What is our relationship with growing
food and culture?
Author: Lois Donegal
With an estimated 8.4 million people in the UK struggling to get enough to eat, food insecurity can and does affect anyone. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the pre-existing issue of food insecurity, particularly for families with children, people with disabilities or long-term conditions, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) populations, and those self-isolating or shielding. To combat the injustice of food poverty, community members are increasingly coming together and taking ownership of their food system. For example, community food projects are popping up more frequently throughout the UK - especially in urban areas.
In response to the rising interest in food sovereignty, Solidaritree and Hafsah Hafeji, a Leicester-based horticulturist, have co-produced a series of food-growing guides for our communities called Roots & Shoots. Our collective communities often face barriers to growing fresh produce - this series of short videos explores our experiences with growing while also sharing knowledge and practice for beginners.
Throughout history, people of colour/racialised minorities and other marginalised groups have been farmers and growers. However, the lack of access to land and resources has contributed to a separation from the growing practices we once held. The good news is, there is a growing movement of communities of colour celebrating the connection we have always had with the land and cultivating food that connects with our heritage - but on British soil.
Growing our food is important to our cultural identities, but how do the two intertwine?
The Solidaritree team and Hafsah sat down in conversation to discuss from our lived experiences how food connects with our identities and cultures and how this connects to growing our own food.
How does food connect with our identities and culture?
Naz – Head of Graphic Design & Content Production at Solidaritree
“Coming from an immigrant family, I feel that cooking traditional food is a massive way to preserve our culture. It also reminds me of home and family, as my family likes to cook traditional recipes handed down through generations quite often to the point that it is almost a ritual for us. Especially during my uni days and when I felt lonely, cooking some of the dishes gave me feelings of warmth and joy. So I definitely use it to connect to my culture and give myself comfort.”
Lois - Co-Founder & Creative Director at Solidaritree
“Growing up, I connected with British food due to my white British side of the family on my mum's side, especially fresh vegetables which my nan would grow at the allotment and foraging for berries in the summer. I would connect with Caribbean food at big family gatherings or with my sisters. It took me some time to connect with my culture through food again after I turned vegan. It wasn’t until recently I started cooking plant-based Caribbean food. Cooking Caribbean food and accessing the ingredients from markets and shops near me in London connects me with my family, culture, and history. I feel closest to my Caribbean heritage when I am cooking and eating the food.”
Hafsah – Horticulturalist
“Growing up as a part of the British-Indian diaspora, I've always struggled to connect with either culture. But in the past few years, growing my own veg and herbs in our British climate and then using it to make Indian dishes has been my way of making that connection. There are so many veg like potatoes, spinach, onions that are easy to grow here and are staples in Indian dishes. I just add a few different flavours and spices, and you make some tasty Indian food.”
What does cooking with the food we grow mean to us and our cultures?
“It's important to me to be able to cook Caribbean food because it makes me happy, it's flavoursome, joyful and full of depth. To me, Caribbean food reflects everything we are as people and everything I want to embrace within myself. I also strongly connect to the recipes my English nan taught me growing up, chicken pie and roast dinners, but I add a Caribbean twist to those recipes now. Being able to grow food as I grew up was something I took for granted.
All my grandparents -English and Jamaican- were green-fingered and showed me and my sibling the beauty and power of growing. I'm grateful I have that connection and understanding of where my food comes from. It wasn't until I got older I started to understand how growing food connects to our cultures, in how we grow and what we choose to grow.”
“Growing and cooking make me feel closer to my family in India who were farmers and growers, and while I think everyone has the skill to be able to grow food, I like to think that for me, the passion and love for it was passed down from them. Growing is a life skill, and in the society we live it's easier for some people than others, but growing things like spring onions which don't take up a lot of space, is cheap and easy is a good place to start.”
Join the discussion
Something that’s come up many times in conversations within our community is that there's plenty of interest in cultivating our own plants, growing our own food. Still, there are plenty of barriers that keep us from starting: lack of space to grow, financial means for seeds/pots/equipment, lack of space and time, or not knowing where to start.
That is why Roots & Shoots exists, to make growing more accessible, to explore our connection to growing but also our barriers and to explore how we can overcome them as a community. Watch the latest episode in the Roots & Shoots series, available on the Solidaritree Instagram, where we discuss the relationship between food growing and culture whilst showing you how to grow spring onions.
If you are interested in growing food for yourself but feel barriers are in your way, we want to hear from you. Join the discussion in our community Facebook group, or reach out to explore how to overcome those barriers. Email the team at email@example.com.
How does growing your food connect to your cultural identity? Let us know!