Welcome to our guest contributor, Justine Williams! Justine is a sociocultural anthropologist who studies social and economic justice, particularly as it relates to food and agriculture. We are excited to hear her work bettering our communities with Real Good Food! Learn how to support these efforts.
By Justine Williams
A couple years ago, Devin McIntire and I were living in a tiny apartment building in Washington, D.C. Sometimes we’d catch delectable scents wafting out from our neighbors’ doors, but we didn’t know most of them – hadn’t even seen many of them – so we didn’t know what was going on in those nearby kitchens. Devin was frustrated by this conundrum. How absurd, he thought, that we are all living and cooking so close to each other, in our one and two bedroom apartments, without sharing. That was when the idea of Real Good Food was born.
In those days we had enough time our hands to do a lot of cooking at home, a great CSA to supply us with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and cheese for ingredients, and several not-so-cheap organic markets within walking distance for the rest. But when we cooked, we were faced with one of two options. We could eat the meal just the two of us and be left with a pile of leftovers that we’d be sick of by the end of the week, or we could invite friends over to join us. The latter was more fun, but it wasn’t particularly good for our bank accounts to host dinner parties on a regular basis.
Although we never did get to know most of these neighbors, we can credit them with providing some of the inspiration for bringing food sharing collectives to Michigan, North Carolina (and soon beyond). When we left D.C., Devin moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan and planted a seed for this vision. Starting with a simple email group, Real Good Food was built around young families, grad students, and well-practiced bakers who started sharing and trading their favorite foods.
The results have been pretty encouraging so far. Members find that it’s easy to cook an extra batch of whatever they’re making and that it’s much more exciting and rewarding to swap that extra for something else someone has carefully prepared at home than to keep snacking on the same meal. It’s also economical, allowing people to maximize on economies of scale in a way that most of us can’t usually do at home. There are now over 120 members, swapping homegrown produce, spice mixes, soups, bread and more. As one new member recently shared “For my first trade I met a lady in a parking lot; she had fresh rosemary and I had fresh curry leaves, we swapped, it quick and dirty and wonderful.”
Meanwhile, I’ve moved to North Carolina and am beginning to organize groups here. While I originally assumed that groups of graduate students and progressive neighborhood associations in the urban triangle area would be the most receptive groups for Real Good Food, I have come to realize that the idea of food trading is much more expansive and appealing to many groups of people. In a very rural county in northern North Carolina where I’m working on a project to rebuild the local food system, I’ve found that many of my colleagues and friends there wistfully remember the days when their communities engaged in active bartering – swapping the produce, preserves, and baked goods from their kitchens and gardens with those of their neighbors. They are interested in reintroducing food swapping as a means to strengthen relationships within the community, increase access to healthy local food, and make this access financially viable.
The possibilities are vast for forming food sharing collectives and networks, but the challenge at this point is communication. How can those interested in engaging in food trading find others interested in joining them? How can they find people who make the types of good food they are looking for? How can they easily communicate on a daily or weekly basis?
A listserv and word of mouth recruitment have been a good start in Ann Arbor, but we envision a website for more accessible, streamli;’[.ned communication. Real Good Food is now running a campaign through the crowd-funding platform Launcht to raise the funds we need to make this website a reality. With a website, we imagine that home-cooks and food enthusiasts could search for groups of traders to join by geographic location (either city or neighborhood) or by food preference. For instance, vegetarians, gluten-free folks, or locavores could find each other and form groups, or maybe even those interested in Indian cooking, or moms sharing homemade baby food could come together. It would facilitate posting and searching for food offerings, and build trust (since we know you don’t want to take just anyone’s homemade food) through the creation of profiles, pictures and feedback from other members.
There is so much good food out there, but we don’t have to open our wallets wide at the most sophisticated restaurants and markets to get it. We just need to start sharing with our friends, neighbors, and families. Build connections, strengthen your community, eat more homemade food. And share it.