In July 2016 the Food Project working group organised a ‘Research Feast’ to showcase and build on the work that we’ve been doing exploring the regulation of food habits. The evening event was part of the Connected Communities Festival 2016 and focused on sharing the key findings of the project with a wider audience, as well as building dialogue around future trajectories through the concept of ‘utopia.’
The delicious feast brought together the four partner organisations that have been collaborating on the project and the two groups of community participants: a group of Somali women in Easton and local residents of Knowle West. Participants were invited to bring along their families to share the work that we have been doing with them. We also invited local practitioners, community organisation representatives and councillors to the event. We worked with artist Anne-Marie Culhane, who we had commissioned to work with us to explore and reimagine community food spaces, to curate a beautiful and celebratory space for the event.
Around 60 people came and were served five courses of food and drinks. Tables were laid with white linen tablecloths and bunches of handpicked edible flowers and fresh herbs. The menu reflected different phases of the research at the two main sites, one focusing primarily on Somali food cultures and the need for more culturally diverse and healthy street food, and the other on transforming urban food deserts in areas where even supermarkets are scarce. Both research groups shared the question ‘who decides what’s in my fridge?’ and the five course meal emphasised both our emergent understanding of ‘who decides’ along with the shared concern at both sites to understand the spatial regulation of our food habits. It also reflected the quite different food cultures and ideas that have developed at the two sites, leading to a rather spectacular hybrid menu of Somali and British cuisine using local produce, wonderfully prepared by the Hamilton House Community Kitchen.
Over the course of the evening, attendees were asked to reflect on their food habits and think about what they would like to change in the future. A creative data collection installation in the form of an interactive fridge, created in KWMC during the project by 8 ‘junior digital producers’ had been used extensively as part of the data collection in Knowle West and was part of the event. Project participants from Easton had heard about it but not seen it before and were excited to see it and undertake the survey.
There was an extremely positive atmosphere throughout the evening. The event enabled project participants from both Knowle West and Easton to hear from each other about the work they had been doing over the course of the year, as well as build links with a wider audience. There was much excitement about speaking with people from other cultures, and a real interest in learning about each other’s communities. The fusion between Somali and British food stimulated broad discussions about the importance of trying new foods and using food to celebrate and showcase cultures. One local councillor that attended was struck by the group of Somali women that have been researching the issue of fast food takeaways in their neighbourhoods, saying to me, ‘They are a very powerful group of ladies. I don’t think they realise just how powerful they are!’
Before dessert everyone was asked to move seats and sit next to somebody they didn’t know. Everyone was relaxed and this led to some really rich conversations and exchanges. The concept of a food utopia helped us to look forward beyond the project to addressing the regulation of our food habits in transformative ways. Towards the end of the meal, over chai tea and dates, there was a particularly poignant moment when children of participants volunteered to read out the visions, hopes and dreams that had been written during the evening.
Click on the images below to look through more photos from the event.