A woman’s place

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Regula Ysewijn travels to Malmö in Sweden to attend Parabere Forum, a conference that gives a voice to women in food

Images: Sweet Sneak Studio; Regula Ysewijn

Parabere Forum was founded in 2015 as an independent international platform through which women’s views on major food issues could be heard. This year’s theme, ‘edible cities’, was of particular relevance to Borough Market, as it handled visions of urban food systems: how to feed an ever-growing urban population, how to grow food in the city, how to tackle food waste—and with it food poverty.

Carolyn Steel, an architect, presented a session on the role of food markets and the importance of city spaces where food is produced. London used to have many such places, but with rapid urbanisation, areas once dedicated to making or growing food have been covered with concrete, requiring more food to be imported from further afield in large quantities as the population grows ever larger.

Kate Hofman of GrowUp, London’s first commercial urban aquaponics farm, came with a solution: growing leafy greens in cities, closer to the consumer. She explained that this prioritises flavour, as the produce is fresher, and cuts food waste, as the greens have a longer shelf life than those that are imported. She did admit that urban farms could not feed the whole of London, but they can still make a valuable contribution. Borough Market’s new trader Mini Crops is an example of one of those urban farms.

Transforming small spaces
Indira Naidoo shared her passion for converting wasted urban space into food farms. After she started growing food on the balcony of her flat in Sydney, she was surprised by how much of her food she was able to produce and how fantastic it tasted. She has since travelled the world to help others transform small spaces into productive landscapes, from the rooftops of corporate buildings to the gardens of schools. “We need to start thinking about these spaces as opportunities,” she said.

On how to tackle food waste, Ronni Kahn, also from Australia, had a lightbulb moment in 2004. After years of catering at high-end events she was increasingly worried about food waste going to landfill. She decided to devote her life to this cause and founded OzHarvest, a food rescue operation that collects quality surplus food and distributes it to people in need. There is now an OzHarvest market in Sydney where shoppers pay whatever they can—even if that’s nothing at all. The organisation is currently saving over 25 million meals a year and is also teaching cooking classes.

Two entrepreneurial women from our host city of Malmö talked about bringing people from different ethnic backgrounds together over food. Christina Merker introduced us to Yalla Trappan, a non-profit project that seeks to improve the lives of women from the Rosengård community, the most multi-ethnic district of the city. The charity teaches these women Swedish, helping them to gain a voice, so they can integrate, develop and employ their skills. Through involvement in Yalla Trappan, women learn to speak the language for half a day and spend the rest of the time in the kitchen cooking, learning new skills, and implementing what they learned in their Swedish classes. A couple of the current trainees from Yalla Trappan (pictired below) were present at Parabere Forum to treat us to a scrumptious lunch on the first day—they were very proud to be a part of this and couldn’t stop smiling while everyone complimented them on their cooking.

Edible ideas
Another Malmö resident, but originally from Finland, Edith Salminen talked about her project, Gro’up—a place for education, social integration and food entrepreneurship. She calls it a home for everyone’s edible ideas, building a bridge between migrants, refugees and Swedes.

Further, I heard an interesting talk by Franca Roiatti of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, which has influenced projects all over the world: free school meals in New York, micro gardens in Dakar and community dining rooms in Mexico City. Lara Gilmore of Osteria Francescana gave a moving presentation about the Il Tortellante project, which teaches tortellini-making to children on the autism spectrum. Nonnas from the area are carrying out the teaching, making Il Tortellante a community, a bridge to a job, a place to make pasta, a place for these grandmothers to go and get involved and a place for special needs kids to claim their value and identity.

The closing session on day one was Noma’s René Redzepi talking openly about gender imbalance in his kitchen and the food industry. When he became a father of three daughters, he realised that everything is created for men to succeed. “It’s a bunch of guys in the kitchen,” he said, and he wants to change that. “The problem is that everything needs to change—from education, to Disney movies, to kitchens. A whole new system of leadership model needs to be set up.”

Parabere Forum is a great conference for anyone hoping to learn about interesting and inspiring projects and ideas around the world—but mostly its power is the incredibly bright women you meet on the way. Do women in gastronomy really need a separate conference? I think it is interesting to see a female view on food issues, and I’m sure the men who were there to both speak and listen would readily agree.