Food for thought, body and soul

There are a number of great fresh food initiatives and ideas going on, from garden-shares to community hydroponics schemes, from 'mobile gardens' to produce-for-meals barter setups

There are a number of great fresh food initiatives and ideas going on, from garden-shares to community hydroponics schemes, from 'mobile gardens' to produce-for-meals barter setups

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This week, Cat Turner looks at the challenges of eating healthily and keeping your family well while on a limited budget

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This year’s been a great one, in many ways, for our family – but it’s also had its challenges, not least financial.

So I thought myself very fortunate when, in a particularly tough time, we had cause to rely on the kindness of The Salvation Army for food basics.

We’re lucky indeed to live in a part of the world where this sort of help’s on hand!

The number of people who’ve needed the help of the Salvation Army in the Isle of Man has escalated hugely this year, as it also did in 2012 – so much so that there’s a welcome Food Bank Project under way to see how the scope of its work can be bolstered.

Food poverty, like fuel poverty, is a real and present problem for many on this supposedly wealthy little island.

But as a lately-born ‘locavore’, that is someone who prefers to eat food that’s sourced close to home with minimal processing or airmiles, it made me appreciate one particular problem that food banks have: by their nature, they can’t usually provide perishables, fresh fruit and vegetables in particular.

This isn’t a complaint – we were hungry, and grateful beyond words for the canned, boxed and dried foods we received, and for the non-judgemental and kindly way they were given.

And luckily we have greenfingered friends and neighbours, who have shared fruits and vegetables with us with amazing generosity. But it did make me think about the longer-term health consequences of eating on a low budget.

Wander through Strand Street and you won’t be able to spit without hitting a fast food outlet or £2.30-a-pop coffee shop – great if that’s what you want, but not a source of much nutrition.

And when you’re on your uppers, struggling against debt and its faithful attendant depression, good nutrition’s essential in keeping you in good mental and physical shape.

So I’ve been hearing with interest about a number of different ways in which places the world over have been working to ensure their poor and needy get the fresh unprocessed produce they need to restore them to hope and health.

They include community gardens and greenhouses, in some cases run by food bank operators, in others by less formal local groups. They focus on growing food and herbs which people can gather enough of for their immediate needs – and where, if they’re fit and able enough, they can spend time getting their hands in the soil and helping with the growing effort.

This is sound practice on a number of levels – nutritional, psychological, environmental and even economic.

People who are eating well and building up their health, learning skills and building up their social contacts and self-confidence through practical work, ultimately need less support from the health and benefits systems. And creating a community with the knowledge and connections to grow and distribute produce keeps money in the local economy, rather than sending it offshore to pay global ‘food’ manufacturers for their calorie-rich, nutrition-poor wares.

But there are a number of other great initiatives and ideas going on, from garden-shares to community hydroponics schemes, from ‘mobile gardens’ to produce-for-meals barter setups. The Alpine cafe in Douglas is a great example of the latter: offer the lovely Mel your surplus salads and veg, and if it’s in good shape and she can use it, she’ll trade you for some of her amazing salads, cakes or soups. Fantastic!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be airing a few ideas on helping our bodies, minds, pockets and planet by fixing our local food system – and I hope readers will contribute some thoughts of their own.

We’ll also be showing a great movie, Food Stamped, at one of our regular free screenings – a great and humorous insight into how you can eat well when your income’s buttons. Watch the Rebel Cinema Facebook page for details, or email IoMFoE@manx.net to be added to the mailing list.

By learning to look after ourselves and our land, we can do much to free ourselves from ill-health, environmental pollution, food poverty and debt.

And the collateral benefits? Often, we can start to see off loneliness, depression, disempowerment and dependence on broken systems.

This isn’t touchy-feely idealism – it’s the real deal, being demonstrated already in other communitites.

With a will and some imagination, we can do it here too – together.

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