Growing up as a city kid in East London, I was lucky to have the exposure to nature that I had. I loved being outdoors as a child, and I still do. The forest and the beach were my sanctuaries. Being in and amongst trees always filled me with awe. No two places looked the same, you could take me to the same spot over and over again and I’d always find something new and perplexing to discover. Some of my fondest memories are the countless jam sandwiches and penguin bars sat on broken tree trunks with my mum, cousins and adopted granddad Reg.
The seaside is the place my heart at its most content. There’s something about being close to water that not only soothes me, but intrigues me. Looking out into the horizon and the never ending sea, gives me perspective. The openness and fluid nature of water reminds me, that outside of myself, is so much more. The world is a big place and I’m a tiny part of it. It’s a notion that’s never daunted me however. If anything it fills me with a passion, determination and drive to find my purpose; how I can evolve from being a tiny particle in huge world, to someone that really has something to contribute.
Those city kids, what are they like?
My passion for food and the system stems from a frustration at myself for the disregard I had toward food. For the lack of appreciation and understanding I had and the notion that food was a given. The thoughts people tend to have about “city-kids” I believe have their place, I am one of them. But you can’t fight fire with fire, disregard with more disregard, instead building awareness is key to bridging the gap between the growing group of disconnected consumers in urban environments, and the food system they are intrinsically involved within, but is all to often hidden away from them.
Urban communities and their relationship to rural life
It was from 16 onward that I began to realise my naivety and ignorance around food. I went to college in what was deemed as the countryside to a deep East Londoner, out all the way to zone 6 on the London tube map. From there I went to University in Leicester, where things really started to change. Both environments and experiences took me to new places, introduced me to new people and most importantly had me confront my lack of knowledge and insight into how the world feeds me. It wasn’t only food however, it was rural life as a whole. There was a negative perception about rural life and communities, and I’m embarrassed for us urban communities for having those views and the lack of effort being done to break those perceptions down.
One story through-out my journey thus far that I look back on is troubling. It signifies a huge issue with our relationship to nature today. The picture of the two cows was taken up in Scotland, I was 19. I’d actually not seen a free-ranging cow before, only in pens, something I thought was normal. I remember being quite confused. I didn’t know cows freely roamed like this, why weren’t they confined? Surely this was dangerous I remember asking myself, people were around. I also didn’t know cows could run which was a terrifying surprise…
We are not above nature
Too many of us believe we are above nature, that we are separate from it and this world is our world. We impose our inventions of mechanisation onto nature. But we’re not above nature, we are nature. So surely we should be working with and beside nature, and try to understand it, rather than ignoring it or trying to grossly manipulate it?
In the school I went too, education around food and at that nature, really did not form a big enough part of our journey. It’s no wonder our system has evolved to be so mechanical, intensive, detached, emotionally and ethically devoid, it’s because our system of education doesn’t value it either. So those growing up have little chance of developing understanding and appreciation. At a talk last week Raymond Blanc brutally summarised this perfectly “we are a generation that has swallowed everything, defecated everything and asks no questions”
Building a just system
If we are to create a better food system, and at that a sustainable environmental system as a whole, we need to start with how we involve and educate people about the current as-is system and the ideals and reasons for the to-be system.
All to often I hear people talk about the problem, but what about the solution? The problem is clear, there is a deep lack of understanding, engagement and accountability within our systems. The solution? For me, it’s education and inclusion, in a variety of means and it’s that notion I am driven by.
There are incredible examples of groups bringing nature to people, especially in urban environments. Food growing schools, roof tops evolving into complex and stunning gardens, communities coming together to develop veg schemes. On the ground within communities and social enterprises there is a growing movement. But it’s clear that higher up, a movement and shift is still needed.
Hopefully my ranting self will one day aid that.