At our most recent Community Food Justice Network Event we hosted a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Culturally Appropriate Food’. We were delighted to be able to hear from a wide range of panellists with experience in emergency food support, growing, food sourcing, and work with children and young people. In this article I’ll outline some of the areas of this subject we addressed, as well as presenting some of the wisdom we heard from our panel. So what is it that makes food culturally appropriate or not?

Samira Musse from Barton Hill Activity Club told us that for them one of the things which makes food culturally appropriate is it being something which can actually be used. As around 90% of the children they work with are Muslims, if they receive food which is haram, it can’t be used and therefore goes to waste. This idea was echoed in the comments of Caitlin Plunkett from Borderlands, who work with Refugees and Asylum Seekers. She remarked that some of the people they work with wouldn’t know what to do with some food items they were given from foodbanks and other emergency food support mechanisms, and if they didn’t know how to use them, ultimately, they’d go to waste.

Another important element of the discussion was around ensuring that groups have access to food which is practical. Ahmed Abdi from Bristol Horn Youth Concern, who work with young people in central Bristol, reminded us of the need to ensure that food is fun, engaging, and that it’s practical; that the young people can actually eat it. For BHYC, who often work in outdoor or sports settings, having food which needs prior preparation make things difficult. Unfortunately, many of the more readily available items which would be useful, are not appropriate for the cultural needs of the young people they work with.

The reality is that as much as we can focus on the ways in which food can be culturally diverse and appropriate for unique contexts, there are still many challenges and barriers in the way of them becoming commonplace.

Chloe Russel from Sims Hill Shared Harvest pointed out that the majority of the membership of growing projects (and many like theirs!) are white, middle class people, and that they’re having to work hard to diversify their membership and volunteer base. Samira echoed this in saying that they were struggling to find spaces for residents in Barton Hill to be able to grow their own produce; it seems that, anecdotally at least, growing spaces are harder to access for people from minoritized communities. Chloe also pointed out that there is a lack of diversity of membership/volunteer base in community growing projects. This can lead to missing knowledge on how to grow a wider varity of more culturally diverse produce, even if the desire to do so is there.

Another challenge we must consider is that everyone has a different sense of what is tasty! Simon Green, now of BS3 Communities, and formerly of Family Action FOOD Clubs, reminded us that choice for individuals is important, and that ultimately, food should bring joy. Applying a one size fits all approach to the idea of culturally appropriate food, does a disservice to the wonderful cultural diversity that exists within the world of food.

One of the challenges which comes up time and time again is that of funding. There are no easy answers to this issue, and none of our panellists were aware of any particular funding pots to do with the issue. One of our panellists reminded us, however, that we can’t magic funding out of nowhere, but one thing we can always do is to look again at who it is we’re trying to help; I believe that’s a helpful challenge for all of us!

I think it’s important that this blog ends on that note; challenge.  It is far too easy for us to hear about these issues, feel angry about injustice in the food sector, and then hope that someone else will do something about it. For me, part of growing in my understanding of the issues which cause food insecurity and food injustice, particularly for minoritized groups, has been accepting that however well-intentioned I’ve been, there have been times when I’ve contributed to the problem rather than the solution.  It’s ok for us to admit to our mistakes, and at Feeding Bristol we understand that this isn’t an area where we’ve always got things right.  The way forward is through communication; being open and honest with each other, as well as being open to challenge and accountability (even when it stings!).  If we can open ourselves up in that way, then I believe it is possible for us to see a Bristol food system which is genuinely diverse and making huge strides toward food justice.

With all that in mind, why not ask yourself; ‘what actions can I give myself out of this?  Who can I support, and how will I help contribute toward increasing ease of access to culturally diverse and appropriate food for those that need it?’

Find out more about our Community Food Justice Network meetings.