What is the National Food Service?

Louise Delmege from the National Food Service Campaign describes her vision for a future when everyone in the U.K. has access to a local social eating space where communities can cook and eat together.

Our food system needs radical change. In Bristol right now, an estimated 43,000 people have limited or uncertain access to food. People struggle to regularly have enough nutritious food to eat – whether because of poverty, illness, loss of a partner, or lack of cooking facilities. At the same time, mountains of food is wasted and vast amounts of energy is spent processing food that will never be eaten, or that is so low in nutrition that is would have been better if it hadn’t.

There are many different parts to the solution, most vital of all being to put an end to poverty. Another element that I believe to be essential is the creation and growth of social eating. Cooking and eating together is more efficient than eating alone in terms of resources and waste. It’s also cheaper. Perhaps most valuable of all, it can be the foundation for community.

The dinner table is the natural place for sharing ideas. When we break bread with one another we break down social barriers. This kind of space does more than provide emergency support, it brings people from every part of society together in a wonderful way. The National Food Service Campaign has an ambitious aim to ensure that one day everyone will have access to a local social eating space where they and their neighbours can cook and eat together as a community.

These projects aren’t just a stop-gap to do good while we wait for systematic change, they are the radical change we need.

Supporting and empowering communities to run social eating spaces will make us more resilient. If you know which of your neighbours are most vulnerable then you know how best to distribute resources. However, the vision of the National Food Service Campaign is not to reduce the need for state support for the vulnerable. Rather, by creating this national network of food services, we will show future governments how successful these are, creating a climate in which it is easier to fund them and eventually ridiculous not to.

The dichotomy between charity and national services is a false one. Creating community projects does not disencentivise the state from stepping in, it gives the state an example of how to help. This is how libraries began. Local communities set up book sharing groups and eventually the state stepped in to nationalise them. The NHS wasn’t invented from scratch by politicians. It was based on preexisting local healthcare insurance and charitable projects that provided workable examples of how the national service could function.

As anyone who’s run a community project will know, it’s so, so hard to do without regular funding. Applying for grants takes huge amounts of volunteer energy, and often means having to compromise your goals to fit into what a private funding scheme wants. It is for this reason that national state funding is the ultimate goal. We believe that ensuring everyone has enough to eat ought to be the responsibility of the state and along with all caring work, cooking for others ought to be valued. It ought to be something we are paid a living wage to do.

Having recently moved to Bristol, I am visiting existing social eating projects, of which I’m pleased to say there are many. Unfortunately there are none that have a permanent space to use, rather than renting from other projects. It’s my long term goal to establish a social eating project, with its own space. With a base, it’s easier to reach out and empower others to set up projects elsewhere.

The National Food Service Campaign really admires all the work that Going for Gold have been doing. It’s great to see Bristol already doing so much to change what I consider our unjust food system. We are also really excited that Bristol City Council supports the building of a National Food Service as part of the Green New Deal. Bristol looks set to be one of the leading cities in fixing our food for good.

So how can you take action right now? If you’d like to get involved in the National Food Service Campaign, either as part of an organsation working in the space, or as an individual, start by emailing me, Louise, at nationalfoodservicecampaign@gmail.com to get involved. You could also get involved as a volunteer with FoodCycle.

As for Going For Gold actions, organising a community meal is one of the actions you can take to help make connections in your local community. If you have other food-related issues you would like to mobilise people around – from asking your local shop to switch to a local producer, to working to improve the meals at your childrens’ school, galvanising activity to address concerns in your area is another Going For Gold action you can log on the website. You can also take action as part of the Going For Gold ‘Food Equality’ strand to support community food projects, from city farms to community-owned shops.

Louise Delmege has recently moved to Bristol, bringing the National Food Service Campaign to the city from Sheffield. She worked for four years in a social eating project in Sheffield, the Foodhall project. She is passionate about social eating as the sustainable solution to food insecurity and social isolation.