Meet And Eat: The Importance of Local Communities In Global Change

Community-led initiatives promoting sustainable lifestyles are a phenomenon spreading across the UK. Here’s how one York cafe is helping the planet with quality meals under a fiver.

I talked in a previous article about the YorCafe food waste scheme hosted in York’s Tang Hall Community Centre. However, much like the food supply chain to our high street supermarkets, some things that look simple at first need more investigation.  There’s more to this community centre than first glance suggests. It turns out that Tang Hall hosts more than one initiative that could help both the neighbourhood and the environment.

Some veteran York residents may remember the hugely popular and quirky Bicis y Más cafe that used to be in Walmgate, serving vegan food alongside bicycles. Well, those who mourned its closure last year will be happy to learn they can still get their reasonably-priced high-quality food, even from the same chefs.

Meet & Eat is an initiative set up by chef Kat Djali and run by York Flourish, a local community interest company tackling social isolation. Every Tuesday at 12.30pm at Tang Hall Community Centre, with the help of a couple of volunteers, she cooks a three-course meal, funded by Tang Hall Big Local and the local ward team. Her aim is to provide affordable, nutritionally balanced meals to locals in a space that allows people to mingle with their local community.

“I wanted to combine my interest in social health and nutritional health, as well as my knowledge of cooking,” says Kat, who has a background in neuropsychology.

The results are impressive: locals return time and time again to her inventive cooking repertoire (when I visited, the meal on offer was noodle laksa followed by homemade apricot ice cream). The meals are all plant-based and many use vegetables and ingredients provided by Food Circle York, an organisation that aims to reduce agricultural waste and encourage city dwellers to value their food. The emphasis is on fresh produce and nutritious food, a sentiment similar to that of YourCafe.

It’s worth considering whether community-led initiatives and schemes like this are inherently more sustainable than large-scale institutional systems. When a group of local people work together for a common aim – at the risk of sounding like a cheesy motivational speech – it encourages resourcefulness and bringing together the skills and resources of the local area. While large supermarkets create an artificial consumer need for the same products to be readily available all year round – which a recent article interviewing food market sellers expanded upon in more detail – and then struggling to match the demand, local groups like Meet & Eat have the space to concentrate on sourcing and providing fresh and nutritionally rich food.

The grassroots nature of community schemes are environmentally healthy, reducing waste and in the process strengthening community ties. Many residents come to the weekly meals for the social aspect, helping build a sense of solidarity with neighbours. The plant-based meals provided, at £4.50 for two courses, are helping provide locals and those put off by the intimidating prospect of beginning to shop for their own fresh produce, a cost that can seem prohibitive to those less experienced in the kitchen.

With so many similar schemes cropping up in local communities across the country, we should draw attention not just to the initiatives themselves but the valuable role that communities play in addressing food waste and other sustainable issues. Not to start paraphrasing John Lennon songs but often helping tackle global and national issues ends up helping problems much closer to home.

York-based readers can follow Meet & Eat on Facebook for news of upcoming events. For those outside of York – what community schemes are happening near you that we should know about? Tell us in the comments!

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