These young, exuberant people are all connected through their faith in food’s capacity to shape lives; their own lives and the lives of others. Besides that, their pasts vary wildly…
This is what I discovered when I met a few of the ‘new faces of food’ at the The Paperworks’ abandoned-fairground-feel site in Elephant and Castle last week. I scribbled and snapped while they tried to sate the queues of hungry Londoners gathering at this one-off street food night market.
Morven, the Scottish owner of Cast Iron Kitchen, came to England on a ‘notion’. Pursuing a shoe-making dream, she fell for market life whilst working for Mussel Men (purveyors of Scottish mussels). As that business moved increasingly inside, Morven remained outside shifting from the seafood to sizzling black puddings. For her, food provides a way to work outside in markets, coupled with the thrill she gets from creating a social interaction and providing pleasure for under a tenner. Morven reiterates a feeling expressed by several traders that food is creative, which compliments the other explicitly arty side of her own life. One little ‘Ape’ (a 3-wheeled Italian van), and her tiny 8-week-old baby under arm, she dreams out loud in Scottish cadence, of growing her fledgling business into a ‘wee fleet’. Cast Iron Kitchen not only creates a way of life for Morven, it promotes the geographically protected status of Stornaway black pudding made on the Isle of Lewis. In buying her steaks directly from the Scottish farm that butchers them, she also makes short, local food-chains a reality.
Disillusioned by past involvement in the charitable sector, Abi was finally inspired when she moved to Fair Trade. Her work there led her to believe in ‘food as trade, not as aid’ and she began to consider how she might utilise capitalist avenues to serve her interest in tackling food poverty. Abi went on to found Papi’s Pickles, an organisation that seeks to create opportunities for unemployed Sri Lankan women in London. She views food preparation as practical knowledge, which can be tapped to create economic and social advantage. Abi is also involved in schemes that look to provide healthy alternatives to the abundance of fried-chicken on the high street, particularly targeting teenage audiences. In collaboration with ‘We are What We Do’s Box Chicken scheme, Papi’s Pickles attempts to make healthy alternatives a more accessible option. On top of all of this she also works as a food poverty officer through London’s Sustain.
Dusty Knuckle, the brain-child of Max, Becca and Daisy is a social enterprise with bread at its heart. Previously working in violence prevention, Max sees Dusty Knuckle as an extension of this work and hopes that the business will serve to re-direct otherwise aggressive energy. He tells me that he considers bread making a spiritual process and a skill that can capture the imagination of young people, regardless of their past experiences. They aim to ‘feed’ communities, in a sense securing community sustainability by (re)invigorating youth offenders, early school leavers and the long-term unemployed. After two years of baking bread once a week over and around their day jobs, Dusty Knuckle moves into a car-park freight container in Dalston next week. Bread has often been a prominent social symbol in food movements and the Dusty Knuckle team similarly believe in bread’s ability to transgress social boundaries and heal divides. Whilst he and Abi of Papi’s Pickles may view different aspects of food trade as empowering, they both see food as a tool to enact social change.
Others, like Jack and Theresa take a more environmental tack. Both ex-marine biologist research divers Jack even turned his back on tropical paradise to return to familiar shores. Their ‘Community Supported Fishery’ Soleshare provides sustainably caught fish to urbanites. Whilst Soleshare seeks to safeguard marine environments, it also aims to create a more sustainable habitat for small scale fishermen and nurtures relationships between producer and consumer.
Whilst all of these small businesses have an emphasis on quality and flavour it was Greg’s transformation of chicken skin that was the tastiest morsel of the night. In his day job, Greg develops ready meals for Waitrose. Kushi’s gives him the opportunity to experiment and play with food in a less commercial fashion. At the moment Kushi’s is not a viable option as a full time job but Greg hopes to get it to that point. He’s been up all night prepping and each little mouthful dances with layers of fragrance and moreish sticky-meatiness. Greg skins a whole chicken, simmers the skin for two hours before drying, compressing, chopping and skewering. Dipped in a shimmering bath of mirin and chicken stock he then turns the skewers over charcoal until caramelised and serves with a squeeze of lime.
Sustainability means different things to different people and these food entrepreneurs all seek to be sustainable whether on a personal, local, national or global scale. Whether their definition of sustainability is environmental or social, these fresh faces see food as a means to better the world and please a few palates in the process.
Images by Barley Blyton. From top to bottom: Theresa (Soleshare), Morven (Cast Iron Kitchen), Abi (Papi’s Pickles), Max and Becca (Dusty Knuckle), Jack and Theresa (Soleshare), Lee (BBQ Dreamz), Greg and Tom (Kushi’s)
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