Exhibition: Food for Peace and Justice

Two local responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and Food Justice: Change Kitchen

Two local responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and Food Justice: Change Kitchen

Saturday July 25, 2020

10:30 am - 11:30 am

Part of the Madras Café Unlocked event:

ChangeKitchen: Cooking and Campaigning for Food Justice

More Info
Ekta Parishad in India and Change Kitchen in Birmingham UK took up the challenge to feed vulnerable people during the Covid-19 emergency. This story is about ‘ChangeKitchen, food and community.

Total Lockdown, as a protective response to reduce the spread of disease, results in loss of income, severe interruption to complex food chains, and damaging pressure on community and personal relationships. A crisis of malnutrition, debt, and deterioration in mental and physical health builds rapidly and people on low incomes or who have psychological and physical challenges suffer most. Inequalities, lack of fairness and justice that are already endemic, are exacerbated by social emergencies and become a breeding ground for entrenched community division and unrest.

We have examined the strategic Covid-19 relief work of two organisations, in India and the UK, both with connections to Jai Jagat 2020. Their activities during the emergency supported some of the most disadvantaged people. We discovered that what they initiated and learned during the crisis provided a basis for future development in their own organisational practices and approaches to campaigning for equity, social justice, and community harmony:

  • Ekta Parishad (transl. One Forum) and its network of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) across 8 Indian states responded to the plight of migrant workers who were, at very short notice, forced by the Indian government out of cities back to their often very distant villages.
  • ChangeKitchen CIC (Community Interest Company), with its extensive experience in event cooking and training volunteers, served thousands of hot meals and food parcels, which they delivered to people in isolation as part of Birmingham’s partnership of community organisations.

Ekta Parishad and ChangeKitchen are linked to Jai Jagat 2020 in very different ways:

  • Ekta Parishad has, for over a quarter of a century, initiated and been involved in nonviolent campaigning for the legal rights and social status of landless farmers and tribal people in India. Their major means of public protest is walking, which they back up with case studies, community conflict resolution, and training for young community leaders. Over the years, Ekta Parishad has developed an international support network of community organisations, inspired by Ekta Parishad’s philosophies and working methods. From this network emerged the campaign Jai Jagat 2020, a year-long walk from Delhi to Geneva to present the countries/member states of the United Nations with a challenge to implement their commitments to improving global and local peace and justice.
  • ChangeKitchen has become a partner of Jai Jagat 2020 UK, a Midlands based support group for Jai Jagat 2020, which chose to focus on Climate Justice, one of the purposes of the global walk, and in particular, the need to encourage populations to move to more plant-based diets and away from agricultural practices and food consumption choices that exacerbate environmental degradation and climate change.
  • ChangeKitchen has become a partner of Jai Jagat 2020 UK, a Midlands based support group for Jai Jagat 2020. The UK group chose to concentrate on Climate Justice, one of the purposes of the global walk, with a focus on Food issues. Discussions with ChangeKitchen highlighted their shared philosophy: the need to encourage populations to move to more plant-based diets and away from agricultural practices and food consumption choices that exacerbate environmental degradation and climate change. Change Kitchen’s purpose as a CIC has always been to serve delicious, nutritious food that contributes to a local, sustainable and healthy food economy. But they also provide training and work opportunities to people who face social exclusion and support them back into mainstream employment.

Jai Jagat 2020 was halted in March in Armenia due to COVID-19 restrictions. They quickly regrouped and set up an extensive programme of internet forums and discussions on Peace and Justice. Jai Jagat 2020 UK’s Covid-19 case study on ChangeKitchen contributes to a review in September 2020, through Jai Jagat’s international partners, of strategies for supporting the development of community Peace and Justice.

Covid-19: Covid-19: Two local responses to a global pandemic – ChangeKitchen, food and community

The issues:

National Lockdown in the UK was imposed on 23 March 2020 as the daily coronavirus death rate rose exponentially. The government, which till then had resisted adopting social distancing and protection measures and were found wanting on preplanning for such emergencies, produced financial support to furlough employees and some help for local authorities towards relief work.

Birmingham, with its population of 1.2 million (2020), is a city of extremes in terms of poverty and health. Over 40% of the population live in 10% of the most deprived areas in England. There is a difference of 10 years in life expectancy between one side of the city and the other. It is also a super diverse city with 53% of the population identifying as White-British. Those who have fared worst in the coronavirus emergency, other than those above 60 years, are people in poverty, poor health and from migrant populations. There is currently much discussion about how poverty and poor health has risen through under-investment and how people from non-white backgrounds are marginalised, both socially and institutionally.

How ChangeKitchen responded:

Birmingham commissioned TAWS (The Active Wellbeing Society), to work with a partnership of some 70 community organisations and #Brum Together, to implement relief work. ChangeKitchen, as one of those partners, made a temporary base at Rowheath Pavilion, Birmingham. They used food supplied by FareShare, a national organisation that proactively intercepts surplus supermarket stock, diverting it from landfill to food banks. ChangeKitchen trained and organised local volunteers to cook over 1,300 hot, nutritious vegetarian and vegan meals per week, including meals for people with sensitive diets, and to deliver 600 parcels to isolated individuals and families during Lockdown.

Possible future directions for ChangeKitchen:

While Covid-19 shut down their regular activity as a social enterprise, their operations at Rowheath Pavilion allowed ChangeKitchen to survive the worst of the pandemic, but as that short term funding ends, the continued limitations on social and work place activity makes their immediate future a difficult one. This said, their experience of coronavirus relief work has brought ChangeKitchen closer into the mutually supporting possibilities of #Brum Together network, and the environmental effects of lockdown have highlighted the prescient issue of climate change and the role of plant-based food in mitigating its effects.

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