Social Science blog

10 July 2020

Food Community in the Context of Covid

By Angela Clutton, Guest Director British Library Food Season
July, 2020

printed images of fruits, including peaches, apples and a pineapple

We so often talk about the ‘food industry’ and the ‘food community’ when what we mean is the staggering breadth of people who all play their part in ensuring there is food on the table. Chefs, restaurateurs, campaigners, retailers, writers, producers, farmers, kitchen brigades, drivers, stall holders, waiting staff, and many, many more…. Their - our - industry was overnight dealt a body-blow back in March, and I think what has struck me most forcefully since then is how quickly the community aspect of food came to the fore. It looked beyond itself to the community at large, with so many food professionals asking: what can we do to help?

The help has been very much needed as the reality of the struggles that too many families face in having food on their table have been exacerbated. The Trussell Trust - who do such extraordinary work with food banks - reported an 81 per cent increase in people needing support from food banks at the end of March, compared with the same time the previous year. Demand from children for food bank services has increased by 121 per cent.

In the face of such sobering statistics, the endeavours of so many individuals and small organisations across the food sector, who are just trying to make a bit of a difference, are heart-warming and important.

Take Barny Haughton, whose Square Food Foundation in Bristol has for nearly 20 years been doing inspiring work in their local community. When Covid and lockdown hit, they refocussed their work to provide free meals for local children and families. They have made and distributed more than 7000 meals, feeding up to 270 children and families each day. Most of those are families who rely on free school meals. Families who when the schools shut would have suddenly found themselves without that assurance of a healthy meal. For the British Library’s 2020 Food Season– supported by KitchenAid – Barny will be talking about the important work undertaken by Square Food Foundation in an event called “Beyond the Bank: Creating Community and Culture Through Food” along with Mary Brennan from Community Unity in Leeds and Jess Thompson from the organization Migrateful which runs cookery courses led by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

a cooking demonstration in a kitchen with one person demosntrating to three people

Migrateful cooking demonstration
Copyright Migrateful

Restaurant kitchens such as Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano have cooked and delivered meals for staff at London hospitals. Mary-Ellen McTague and Eat Well Manchester are harnessing their local food community to feed NHS staff, women seeking refuge and homeless people. The home kitchens of too many professional cooks to mention here have been turned into the centre of their own personal operations for helping feed local key workers.

Jack Monroe - another friend of the Food Season - rose to the challenge of Covid-induced need with a daily twitter ‘lockdown larder’ Q&A. For many people it has been a very necessary answer to what to do with seemingly incongruous ingredients. So necessary that the BBC enlisted Jack for a daily TV show on lockdown cooking.

portrait photograph of Jack Munroe

Chef and cookery writer Jack Munroe

I write this just as lockdown is beginning to ease. Food shops and cafes and bars and restaurants must now look ahead to what the future of the food industry might look like. There are many questions around food production, supply, distribution and consumption - all of which the autumn’s Food Season will be doing our best to address.

I for one can hardly wait to get back to my favourite restaurants. To actually choose food from a menu! And in so doing play my small part in the one thing that amidst all the uncertainty is certain: that for the food industry to recover, the food community will need the support of us all.


KitchenAid text logo

British Library Food Season supported by Kitchen Aid