At the IGP we have always included food in our definition of Universal Basic Services (UBS) and for many it is the most difficult service to imagine.
To help breakdown this imagination barrier we have sought out examples of organisations and policies which promote the provision of community food, like this video which we produced with the Battersea Canteen highlighting a great community effort that combines education, training and community services in a holistic vision that defies the idea of the food bank or soup kitchen.
The COVID-19 crisis provides another opportunity to see the myriad of different ways in which communities respond to needs of their people with inventive and caring new ideas. In Kerala they are providing free food to people who are self-isolating. Mutual Aid groups around the UK are sourcing food for overrun foodbanks, as well as shopping and delivering groceries for those isolating. Chefs, whose restaurants closed, are volunteering in community kitchens. Local shops in London have set up donation food baskets for people who can no longer afford groceries. The NHS has a list of businesses with food offers for NHS staff.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to understanding UBS is to grasp the difference between universal access and universal provision. The idea of UBS is to provide a guarantee of access to the support services necessary for a secure livelihood, but that does not mean that everybody is going to need or want every service all the time. The important thing is simply to make sure that it is available when needed. The idea of UBS food is much better represented in community food programs where part of the objective is to ensure that nobody gets hungry but another equally important aspect is to provide a space within which people in the community can come together and share collective experiences. It is the shared effort and participation in creating collective activities that is the real cement that joins a community of people together.
To understand what we mean about the UBS food it is better to think about all of the communal kitchens that are already operating in every community providing food on a collective basis for schools, the housebound elderly, prisons, and many other social institutions. These facilities are already in operation in pretty much every community, and quite often supported by regulation that promotes the use of local food products and provides useful local employment. If we could just think about the possibility of opening those kitchens more often and inviting in everybody from the community then we are starting to imagine the kind of service in which the ability to access food is combined with the rewards of shared experiences.
The recovery from Covid-19 requires a reconfiguration of our economy and all that works within it so that the system is sustainable, resilient and works for all of us. Central to the recovery will be a localisation of services and reaching net-zero carbon emissions. Community provision of food works towards these goals as well as other ideas in the New Green Deal.
If we can open our minds and imaginations to the possibility of community food programs we will find that it is not the final frontier but rather it is a doorway opening into a prosperous and sustainable world.
Image credit: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
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