Exploring food and culture
This blog was originally written for, and published by, Scene Stirling, home to Stirling’s Place Partnership project - a collaborative initiative by the city’s arts and cultural partners.
There's something about sharing food together that seems to fast-track the process of getting to know someone. Perhaps it’s because it gives you something to talk about, or that we all have food memories, stories and recipes to share. Maybe we’re just happier when we’re eating - I know I am.
A former boss used to joke that you could always tell when I’d been involved in planning an event, because of the prominent feature of either white wine or chocolate brownies (ideally both). It’s certainly true that food almost always features in the events that are closest to my heart, and that in many cases it’s the feature around which some of my clearest memories crystalise.
Take Stirling’s second annual Fun Palace, held at Macrobert Arts Centre in 2019. Fun Palaces is an annual weekend encouraging neighbours to come together to share their interests and teach one-another their skills - in anything from drumming to animation to origami. Mid afternoon on Fun Palace day, I was learning to make tomato bruschetta (I learned that day that there’s a secret ingredient to amazing tomato recipes - it’s smoked salt flakes. Honestly - they make all the difference). I’d spotted a woman nearby earlier in the day - she’d come into Macrobert simply to get out of the rain and fill out a form, and had shyly resisted my earlier attempt at conversation. As we sat close by though, and chopped, and chatted, and tasted, we gradually drew her over. She grew tomatoes, it turned out, and leaned in to join us in inhaling the fragrant scent of basil leaves. She was able to share her knowledge on how to ripen green tomatoes at the end of the summer (she was right - mine got tucked away in a drawer as she advised, and ripened steadily through the winter), and by the time her husband came to meet her half an hour later was enjoying the fruits of her labour and laughing along with a whole group of new friends.
It’s easy to forget how much these moments of unexpected connection can enrich our lives. Modern life teaches us that privacy is the thing to aspire to - private gardens, private transport, private beaches on that dream holiday. But we’re social beings, and sharing food with someone who’s outside our usual circle can help us to explore a new culture, uncover a forgotten memory, teach us something new - or simply make us smile.
At Stirling Soup - a community crowdfunding event I founded back in 2016 to encourage local people to support community-led ideas - sharing food together was an integral part of the event. It was the moment when people shared their thoughts on the projects they’d heard from, and debated with their neighbours how their money (£5 per person, donated as they entered and allocated to one winning project by way of a vote) would best be spent. People mucked in - first helping to clear plates and pass bread around, then perhaps offering to volunteer at a project, or to design a website to get a new idea off the ground. Food was the catalyst that turned us all from passive ‘attendees’ into active co-creators.
More recently, I’ve connected a little further up the food chain, and have become part of a community garden and a community growing project in Linlithgow, where I now live. Much like eating together, growing together is an opportunity (perhaps more of an excuse, really) to connect more closely with the person beside you - to share stories, trade advice, swap experience. It’s been such a pleasure to find things in common with neighbours I’ve never spoken to, to laugh till I cry with people I’d never usually have met, and to be encouraged to try something new by people with different ideas to my own. We’ve even baked chocolate brownies to share as we work... it turns out that really is the common denominator.