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Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets

Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets

Elaine Swan, Sajna Miah and Shazna Hussain

Did you know that Cable St was home to the largest confectionery and jam factory in the world? Or that cafes like the Somali run Club Rio offered ‘pockets of survival’ or ‘culinary safe havens’ (Sabar & Posner, 2013 and Wills, 2017 in Swan et al., 2023) against a backdrop of racism, exclusion and social impoverishment.
In 2022, community researchers from the Women’s Environmental Network (Wen) and the University of Sussex co-produced a Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets as part of the Food Lives project (itself part of a larger inter-university research project called FoodSEqual and led by Reading University). ‘Our project is based in Tower Hamlets and we have partnered with the Women’s Environmental Network. We want to understand the food systems in everyday life and in particular, we’re very interested in women and their foodwork.’
Over 3 episodes, community researchers Sajna Miah and Shazna Hussain, and Sussex University food and feminist specialist, Dr Elaine Swan, take us on a journey through time and racial and ethnic spaces, with insights into the food systems of the past and present day.
The tour takes in Watney Market, Cable Street, the original site of Café Rio, Wombat’s City Hostel, Wilton’s Music Hall, the former dairies and sugar factories of Wellclose Square and Swedenborg Gardens, and ends in an urban orchard in the heart of the St George’s Estate. ‘While mainstream culinary tours might skip over the fraught histories of exclusion and struggle in Tower Hamlets,...alternative narratives...bring these elements to the forefront.’ (Swan et al., 2023)
Collectively, we produced a map of the tour with artist Nasima Sultana (see images here) drawing on community, public and academic history illustrating the food histories of Tower Hamlets. We designed the tour map to enable local people and visitors to carry out their own exploration of the rich social, cultural and economic history of food and food production and the newer food economies in the area. These histories have shaped food production and consumption for over 150 years and flavour what locals buy, grow or eat in their own kitchens, local cafes and restaurants today.
Historical analyses matter for a present day understanding of food systems, they inform an understanding of inequalities in contemporary food production and consumption. ‘...our research underlines the significance of historic non-white contributions to the food system within a context of racial inequality. The café owners and workers created what today we would call “community assets,” providing cultural and material nourishment, commensality, welfare, and feelings of conviviality’. (Swan et al., 2023)
References

Mullally, G. et al. (2022). ‘Walking, talking, [Re-]imagining socio-ecological sustainability: Research on the move/moving research’, Irish Journal of Sociology, 31(1), pp. 37-62

Swan, E. et al. (2023). ‘Mapping Pockets of Survival: Café Society in Post-war Cable Street’, Portal Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, 19(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/02619761003602246.

This research was supported through the Transforming UK Food Systems for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment Programme, a UKRI Strategic Priority Fund, as part of the project FoodSEqual.
Funding for this podcast was provided by University of Sussex Participatory Research Network.

We would like to thank Helen New and Paul Wilson from East End Homes, the Women’s Environmental Network and Nasima Sultana for making this podcast possible.

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FAQ

How many episodes does Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets have?

Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets currently has 3 episodes available.

What topics does Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets cover?

The podcast is about Podcasts, Social Sciences, Science, Arts and Food.

What is the most popular episode on Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets?

The episode title 'Food Lives, Tower Hamlets and the role of the Community Researcher' is the most popular.

What is the average episode length on Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets?

The average episode length on Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets is 40 minutes.

How often are episodes of Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets released?

Episodes of Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets are typically released every 7 days.

When was the first episode of Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets?

The first episode of Food Lives: Food History Tour of Tower Hamlets was released on Mar 11, 2024.

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