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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Vaxevanakis

Why I believe food and community spaces can empower marginalised communities…

Firstly: What do I mean by empower? 

“The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights.”

Therefore, in turn curbing social inequality. 

I have always been passionate about food and its power. Growing up in Athens I saw the love my Grandma put into cooking and the way it brought people together in their homes and in the local community. As I got older, food helped me connect to my Greek identity when I felt far away from it and in the past three years, food has given me a new and beautiful understanding of Bristol, a city I have lived in for 10 years.

Members of the community cooking up a meal for their village in Ikaria, Greece.

Food is so much more than sustenance. Food is a core part of society whether you are into food or not. And with food, comes community and with community comes food! 

This feeling of togetherness that food creates, the way the dinner table equalises communities and the fundamental need to be well nourished to LIVE (not just survive), is why I have chosen it as a tool to solve the socio - economic issues we face. 

The UK government needs to financially invest in food and in turn community spaces. From writing and implementing a national food policy (no, we don’t have one. Yes, I  know it’s crazy), to creating an innovative food education programme that is mandatory until KS4, to helping build an equal and healthier food system. 

We need a world where EVERYONE has access and choice in what they eat!

This mission is what drove me to start The MAZI Project, a charity that empowers marginalised 16 - 25 year olds through food. We work with young asylum seekers, care leavers, youth recovering from homelessness and fleeing domestic violence. 

By delivering our aMAZIng recipe kits and cooking workshops, we use the notion of the dinner table and breaking bread, to reduce isolation, build confidence and make those in need feel extraordinary. 

I founded The MAZI Project (which means together in Greek) in response to the Free School Meal scandal because I was furious at the lack of quality and quantity of food provided to people in need. The scandal made me realise food poverty is so much more than not having access to enough food or good food. It’s also about not having choice or the opportunity to experience food as a source of nutrition, connection and a window into different cultures.

Example of the food parcels provided to families in need. These were quoted at £25 each.

Now, 2 years in, post covid and in the middle of a cost of living crisis we are supporting over 300 young people with our services. I am getting a clearer understanding of the systemic issue of poverty in the UK, the country’s broken food system and the health crisis we are suffering from (which is the NHS’s largest expenditure coincidently).  

I will go into this further in my next blog but for now let me just leave with a few statistics: 

  • 68% of vulnerable young people have gone without food for a whole day due to lack of money

  • 67% of vulnerable young people report that they have needed to rely on emergency food provision. 

  • Over 23% say they have missed work or school due to a lack of food. 

  • £6.5bn annual spend for the NHS on diet related diseases. Predicted to go up to £9.7bn in 2050 where over 50% of the population might be obese. 

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