copyright smcgarnigle

Exploring Food, Connecting Communities was an event which took place on Sunday 8th March 2009 at the British Museum's Clore Centre. Organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute's Education Outreach Programme in association with the British Museum, the event formed part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2009. The aim of the event was to raise public awareness of local food projects in the UK and abroad and foster future collaboration between associated groups of individuals. Presentations were given by anthropologists, journalists and organisations such as Sustain, The Soil Association and Slow Food UK and were complimented by information stalls and hands-on learning activities. The event was very well received with over 300 attendees from all over Britain. The event was organised by Nafisa Fera (RAI) in collaboration with Ben Burt (British Museum). The presentations, photographs and exhibitions below give an indication of the breadth of topics covered at the event.

Hungry City – How Food Shapes Our Lives
Carolyn Steel (Architect, Lecturer and Writer)

Cities, like people, are what they eat. The effort necessary to feed them arguably has a greater social and physical impact on us and our planet than anything else we do – yet few of us are aware of the process. Food arrives on our plates as if by magic, and we rarely stop to wonder how it got there. But when you consider that every day for a city the size of London, enough food for 30 million meals must be produced, imported, sold, cooked, eaten and disposed of again, and that something similar must happen every day for every city on earth, it is remarkable that cities get to eat at all. Industrialisation has made feeding cities seem easy, but with food prices soaring and Peak Oil looming – to say nothing of the threat of climate change – that illusion is wearing off. With the world’s urban population set to double by 2050, we need a new urban model: one in which city and hinterland are treated as a single, organic whole.


Food Divides...Food Unites…
Dr. Geoff Andrews (Open University) 
& Dr. Ursula Hudson (Slow Food UK, Brighton & Lewes)

The rise of food to the top of the political agenda in many ways reflects a divided society, confirmed by inequalities between North and South; urban-rural divisions; those between the 'feeders and the fed' and the fact that the global food system, as it is currently organised, produces obesity and hunger in equal measure. In Britain there is much evidence that significant inequalities persist in the consumption of food, while attitudes to food are often said to be driven by social snobbery. Yet the food movements which have grown in recent years, ranging from the Slow Food movement to Fair Trade, to Sustain and the Guerrilla Gardeners, suggest both that food can be a source of unity within communities and that individuals and groups can now act to take and control and begin to set the political agenda themselves.


copyright AgelakisPlant biodiversity and nutrition: challenges and solutions
Professor Monique Simmonds (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

This talk explored the opportunities available for increasing the diversity of potential food plants by not only conserving plants used in different parts of the world but also furthering our understanding of the methods used by different communities to cook and prepare their food. The talk was illustrated by work undertaken by Kew staff and collaborators in different parts of the world.
Transforming food culture, starting in schools: the work of the Food For Life Partnership
Joanna Lewis (Food for Life Partnership, Soil Association)
The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities committed to transforming food culture. Together we aim to revolutionise school meals, reconnect young people with farms and inspire families to cook and grow food. The Partnership is led by the Soil Association, the Health Education Trust, Garden Organic and the Focus on Food Campaign.


The Life and Death of Tradition in a Salers Buron: Cheesemaking in the High Mountain Pastures of the Cantal, France  
Dr. Harry West (SOAS)
This presentation showed the producers of Tradition Salers at work in high mountain summer pastures and in the burons where they keep the calves, sleep, and make cheese. It examined the various challenges they face, including competition from cheaper cheeses made by more industrial methods, and unsympathetic health inspectors. The future of this cheese depends upon whether or not a new generation of cheesemakers is drawn to the solitary life of the buron.


copyright ghbrettEating organic: Weighing up the cost of ‘healthy’ food in a rural Welsh community
Dr. Sam Hurn (University of Wales, Lampeter)

The county of Ceredigion, West Wales, presents an interesting case study for anthropological investigation into food choices. Since the 1960s, organic farming, with its emphasis on high environmental and animal welfare standards, has developed and flourished in the area alongside conventionally run farms. This creates fertile ground for conflict as ‘traditional’ farmers feel they are being judged and deemed lacking by those who have converted to organic ideology and process.  Then there is the issue of the consumer – who buys organic food, and why? In this particular context there is a large market for organic, locally grown produce, especially amongst the incomer population. It is also no coincidence that Lampeter, the local market and University town, has recently been acknowledged as a ‘transition town’. Indeed, many of the key players responsible for pushing forward Lampeter’s transition from oil dependency are also involved in organic food production and/or distribution, recognizing that contemporary industrialized farming practices in the UK are energy-intensive and unsustainable. A key feature in Lampeter’s transition therefore is to encourage the production and consumption of local, organic produce, thereby reducing food miles. Consequently, this session considers the ‘cost’ of ‘healthy’ food from the perspectives of consumers and producers in west Wales, and reflect on the link between food choices and the cost of a healthy environment.


Touch of Home-why ethnic farmers are growing fresh, authentic and sustainable exotic produce right here in the UK
Zeenat Anjari (London Food Link, Sustain) &  David Mwanaka, (journalist, playwright, producer)

Good food is central to the lives of London’s ethnic communities.  Whole areas of London are now defined by the trade and consumption of food eaten by a specific community. These communities know the importance of gathering around family meals, cooking from scratch and are definitely fussy about quality, authenticity and freshness. This presentation demonstrates how people are trying to grow food from ‘back home’ here in a UK climate and why customers are queuing up for the results.


copyright hella deliciousThe World of Illicit Cultivation
Richard Reynolds (Founder of Guerrilla Gardening.Org)

This talk will give an overview of the foundations of guerrilla gardening, how and where it is taking place around the world, why people do it, and what they are up against.





Alongside these wonderful presentations were a series of information stalls/displays and exhibitions including: The Wonderful World of Chocolate, Guerilla Gardening, Edible Weeds, Grow Your Own Food Campaign and more!





Take a look at our Food and Plants Connecting People through the Ages Exhibition from our exploring the archives series. 




Take a look at our Exploring Food, Connecting Communities photo gallery on Flickr!