On the Monday Bank Holiday just past, the Sustainable Food Trust, in partnership with Slow Food and Foodcycle Bristol hosted an Eat-In! as part of the Bristol Food Connections festival.

An Eat-In! is a gathering of people in a public space, coming together to demand access to delicious, diverse, locally produced food. It is a public celebration of the producers who make this food, and an opportunity to extend the good-food conversation to a wider cross-section of the public. Our Resource of the Week is the Eat-In! organisers tool-kit and anybody interested in hosting their own can download the materials to find out more.

Each Eat-In! is different, and I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in organising several over the last few years. At the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, we started an Eat-In! which now takes place as an annual welcome celebration for incoming students. At Terra Madre in 2010, we organised an Eat-In! that fed 300+ guests on the winding car-ramp of the old Fiat factory in Lingotto, with the celebration making it into Time Magazine.

The idea to host an Eat-In! to celebrate the richness and diversity of the Bristol food movement has been floating around for sometime, and what better opportunity than as part of the recent city-wide community food festival, which has so brilliantly brought together all those striving towards good food culture. With Slow Food International in attendance from Italy, it seemed the perfect moment to bring together a truly outstanding collaboration of organisations working in this area, and to engage the Bristol public in the importance of sharing a meal together.

For this particular Eat-In! we wanted to draw attention not only to the great producers that we have in the UK, but also to the amount of food that is currently wasted. So working with Slow Food we approached all the producers participating in the festival market, and were thrilled to receive donations from a wide-range of producers that are part of Slow Food UK’s Forgotten Foods programme. This programme aims to safe-guard and preserve methods of food production, which have existing for hundred of years, but are now becoming extinct as we move towards an ever more industrialised food system. With help from FoodCycle Bristol and the Gleaning Network, we were also able to hunt down over 150kg of vegetables, which would have otherwise gone to waste.

Over 3-days, armed with an incredible team of volunteers, we cooked our socks off, transforming our donations into delicious plates for the table. On bank holiday Monday, we arrived early on College Green and laid a long banqueting table with vintage crockery, beautiful tea-cups, freshly cut wild flowers and lots of pens, so that participants could draw on the paper table-cloth, leaving their thoughts, ideas and good food messages. As more and more members of the public stopped to see what was happening, they read the manifesto and repeatedly commented on what a powerful and positive idea it is to bring people together over good food. By engaging people on their terms, and creating an event where people feel relaxed, well-fed and content, we can open them up to a more powerful, political conversation about the kind of food we believe we should all have access to.

It did occur to me as very strange that we have come to live in a society where the idea of cooking and sharing a meal together is a radical and innovative thing to do. However, this only serves to highlight the importance of events like these, and the need to spread them as widely as we possibly can.

Eat-In’s are not a project owned by anybody, they grew out of the Slow Food Youth Network in 2008, and have since take place in cities all over the world, each with its own unique sense of place and purpose. We sincerely hope to organise another in Bristol for next year, but in the meantime, download the tool-kit, find some friends, take to the streets, and throw your forks in the air in the name of good food communities!

All photographs by Steph French

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