yeah so people can go elsewhere, so that we’re all not in one little shoebox –

Leslie: Yeah, yeah.

Dee: – but having an outdoor space, having a big enough space so that you know, people could go into their little tribes.

Leslie: Yeah, yeah.

Dee: Yeah. You know and be free to flow in and out so teenagers will be in their section, children will sort of flow a particular way.

Leslie: Yeah and we’ve got a lot of single older people who tend to congregate together.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: And that kind of works out?

Leslie: Yeah.

Lani: In terms of that flow?

Leslie: Yeah.

Lani: It’s not kind of like oh this person isn’t my friend?

Dee: Yeah. Nope.

Leslie: And if something gets too much you see people get up and they go to another place –

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: – and see – and as they become more confident I think – the teenagers are quite daunting to a lot of people.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: But –

Dee: But they realise –

Leslie: More and more people are interacting.

Dee: Especially the elders. They’ll say can I get some help with something. But one day some of the elders maybe having the children and young people there, seeing them sort of be joyful and hanging out and laughing and playing and whatever sort of gives them sort of life as well.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Yeah it’s really important to mix people up.

Dee: And not just have them in ghettos.

Lani: Yeah, talking a little bit about the context, two things came to mind at the same time. One we were talking a little bit about the context of food, we’ve got lots of food in front of us, we always meet with food [laughs] and maybe we could talk a little bit more about that and how that’s building what the work is to sort of shift the power I suppose.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: And maybe also I’m thinking about kind of the way that you are trying to build something that is from what I can see, is a network of people that can meet each others’ needs in different ways.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: Socially and you know, like network of people from all different places and abilities and all that sort of thing but like that’s focused on care through food in a way.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: So I was just thinking about that in terms of like building what we need, infrastructure and how you actually practically do that? You were talking about being welcoming for example.

Dee: Yeah.

Lani: We talked a bit about safer spaces. I just wondered if you had any more or not – safer spaces or not? We also talked about like breaking stuff down, talking to people not talking to people quite explicitly about things like racism but not – but in like ways that assume they know what they’re talking about but not in a jargon way. I don’t know.

Dee: I think lately because of our connection with young people and various young people’s groups and organisations and myself doing work with Voices [that Shake], I’m recognising more and more that what we’re doing is restorative justice; the fact that we grow cook and eat together. And it is healing you know; we are supporting various groups of people with some sorts of trauma you know, mental health issues, you name it, to have time to sort through things and sometimes we are practically helping them to do that, other times we’re just moral support. You know, people come and say thank you, you know, that cake sort of really meant a lot or that meal. And I think especially for me as a cook and trying to cook food and traditionally as well because I believe a lot in heritage and legacy and passing things on. So I draw a lot of inspiration from sort of elders and various cultures but also from young people and just sort of mixing that all up. But yeah, just being able to teach people, to learn from people and cooking food from all over the world, I think is really, really powerful, powerful, healing. And doing it from a place of heart and people recognise that and they recognise that authenticity and that genuineness. We’re not sort of liberal do-gooders. Might be a bit hippyish yeah [they laugh].

Leslie: Speak for yourself.

Dee: We’re doing it from a place of heart and genuine concern for the welfare of others and it’s not about personal gain, it is about the community and wanting to insure that this community is strong and healed and can move on.

Leslie: Yeah I think – it’s interesting. I hadn’t heard you say that before; ‘restorative justice’.

Dee: Or healing justice or something yeah.

Leslie: Yeah. I think it’s a lot about modelling as well. Being the person you’d like to be – I mean you wish you were or you can be all the time. But you know, to be an example to people through doing it, not just saying OK everyone should be nice to each other and caring for each other.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: But actually doing that.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: And listening to people.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: I just – it sounds such a small thing and it isn’t a small thing.

Dee: No.

Leslie: I mean it isn’t a small thing from the point of view of the consequences but also it’s quite hard to listen.

Dee: Yeah and it is a skill.

Leslie: But it’s also painful. What people have to say is hard to hear and not come in with your stuff but to be you know, the person that people can bounce off against and say as much as they want and  not sort of say ‘tell me more’ or whatever. And I’m just astounded at how open people are and how much they do want to – when they trust you and then go away feeling a little lighter and then pass that on to someone else too you know.

Dee: You know that takes community –

Leslie: Takes time.

Dee: – takes time, it’s slow work. It’s not something you could do, this is a one year funded project and we will deliver A, B and C outcomes.

Leslie: That’s right, yeah.

Dee: No. This is long work.

Leslie: And very organic work.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: It may not work. Something might go wrong you know and then –

Dee: And we wish funders and the powers that be would recognise the importance of this work because we’re dealing with the actual sort of social impacts of everything else that’s being done.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: So the gentrification. People get worried about Brexit but they might not express it to anyone else but we can talk about it. All the decisions that you know, policy makers, that people in power make impacts on people –

Leslie: Yeah, yeah.

Dee: – on a very personal and on a very social level but I don’t know they probably had a different … to me [they laugh]. Yeah. They can’t see it.

Leslie: They’re not being impacted. They were able to buy their little island somewhere and put the wall up and go home and relax. People on the estate; you know, their house is due for demolition in ten years.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Might be ten years but it’s still not being maintained now and the kids are getting bigger and the overcrowding is getting far worse and you’re living under stressful conditions now with the thought that perhaps you’ll get a nice new flat some time in the future. But it might not be a nice new flat and it might be a lot more expensive so you can’t afford to live there anyway and what are your kids gonna do once they do grow? You know, all these pressures people are coping with on a visceral daily level. This isn’t something like Brexit’s next year for us and we’ll have to see what it does. That’s just like –

Dee: Alright. It’s all – the environment is over there but these are things that are actually impacting on people now.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: So it’s actually like HS2 and what that brings and the environmental impact that sort of, manifests physically on your own health and your children’s health, your mental health. I think you know, Leslie and myself – I don’t know. I think we just have that vision and brains that sort of connect with everything together.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Yeah and we could sort of manoeuvre through it to help people –

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: – yeah, manoeuvre it themselves. And also because we think and act co-operatively. So everything we do is about co-operation and the co-operative values. So from education to – what are the other six [laughs].

Leslie: Sharing knowledge, that’s one. So internalised!

Dee: Right but yeah. Yeah so we just are, we just do that and sort of people learn that as well and people might have had that as well; where they’ve come from or how they grew up and they’ve lost it because British society is so individualistic.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: Yeah. So we’re recreating that. And in terms of shifting power in terms of disrupting, food is probably the one thing that everyone can have some power over, be it in your choice of where you go to shop, yeah, be it in you know something, I’m not happy that we don’t have a market. Who’s our councillor, who’s the local MP, who’s the JLA food person? Not me. [They laugh] Yeah and you know, there’s a lot of work happening so like with Just Space and whatever, that enables people to participate and have some voice and have some agency.

Leslie: Yeah, yeah. That’s very formal work and I think that we front that.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: But there are people in the community who want to get involved in that.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: Not so many, most people are tied up in their everyday –

Dee: But you know, they contributed, they feed into that.

Leslie: Absolutely, yeah.

Dee: And I think it makes them proud as well. So have we announced that we’re –

Leslie: No.

Dee: We haven’t announced it yet because we’ve been so caught up in nomadic life. But yeah, so you know, people are proud. So when I won BBC cook of the year people were so proud and I was humbled by that. It’s like you’ve done this, that is a win for every sort of poor person, ordinary person you know, black woman, whatever else, you’ve sort of won that award for everyone. And the same with people’s food policy, the community feels proud yes, that we fed into that and that is something that is influencing everything from local authority borough level sort of, food strategies right down to the GLA sort of, food strategy and national food policy. And at European level as well and that is powerful you know, just knowing that your little contribution, that little thing you wrote on a bit of you know, on a bit of white paper stuck to a wall or from one of our conversations has had that impact.

Lani: Brill yeah. Is there anything more you want to say about anything?

Dee: That we’re reclaiming disruption. Right, because you know, you see everything’s disrupted; we’re disrupting this, we’re disrupting the food industry yeah and I think disruption is something that comes from the grass roots. It is true activism, it is true shifting because we live it, we experience it and when we get fed up yeah, we just have to do something about it.

Leslie: Yeah.

Dee: We don’t spend time sort of – You can’t see my hands but –

Leslie: Keep talking.

Dee: – nattering on over and over again about something. You know people take things to heart and we just and we just have to do it. I think right now for everyone it is about hunger and malnutrition and making sure that everyone has enough to eat.

Leslie: Yeah. These problems – and food is just one way into all the problems of society.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: It’s not as we’ve said, it’s not food poverty; it’s poverty.

Dee: Poverty yeah.

Leslie: So it’s housing, it’s jobs, it’s future, it’s parks –

Dee: It’s education, it’s health.

Leslie: – pollution and it’s health, it’s well-being. All of these things come out through – the way in is food in this particular case.

Dee: Yeah.

Leslie: But I also – I think the disruption is because the need is so pressing and so crisis-ridden. Things have to change now! There’s no time.

Lani: Thanks. I really hope you enjoyed this podcast. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you have any thoughts on what topics we should be covering or if there are any specific people we should be talking to, please get in touch at Thank you.


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