The World Kitchen

Posted by in July's Magazine

Eat local; eat the world, says Vikki Graves.
That’ll be 40,000 kilometres with a side order of fries to go then.

I confess I am an armchair activist; one of those people who are happy to set the world to rights, just as long as it doesn’t mean getting off the sofa. It’s not that I’m ill-informed or don’t care, it’s just that sometimes tackling global issues seems too enormous a task.



Food is one of my favourite armchair topics because if you tried to battle with all of these big issues at the shops you could risk meltdown. Shopping for food is not simple. Everywhere we go we are confronted with conflicting messages about what, where, and how we should be eating. Advertising for junk food that’s making us obese. Five portions of fruit and vegetables. Eat locally, eat seasonally.

Don’t shop in supermarkets. Proceed directly to your community food co-op or farmers’ market. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred pounds. And so much of the food we are told we should be eating comes at a premium which some of us cannot afford. It’s enough to make you beat a hasty retreat to your living room with a tin of beans.

People like me are suspicious of those who disengage from their furniture and get on with it. They make us feel a bit ashamed of ourselves. And it was this attitude which accompanied me to a meeting of a new group of Leithers who call themselves World Kitchen. Their idea, in a nutshell, is to use food as a way of bringing different strands of the community together; “all the colours of Leith” as Mridu Thanki, one of the founders put it.

If you were one of those who braved the rain at the Leith Festival last month, you might have sampled some of the World Kitchen’s fare. Here, they brought people together under a tiny soggy gazebo and served them African maize, American cookies, Portuguese pancakes and more. And they sold the lot. Using food to get people communicating makes sense. We all need to eat and the very process of doing so is a democratic act.

I wanted to ask the World Kitcheners how they thought their idea fitted into the endless debate about food politics and what we are told we should eat. Because if I want to cook, say, an African meal for my dinner, I might have to buy ingredients that have been imported by air, and this is bad for the environment. Although it might be good because it supports African farmers. Not only that, these ingredients may well have been sprayed with chemicals to make them last longer before they reach my supermarket shelves, and they will be wrapped in unnecessary packaging, which may or may not be recyclable.

But I didn’t ask them that, because it didn’t seem so important – for once the issue wasn’t where the food came from, but where it was going and who was going to get to taste it. A different way to eat locally. For me, local food conjures up images of hemp shopping bags and pricey artisan cheese, but World Kitchen is looking to cook, eat and share a local cuisine which truly represents its community. As group member Fay Young, who also organises the multicultural group Leith Open Space put it: “Everybody understands food, even if you speak a different language.” The language we used consisted of inspiring words which become so much more complicated in practice – how to celebrate diversity, make connections in the community, be inclusive, and learn about and from one another. They’re an articulate and enthusiastic bunch, the World Kitcheners, but what next?

And this is the hard bit. There were thoughts of cookery workshops, demonstrations in schools, a local food festival with an infinite budget. Ideas are one thing, but putting them into practice is another and money, logistics, marketing and the like are the realities a project such as this one must face. But as I ponder these ideas from the comfort of my armchair I feel like World Kitchen could be on to a good thing. We might not be able to solve all the world’s food problems, or navigate the contradictory maze of food choices, but we can all eat.

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