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Food politics: Part one

The era of the internet and globalisation have rendered the expression “universal language” somewhat moot. We can talk about the language of love, music, emojis or even football. Yet the tongue every human being on this planet speaks with fluency is food. The patois of the palette, the semantics of the succulent, the defining of our dinners! Those of us with the privilege to be picky about what we eat bond over culinary favourites and analyse food photos on social media. The Great British Bake Off, Master Chef and even Kitchen Nightmares fuel our obsession with food.

Food is also one of the few things that we need to simply live. People fight wars over food and land, blood is shed over fields that provide the basic source of our survival. Food security is a term used a lot by humanitarian aid organisations, yet what is food security? For many, it is knowing where their next meal will be coming from. In 2015, the United Nations estimated that 795 million people were undernourished globally. 795 million people were food insecure. In a world where trendy tastes and fashionable flavours dominate Instagram, our TV programming and our cookbooks there are millions who have to think about how they are going to find a way to put food on their table.

A meal shared can also be one of the most humbling experiences when spending time with communities facing poverty. A meal, whether it be honey and bread on the floor of a hut in Ethiopia or a rich curry served on a coconut leaf in India, is a shared human experience. An opportunity for conversation and connection even in the most difficult circumstances.

Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year is a prestigious photography competition showcasing the very best of food photography and film from around the world. This year All We Can entered seven images taken of our work around the world, and from a global field of thousands four of these photographs have reached the final shortlist. While at first it may seem strange for All We Can’s imagery to be featured in a food photography competition, so many of the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year’s categories and themes relate to the connection between humans and the food we grow, prepare, sell and consume. So much of All We Can’s work around the world relates to the pressure on people to provide food for their families – often many solutions to poverty also involve food.

Some All We Can staff, including myself and my colleague Graeme Hodge, have had the joy of being able to travel and meet the people All We Can serves in some of the world’s poorest communities. It was during two of these visits that we took the images entered into this year’s competition.

In Cameroon, we spent time meeting widows who were reclaiming their lives after not only losing their husbands but also their homes and livelihoods. We also met older people who had formed social co-operatives that would come together and grow produce for sale. In Tole, Anna showed me with great delight that she could now afford to make nutritious fish stew for her children. In the north of the country a joyful army of potato, carrot, corn and onion sellers greeted Graeme and I – most well over the age of 70!

In Zimbabwe, we saw the impact All We Can’s work with local communities was having on their ability to provide their children with meals that would give them the energy to go to school and learn. We also saw the problems a lack of food caused for families like Regai’s. Graeme photographed young Bothwell eating his simple meal of sadza on a mat in his home. To learn more about Bothwell and his family order our new Harvest 2017 resources.

Four of our images have been shortlisted in Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year, it is humbling to be placed alongside so many other amazing food photos from around the world. What is more humbling though is the honour we had of being able to share in those private mealtime moments in Cameroon and Zimbabwe. The suppers served in both locations looked very different. Nevertheless, the toil and love poured into those meals was the same. Food is never just about security – it is about being able to provide dignity, sharing moments with family and gaining the energy and nutrition to sustain a meaningful, purposeful life.

The images chosen for the final of the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year 2017 will be featured in an exhibition in London. You can vote for your favourite image to win the People’s Choice Award by going to the competition website before the end of 5 April 2017. To find the four images relating to All We Can’s work around the world look in the following categories:

  • Food Sn-apping: Vote for image by Graeme Hodge or Laura Cook
  • World Food Programme Food For Life: Vote for image by Laura Cook
  • Partridges Food For Sale: Vote for image by Laura Cook

In Part Two of this blog series I will be exploring the role of food in our lives and will be looking at the impact of famine and food insecurity in East Africa.

About the Author Laura Cook

Laura works for All We Can as the Communications Manager. She is also an internationally acclaimed photographer with a passion for women's rights. She is studying MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies in her spare time and lives with her husband Stephen in Essex.

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