INNOVATION | SUSTAINABILITY | HUMAN NATURE
More soul food than slow-food, Blasda aims to bring people together for a feed. By Mike Small
Can what we eat help create community and become a daily habit feeding the shift to a low carbon world? It can, but only if we regain a sense of collective
The sign at Ikea reads expectantly: ‘Too tired to cook?’ Robert Putnam's ‘Bowling Alone’ and Morgan Spurlock's ‘Supersize Me’ reflect a contemporary culture characterised by obesity and isolation. It’s not a coincidence. Self-confessed bread-geek, Andrew Whitley reminds us that the very word for bread has the same root as companionship ‘com pagne’ – daily bread. Somewhere down the line to our vastly overstressed and over-worked existences we’ve forgotten the universal truth that food tastes better when it’s shared. It’s time to take a seat.
Silo culture is intensified by digital culture. So is community. The climate justice movement is undermined by the scale of the crisis and its overwhelming abstract nature: this is something that’s happening everywhere that (most of the time) you can’t see feel or touch.
These challenges are the starting point for Blasda, Scotland’s local food feast, which launches next month (Saturday 10 September 2011), hopefully the first of many annual days to celebrate Scotland’s local food movement. What’s on the menu? For starters remembering that food can be a social event. The main course is recalling an understanding of seasonality. To finish things off we'll be rediscovering the most basic skills: how to feed ourselves, and, no less importantly amid financial collapse the idea of creating strong resilient local economic structures.
Blasda (from the gaelic for tasty) uses social media to unite the growing local food movement with the intent of breaking down the silos and bringing taste/sensation/sensuality to the issues of climate change and what French farmer José Bové called simply ‘la malbouffe’ – bad food.
Blasda says: this change tastes good. Eating can be part of a restorative practice, three times a day. Faced with the enormity of going beyond Salmond’s ‘reindustrialisation of Scotland’ towards a more vitalistic and forward-looking ‘deindustrialisation’, what better medium could you have than real nourishment – comfort food?
The project brings together a bewildering jumble of community growing projects, allotments, schools, cafes and farms that make up the loose coalition of forces beginning to piece together diet, health, community, wellbeing and ecology. The day of ‘local food feast’ promises a heaving mass of lunches, ceilidhs and celebration of regional food culture.
Participants include a borders community pioneering aquaponics, a primary school in Dundee that’s created it’s own kitchen garden, a massive food-feast in Toryglen, and projects from Skye to East Kilbride, Aberdeen to the Black Isle.
After years of speaking to local food project around the country I realised that the problem wasn’t a lack of energy or innovation on the ground, it was the lack of connectivity between groups. Often they were voluntary groups and either socially isolated urban projects or geographically isolated rural ones – both sharing the common experience of being over-stretched and under-resourced. Blasta aims to connect participants up, first online, then face-to-face to share experiences, innovations and ideas. A shared recipe book, flickr stream, and visit programme will join people working with common problems in different experiences.
Taking Arendt’s idea that the public realm must have a seat for everyone at the table, Blasda is open to all. Designers D8 helped by framing the project with a series of adaptable templates for groups to create their own materials. You choose your logo, plate and setting. Immediately the need for this (beyond experimental design) became clear as a Glasgow group thought the draft pig logo might be off-putting to sections of the city’s multi-cultural community.
This isn’t all just about small-scale voluntary groups. Scottish farmers are leading with the Farming for a Better Climate project and there’s room for cafes and food hubs like Cookie (Glasgow) Earthy (Edinburgh) or the Real Food Cafe (Tyndrum) all moving away from business as usual.
For years Scottish food has had a terrible reputation, some of it well deserved. But lying behind that reputation was anomaly: why was a country blessed with such high quality produce blighted by such terrible diet? Back to the notion of deindustrialisation and the entrenched centralisation of food infrastructure (from dairies, to mills to abattoir). All of this is ready to be reclaimed, and the novelty is we’re not trying to ‘scale-up’ we’re trying to scale back down again. In the parlance of a million dreadful business gurus ‘Is it scaleable?’ Yes, but not in the way you’re thinking.
The technology involved is mostly offline whether it’s SAGE’s amazing mobile urban allotment system, Fife Diet's Smoothie Bike (see below)
None of these are enough in themselves but they are the precursor to coming changes, food you can eat and the re-scaling and decentralisation of our food infrastructure. The idea of ‘food miles’ has gone from being a marginal oddity to becoming a essential element in the newly re-born anti-globalisation movement.
Part of the Blasda vision is derived from the Fife Diet's idea of a bioregional response to climate change: reinhabit your region, ‘know your place’. It’s not as simple as the French notion of terrroir, which relates to the soil a geographical locality can produce. Some of re-capturing Scottish food culture might have a different feel. Knowledge of food systems might not be about looking back to or reviving a glorious past, it might be blunter than that: this fishing village can’t sustain itself any more because the fish are gone. But there are old stories to be rediscovered and new ones to be told. Tunnock’s are part of Uddingston's food heritage. Soft fruit is an essential part of Blairgowrie’s economy. Shettleston Housing Associationis laden with potential for a new model for urban living, integrating growing into tenancy and planning. Who knew Rosyth was planned as an orchard town?
The table is set. Join us by hosting your own Blasda event or go along to the one nearest you.
Contact me if you want to join in: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blasta will launch at: http://www.blasda.org.uk on 11 August
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