The 3 best things about connecting through food

Food networks, the community kind where everyone can get involved and benefit from it, are spreading across the world. From The Real Junk Food Project, Incredible Edible, The Urban Farming Guys, and onto countless other schemes that are connecting people through food — growing it, sharing it, cooking it, serving it, and eating it, and it is doing so much more than just feeding people. The best thing about it? Well, I can’t stop at just one, so instead I’ll limit it to three.

Pic courtesy of therealjunkfoodproject.org

Real Life Community Connections

Everyone needs to eat, and the healthier the better. Projects like the ones mentioned above take that one, universal commonality and turn it into a way that we can connect with each other in our communities.

Community gardens that everyone can work in together, and harvest food from are providing opportunities for us to learn with and about each other while we learn about the food that sustains us. Opportunities to work and eat together without the usual social barriers of income or educational status, in ways that virtual spaces just can’t match. They take us back to basics and break down the usual social parameters that have us thinking in an ‘Us and Them’ type of way. By doing this we are able to grow our social circles, our networks of support and supporting others become wider, and just like the roots of the plants that are grown in these allotment spaces holding the soil together, these social connections hold our communities together and enrich life for everyone in them.

Similarly with the Pay As You Feel cafes that are springing up all over the world. By eating somewhere like this, sharing cafe space with others in a variety of different life circumstances to that of our own, we build our understanding and compassion for people that may otherwise have been lacking, and if it wasn’t it will strengthen that compassion and then grow the opportunity for others to do the same.

You might be able to pay cold hard cash for the meal you have in a Pay As You Feel cafe, or you may decide to trade a skill or some of your time for it. Trading a skill or your time will give you even more than the meal did — you’ll meet people, learn something, you might even enjoy yourself. Either way, you’re supporting community connections and a project, or social enterprise that is genuinely making a difference in your local area.

Build Respect for our Environment, Health and Each Other.

Sadly, we live in a consume-more society. When something breaks, or we don’t want it any more it goes in the bin. Like Dave Ramsey said, ‘We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like’. Our lives of convenience are having a massive impact on our world and all the other life forms that we share it with. This way of living blinkers us to the effort it takes to create an item, meal or grow healthy food.

Participating in a community allotment group can show us how to make use of ‘rubbish’ to build their raised garden beds or other garden necessities. By helping to nurture and grow fresh food, or eating at a cafe that uses ‘food waste’ to provide the meal brings consumer behavior and convenience into sharp focus, it highlights the foolishness of it and at the same time as highlighting that foolishness, it offers an alternative — sustainable, low-impact, inclusive networks that respect our environment and the people in our communities.

picture courtesy of http://incredibleediblenetwork.org.uk

With Pay As You Feel cafes we start to see that they couldn’t function on monetary recompense alone — the person paying for their meal by washing dishes is just as important as the electrician wiring the lights to pay for theirs, and the one who paid in cash gives a welcome income for the utility bills that can never be paid with carrots. But each and every customer has put something valuable into the venture, just as the project has put something valuable into them — a plate of food and an awakening that everyone has something to offer.

This shows us in practical ways that there is a better way to do things and loosens the hold consumerism has on all of us, but it also gives people opportunities to build skills that can be used elsewhere. It gives us practical knowledge and an understanding of how to do things a little differently, to be a little more creative and maybe even see our ‘trash’ as a resource that we can help ourselves and others with. This can also translate to building respect for our environment, what we spend our time and money on, the relationships we have with these items and each other.

From Little Things, Big Things Grow

Incredible Edible in Todmorden — the first of what is now over 200 groups the world over — started off simply, small herb gardens and community allotments that provided free food for whoever wanted it in their town. The opportunities that have grown from their small beginnings 10 years ago have empowered their community and provided a wide range of initiatives from local educational opportunities through to supporting local business and helping other groups get going and emulate their phenomenal work.

All of these initiatives, big and small, are giving the people involved with them a little more control over their lives. From building community connections and skills, decreasing food bills, and onto providing different ways of thinking about how we consume and learn, connect and grow. It’s empowering for individuals and communities, they are gaining a little more control over their destinies and how society reacts with each other. These types of projects allow people to take positive action on real issues that affect them and become a part of the solution to the issues affecting their communities and our world.

Connecting through food with our communities gives a common denominator less easily found in most other aspects of human existence. These simple ‘food projects’ show that by planting a small seed, big, wonderful things can grow that make the world a better place for everyone in it.

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