Food for Thought
Updated: Nov 18
I was recently up in Skellefteå in Northern Sweden at a conference for SKR - (which translates something like the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions.) It was a wonderful conference, very much focused on the role of culture in creating the futures we wish to live in. I ran a workshop on Leadership and the role that narrative plays in the creation of culture.
Whilst I was there many people asked me about my work and were suprised by the range of projects and organisations I had been involved in. (To be honest I am amazed too.) They wanted to know more and I realised that I rarely reflect on my 'back-catalogue' of work and perhaps it would be useful to do so, so here goes!
I decided to share the Harvesting Stories Project first, as I heard a great presentation from Radical Love whilst I was in Skellefteå and also had a follow-up chat with one of the creators, Sam Hultin. Their idea of care as a form of resistance and the inclusion of shared cooking and food in their events, was an integral part of this project. Have a read let me know what you think.
Harvesting Stories took place in 2013 and was a jointly funded project based in Birmingham. The marvellous Kaye Winwood was the curator of the project and the incredible Katja Ogrin was the photographer. The aim of the project was to bring the diverse communities of Birmingham together through the sharing of food, recipes and stories. Most of the sessions were held and advertised in libraries or community centres. The session started with an introduction, then I told a story relating to food which catapulted the group into a shared, sensory experience. We then invited them to share their stories and what stories! There was laughter and tears and also a sense of wonder that so many of these stories had not been heard and yet were so vital and important to the history of not just Birmingham, but of us as humans.
For me the one that has stuck with me and also the one that feels most painfully pertinent right now, was the story we heard from Teresa. (See the image in the postcard above, she is wearing a pink, floral blouse.) Teresa was one of the women we met at the Polish Community Centre. Many of them had limited English, even though they had lived in the UK for many years. There were many reasons behind this, none to do with how smart or resilient they were. It was through this group and particularly Teresa's story that I found out about the displacement of Polish survivors of the Gulags in Siberia. Most of the women were survivors of the Gulags and talked about the horrific conditions and terrible hunger they experienced there as children. They left the Gulags through an agreement between the British Government and Poland that was to 'help' the Polish exiles - but this did not mean that they were initially invited to the UK - no, they were sent to the 'Colonies.' This meant that Teresa found herself in Tanzania. She talked about what a complete shock it was and how ill her mother became, however it was better than the Gulags as they had food and it was here she learnt how to cook 'klops.' (There is a history of the Polish in Tanzania here if you are interested in finding out more.Many other Polish people were sent to Palestine, Iran and India. You can learn more about their journeys here. )
This is just one of the stories out of the many that were collected and printed off on postcards as you see above. The project finished with a presentation event and a performance that wove together many of the stories that had been shared. What was wonderful was that people who would not normally meet each other, did so. Not only did they meet people who were not in their normal social group, they also listened to them and shared stories with them and recognised so much of what they shared - not least their connection to food and meals most often cooked by those who were no longer with them. I would love to do a new version of this project but have the final recipes and stories as digital images that could be clicked on - perhaps also hearing the person's voice recounting their story..... wouldn't that be lovely?
I trust that many people in this time of brutal and violent conflict, will realise that they share something vital and precious - they share what it is to be human, what it is to love and mourn and laugh and hope. For now I hope that this blog has made you hopeful and curious; curious to know more about people's stories, curious to know more about how you can work with stories, curious too about your own story.