It’s been a long time since we have collectively been so reminded of the importance of food. In recent days food has captured our imagination not only because it is one of the basic human needs. It is also often a vehicle for human connection, and as such it reminds us of the very thing we are looking for right now.
Dinners with friends, community meals and communal growing spaces remind us of the role food can play in breaking down barriers and bringing us together. This power of food is hardwired into our culture and psychology – a fact that is recognised by most major religions, community organisers, and mums and dads across the world. As everyone whose grandmother insisted on giving you seconds or an extra slice of cake knows, food is one of the ways we show our love.
It’s not surprising then that in this moment of crisis so many of us turned to setting up or joining community food initiatives and growing projects to support our neighbours. We want to do something to help. For many of us growing, cooking and sharing food is the sure way we know to nourish ourselves, each other and our communities. At the same time, social distancing and lockdown measures have made all the ordinary ways of sharing food more difficult in a matter of days. So where does that leave us?
What we can do to help
The safest way for any one of us to access food is to have enough money to buy what we need from local shops or through online deliveries. This is why it’s essential to top-up income for those who need it, rather than continuing to operate food banks.
Farmers and food producers, despite recent disruption, will continue to reliably stock the shop shelves. For those who can’t cook for themselves, school canteens, community cafes and commercial food outlets are already equipped to provide meals, including staff trained in food hygiene. The government, especially local government, is best placed to lead in this space and coordinate efforts to make sure we all have access to food.
But food is about more than packages of calories to keep us going each day. Food is at the centre of our relationships, and while the global supply chains and governments can deliver ingredients and meals to our doors, they cannot convey the care and social connection that we all need right now. This is where individuals and communities come in:
- Checking on friends, the people we work with, those we normally see across the allotment fence or at the community meal. Getting in touch to ask how they’re adjusting to these new circumstances is hugely important.
- Sending a care parcel or placing an order to be delivered directly to those who you think might appreciate it. Sending a bar of chocolate or a selection of teas by post are ways in which we can continue to safely use food as a vehicle for showing we care.
- Connecting with your neighbourhood group on social media where others are likely sharing information and resources. What people might most need at this time is a loan of a bike or some books to stave off boredom.
- Leaving a positive review for your favourite café or restaurant – it will support their recovery once the social distancing restrictions are lifted. Some have ways to buy a gift voucher now that you’ll be able to use at a future date.
- Growing at home. Herbs, chillies, draft tomatoes will thrive on a window sill. We will not need to rely on these for our food supply, but in a small way they can give us a sense of control, and it’ll be great practice for when the community growing spaces are open again.
Above all, we all need as much as possible to stay at home. This is counterintuitive, because it feels like we’re not doing anything to help. In fact, the opposite is true – staying home is the single biggest act of local and global solidarity each of us can take.
The next time we feel this incredible need to go out and help (and we all have these moments), let’s instead take a moment to look out the window. Each of us being home, the quiet streets, the closed cafes, all that empty space – that’s civic love and community in action.