East London is like Schrödinger’s marmite. I love it and hate it at the same time.
East London is thriving with activity. It offers an incredible wealth of art, food, and fun. It has grown into Britain’s foremost culture scene, attracting the young and ambitious from across the globe. But with it has come a contagious plague of ‘Cool’. Cool has spread from the art we produce, to the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the jobs we do, to the social action in which we partake. Cool is an addictive drug; when its gets into your veins, you lose sense of genuine social value, and strive for nothing more than the next hit of Cool from that new drink, new dress, new drive.
Sadly, Cool has spread into the social action against food waste. Fighting food waste has become trendy - it has become a product of a cool lifestyle, like bowties or moustache wax. People pursue it as an accessory to their already eclectic lifestyle, to whip out at cocktail bars and underground cinemas as a cool topic of conversation. I have recognised this within myself - the temptation to reduce the real tangible problem of food waste to a small, diverting hobby of mine. I have mused with flippancy about dumpster-diving - the act of looking in the bins outside supermarkets for food they’ve thrown away. I have never done it, but said that I’d really like to give it a go one day.
But the other day, something like a smack in the face made me realise how foolish I was being. Listen to this man call into the local radio station and describe his experience of food poverty. Listen from 3'20''. It makes me feel sick. I realised that what I saw as a fun little experiment into food waste was for others a genuine, horrific, degrading necessity.
It’s easy to surround yourself with those who are like you - who dress like you, eat like you, have money like you. It’s easy to stay on the same storey of society. Sadly it’s easy to do this even when you’re working for social change. What is really difficult is going down the stairs to the storey below, or up the stairs or which ever direction you want. We can try to change the social order by constructing charities, community meals, and outreach programs, but if we ourselves don’t subvert the social order, we won’t see major change. We need to see and experience the problems we are trying to address.
To me, dumpster-diving is a fad of the rich, cool East-Londoner. To Mike from New Cross, it is a humiliating reality. I hate realising this separation. I pray that I will take my own words seriously, and seek to understand the reality of this problem, rather than seeing it as a cool distraction from my generally comfortable life.