Ewan Aitken: Cyrenians make the best use of food

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Food is not the answer to Food Poverty. That was one of the many challenging and creative contributions to the first Cyrenians conversation on Food which was held this week.

Called a Taste of Cyrenians, it was a gathering over breakfast; around 80 people eating and talking about food; how and where we grow it, how we share it or eat alone and the challenges some folk have to get enough of it. The food all came from Cyrenians’ work. You can see the video on our website (www.cyrenians.org.uk).

Cyrenians has always placed food at the heart of its work. It built its first community in 1968 around some very excluded people discovering the power of caring for each other through cooking and eating together. It is the same today in our two communities which house to up to 15 homeless young people.

The first potatoes were planted on our farm in 1972. We now have a chef, Mark Greenaway, buying some of his produce from us and a veg bag scheme delivering to offices across the city.

Our fareshare programme helps feed more than 1500 people a week using surplus food from supermarkets and other food-based retailers. Our 40-plus volunteers, many from tough places, who sort and deliver the 30 tonnes of food we shift a week, will tell you that opportunity to help others is what will change their lives rather than access to food they otherwise could not afford to buy.

Last year we held more than 200 cooking classes for people on the margin. They learnt not just to feed themselves but to feed their friends, nourishing not just their bodies but the relationships that will feed their wellbeing beyond their biological needs.

Our community gardens at the Royal Edinburgh and Midlothian Hospitals bring together patients, health staff and the community to share in the journey of planting, growing, harvesting and eating, a cycle lost to so many. In that reconnecting, everyone grows not simply those described as patients.

We know what we do and how food shapes the Cyrenians Journey. These four conversations, along with a number of other activities, will help us reflect on our experiences to ask deeper questions of both politicians and of ourselves about how to better make use of food grown locally and shared communally to help shape our communities – and in doing so also making sure the most excluded have access to the food they need so they are better able to face the challenges they experience.

Ewan Aitken is Cyrenians chief executive