Charlotte Gregory – The Hand That Feeds – Provenance
The provenance of my weekly food shop? Birmingham Markets of course!
by Charlotte Gregory, Producer
I’m a Theatre and Dance Producer, as well as an Actor and Theatre Maker, who’s been based in Birmingham for 12 years. I like to think of myself as curious, and that I know this city that I’ve made my home pretty well. I would even call myself a bit of a foodie, so this project was a gift!
However, this project has surprised me by opening up a whole new world for me in Birmingham, and I now have a much more enhanced understanding of the way food moves around our city, as well as how insidious food crime can be.
This is the first time I’ve worked on an arts project conceived of by scientists and I’m finding the results inspiring. Human beings have a natural tendency to categorise to help us understand and organise the world around us, but unhelpfully this means that we box people into unnatural definitions. We’re taught from an early age that you’re either an arty-farty type or a practical sciencey/maths geek. As a teenager you choose your courses of study accordingly, thereby determining which direction you’ll go in.
In reality people and their interests rarely fit into these over-simplified categories and I’m pleased that this project is helping to link up the city’s arts and science communities.
I’ve learnt a lot about food crime: I’ve learnt that the risks of food crime are massively reduced where the food chain is shorter, hence why buying your food from a small business that you know e.g. from a Market Trader who often knows the exact farm his produce came from, can greatly minimise the risk factor.
I think it’s easy to forget and take for granted that we have world famous markets in Birmingham city centre, which are part of the city’s identity and heritage. It was during a meeting we had with the market’s management in their offices at the Birmingham Wholesale Markets that it really dawned on me how important it was going to be to engage with the Market Traders during the project.
We had already chosen to position our performance outside St Martin in the Bull Ring Church in order to celebrate and draw attention to the markets – thereby encouraging people to buy their food from this fabulous local resource – and this was all very well. However, surely it would be even better to get stuck in and go to talk to these professional butchers, fishmongers and grocers, to find out more about their businesses, and in turn let them know about we were aiming to achieve with ‘The Hand That Feeds’.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Birmingham Bull Ring Markets, full of people from all walks of life and from all over the world, with a buzzing, rough and ready atmosphere, alongside the sing-song banter and camaraderie of the Traders. When I used to live nearer the centre, my partner and I had a guilty pleasure where we’d go and eat oysters with tabasco and prawns on a Saturday morning – the squeaky polystyrene plates and cocktail sticks for cutlery were all part of the experience. We loved it.
Since moving a bit further out last Summer I haven’t been as much, purely for reasons of convenience, but over the last month as this project has ramped up a gear we have visited the markets 4 times, meeting with Traders and chatting with them about their work and produce, as well as taking photos and handing out flyers and posters (plus fitting in my food shop whilst i was there!).
These men and women – unlike the staff in uniform behind the supermarket deli counter – are experts, many of whom have worked there for the majority, if not all, of their working lives.
For some that means over 40 years. Proudly talking me through their displays they could tell me exactly which port each fish came from, which cut of beef was best for slow cooking and had cut each chicken breast from the bird themselves earlier that morning.
I want to send a special thank-you to the Traders who have supported the project:
- John from Fresh Catch,
- Matthew and the guys from Tak’s Chicks,
- Malcolm and Nigel from the Bull Ring Deli,
- Daniel and Ryan from A.P. Doherty
- Nicolas from A.J. Barlow.
I hope the show lives up to your expectations. In the meantime I’ll see you on Saturday morning for my weekly shop.
Charlotte Gregory – Narrativium Architect – Producer
More The Hand That Feeds… team posts
“The Hand That Feeds – a musical about food crime” is being staged on the steps of St Martin in the Bullring, Birmingham city centre – Saturday 14th May at 12 noon and again at 2.30pm.
Those that register for #StopFoodCrime-fighter goodie bags can collect them before and after the performances.