‘We need to end the stigma surrounding food poverty’ say Bristol community cookery school
The Square Food Foundation in Bristol is helping residents discover the joy of food, but it also bears a second mission - to turn stigma on its head.
The main body of work at the Knowle West community cookery school is to help equip those under its wing with the skills they need to cook for themselves - including residents with learning disabilities, families living in food poverty and those recovering from trauma and substance abuse.
People who fall into this category are in what’s known as ‘marginalised groups’, but Square Food is keen to steer away from this negative and potentially damaging terminology.
Operations manager Eloise Morton told BristolWorld : “When you tell people they are stigmatised, and when you tell people they are vulnerable, it becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
“When someone learns how to cook while working to a limited budget, a lot of the time their options become so much more broad.
“They might think, actually, I can stretch my money. I can create a meal. I can derive joy from this.
“But it’s about so much more than that - cooking has a social side with many therapeutic benefits.
“It’s moves away from ‘I’m coming to a cookery class because I can’t cook and I’m rubbish’ to a community effort led by the residents in an environment where they are treated with respect and integrity.
“There are people here in Knowle West who feel they can’t even venture outside their own postcode and into the city centre.
“We want to highlight the assets available to the in Bristol, such as the city’s green spaces and all the amazing food events going on here, some of which are even happening in Knowle West.
“We want to show them that food, and the entire city in general, are accessible to them.”
When we arrive at Square Food on a typically busy morning, students on the foundation’s employability course are learning how to make falafel and a pasta pesto dish.
There’s gleaming equipment ready to go on the tabletops, a well-stocked fridge, a cupboard brimming with all sorts of spices and even a healthy-sized pumpkin on the side that someone ‘just dropped in’ in time for Halloween.
The foundation values food education, and works with local schools to introduce cooking into the every day curriculum as well as encouraging parents to cook with their children.
Referencing our Level Up Bristol campaign, which you can read about here, I ask Eloise how she feels Knowle West could be improved for residents in terms of tackling inequality.
“The first thing I’d say is that actually we need shops,” replied Eloise.
“Knowle West is classed as what’s called a ‘food desert’ as it doesn’t have a supermarket.
“There’s a Lidl around a mile and a half away, but if you don’t have a car it can be difficult to shop affordably and accessibly.
“Ultimately residents have to shop in small convenience stores where the fresh section isn’t all that diverse.
“Again though, while people in deprived areas do struggle to eat healthily, stigma is there again. Nobody wants to be told ‘you’re unhealthy, you’re overweight, what you’re doing is wrong’.
“It’s about making people aware that services are available for them to learn and discover new things, and instead saying, ‘here are some other options - why don’t you give them a go?’”
“If you’re in the funding bid world like Square Food, it’s easy to preach statistics along the lines of- you’re more likely to die earlier if you live in Knowle West than if you live in Clifton.
“Straight away you’ve stigmatised the issue. You’re saying ‘you are poor, your life is awful, we’re going to save you’. That’s certainly not our message.
“I think we have to reduce stigma, flip the message and create positivity out of what’s already here.”
“My favourite part of the job, while it’s very varied, is the engagement,” added Eloise.
“I get to see people coming in and gradually opening up to us, going from tense to relaxed and realising there are no rules around cooking, it’s fun and it doesn’t matter if it all goes wrong.
“Seeing someone go through that journey is rather wonderful. Plus, you get to eat a great lunch.”
Charlie, 19, hopes his time on Square Food’s employability course will eventually allow him to open his own cafe. His favourite thing to cook is ‘most definitely’ ratatouille.
He said: “There is inequality in Bristol when it comes to young people, for sure.
“Sometimes the opportunities are there, but they might feel they can’t take them up.
“I think young people nowadays often doubt themselves and don’t believe in themselves.
“I’m here because my mum tagged me in a Facebook post and I thought, I might have a go at that.
“Being here has taught me you have to snap up every opportunity that comes your way.”
If you’d like to get involved with Square Food by volunteering or making a donation, visit http://www.squarefoodfoundation.co.uk/ or call 0117 903 9780.