Urban Growing

Held in Common: Stories from the people of Bristol

By Bernie Munoz

Bernie Munoz watering hanging baskets

During the lockdown, Barton Hill Settlement’s The Network partnered with local storyteller, Polly Tisdall, to create a new podcast to celebrate Bristol’s communities. The podcast, Held In Common, shared unexpected positives that people had noticed during the virus outbreak with food very much at the heart of many of the stories. Writer and academic Bernie Munoz participated in the project and contributes to our latest blog post.

I was born in Chile and grew up during the Pinochet’s dictatorship which meant that lockdowns were part of ‘normal’ life. So when this spring we had to confine ourselves at home in Bristol due to COVID-19, I felt the urge to recreate the puddings that fed my childhood. More precisely, what I craved for was the milk puddings my mum made in those yellow kitchens of my memory. I wanted to bring back the homely smell of vanilla, cinnamon and caramelised sugar floating in the air. Those glass bowls that went into the oven containing a mixture of eggs, milk and a few other ingredients and after a little, turned into arroz con leche (rice pudding), leche asada (flan) or leche nevada (frothy milk). I don’t know if it was the cooking, the sharing of this experience in ‘Cooking up a storm’ from Held in Common: stories from the people of Bristol’, or enjoying them with my children, but it did the trick. After the puddings were gone I felt less homesick and more optimistic about the future.

When I moved to Bristol a decade ago I became acutely aware of the strong connection between food, home and friendship. I haven’t found a better marker for breaking the outsider/insider barrier than inviting someone for tea. To sit at the table to share a meal. To turn a blind eye on the domestic chaos. To find what we share regardless of our differences. To expand into the unfamiliar in a familiar environment. Maybe for that reason I also embarked during lockdown in baking sourdough, following a friend leaving a starter at my doorstep. Partly to avoid the supermarket, partly because after two years of weekly commuting to London, I cherished the treasure of spending time in the kitchen like no other. I marvelled at the workings of bacteria leading to the raising dough. Tasting a slice of my own bread with butter at breakfast is one of the strongest pleasures that this confinement has given me. It also reassured me that if things go terribly wrong, I could feed my family with a kilo of flour, a pinch of salt and two cups of water. That simplicity made me realise that I need little to be happy.

Maybe it was the resulting effect of being confined in a small inner city flat for such a long time, but I started to really pay attention to nature. One day I found myself fascinated watching the shaking daddy-long-legs in the corner of the room. So I decided to embark in gardening, which is not an easy thing to do. Especially if you don’t have a garden. I will omit the things that I removed from the communal green space in front of my flat whilst pretending to be an anthropologist interested in the rubbish thrown away by an unknown culture! After clearing the steep patch of grass outside my flat, I read on the internet about the advantages of terraced gardens, the way to grow carrots, beans, sweet peas, potatoes and embarked in hard physical work. What I hadn’t realised was that in order to make my dream kitchen garden, I had to kill so many beings. I don’t mean only weeds, but colonies of snails and slugs. Little by little I lost my drive. What good is there if my dream reclaims so many minuscule lives? Now that I have adjusted my ambitions, I have the handsomest slugs of the neighbourhood and feel content with the company of flowers and a box of radishes slowly growing in my balcony.

Bernie Munoz is a mother and children’s author. She lives in central Bristol and works at the Institute of Education UCL as a researcher in education.

You can listen to the first series of Held In Common on the Barton Hill Settlement website – all episodes are also available on Spotify.

For tips and inspiration about how to get growing whether you have a garden, an allotment, a balcony or a windowsill, see the #BristolFoodKind Growing Food at Home webinar with Sara Venn of Incredible Edible Bristol. Visit Bristol Food Network for more information and resources on Bristol’s Good Food response to the pandemic. There are also more resources relating to cooking on the Bristol Food Network website.

#BristolFoodKind is a collaboration between Bristol Green Capital PartnershipBristol Food NetworkBristol City Council and Resource Futures. See our #BristolFoodKind food waste highlightsgrow your own highlights and support local food highlights.

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