Jem Greenway is a 3rd year geography student here in the department – he recently attended the Decent Helpings event, here is his blog post about his experience and thoughts about the work being done.
Decent Helpings: Food Justice in Sheffield: The title of the event is fitting; eating good healthy portions of food on a daily basis is what is needed for food justice to be achieved. However it explains only one facet of food justice: I would come to learn that food justice encompasses much more than just putting good food on the table.
The aim of the meeting was twofold, to spread the word on food justice in Sheffield among food entrepreneurs, community actors and anyone involved in or interested in food. Secondly, using the knowledge and background of everyone in the room, come up with themes for research. This way research would take into account the opinion of local food groups. The former aim was achieved through 5 speeches from various professionals all with backgrounds in food. Introduced by Megan Blake, Decent Helpings brought together 4 other speakers, passionate about the issues and possible solutions associated with food on a community level: Pam Warhurst, an activist for reclaiming urban land for the purpose of growing food, Jess Wilson, part of Sheffield City Council, Lindsay Graham, a school food and health advisor and Ed Andrews, ‘Our Cow Molly’s farmer.
Megan Blake outlined the issue of food justice before bringing the focus to South Yorkshire and Sheffield. The rest of the speakers brought to light issues surrounding food justice. Offering up either their story of how they have sought to tackle the issue or their experience of a lack of food justice. Food and Health advisor Lindsay Graham emphasised the issues that deprived families faced in feeding their children, particularly during the school holidays when food subsidies are no longer available through school attendance. Jess Wilson, part of Sheffield City council explained the issue of food deserts: how residents of socially deprived communities do not receive the diet they deserve because of a lack of access to healthy and fresh food, she used the example of being able to buy food to feed a family for as little as £2 from a take away. Ed Andrews from dairy company ‘Our Cow Molly’ illustrated the problems faced by food producers in competing with supermarket chains. Independent dairy farmers like himself have to compete with supermarket chains who cut the price of milk to unsustainably low prices.
The most profound speaker for me however was Pam Warhurst, who reclaims urban land to grow food for the community using an initiative by the name of “incredible Edible.” A thought provoking question from Pam “What if we could find a language, that could help people feel for themselves empowered to do something about spaces in their lives and about the streets they are brought up on?” This is exactly what Incredible Edible does, takes the idea of community action and combines it with reclaiming urban spaces to achieve and work towards a more sustainable food culture and environment.
As I listened to the speakers involved in food in and around Sheffield I came to understand that food injustice exists on many different levels: It affects the farmer that produces the food, the families that don’t receive it and the communities who suffer as a result. And this exists in Sheffield, the place I call home. As a student I was largely unaware of the wider Sheffield community, through Decent Helpings the community and the issues they face in the way of food were brought to the forefront of my mind.
When it came to creating research question we were placed in groups of around 8 and encouraged to discuss food issues relating to food justice and a ‘facilitator’ would help us to form research questions based on what was discussed.
Because the background of many of our speakers was mainly based around community involvement, this played a large part in out discussion. Upon collaborating research questions from all of the groups institutions and regulation came out as the most pressing issue for the purpose of research, with community coming second.
The event as a whole improved my understanding of food justice, brought me into contact with others I wouldn’t have otherwise met and presented me with a range of different aspects of food justice that exist, particularly that of planting food in the public realm.