It’s important because…
You don’t know how important it is until you don’t have it.
When you just don’t have access to the very basics. When your first memory is sitting on your father’s shoulders… and the snow is falling on your face, and you’re standing in line for hours, and you feel your father agitated underneath you, and you know, when you’re a bit older, you ask him: “I remember that moment with the snow and we were standing in the long line. And what was that?” And he says, “Yeah, we were going on “OXOTA”.
“OXOTA” is “The Hunt”. “The Hunt” happens every Saturday morning, where me and my dad go out into the snow and stand in line for hours. And we go hunting for food. And we’re standing in this line for hours and then we get to the front of the line: there’s nothing in the shop, nothing. So you go to the next shop, you stand in line for another couple of hours, nothing there either, you’d go to the third one, the fourth one, you might come home with a tin. A tin of something. And that’s just the ritual of Saturdays: going for the hunt.
Meanwhile, Communism’s saying that Russians are living better than anybody else in the world. And our ideology and how our finances are structured is the best. And this is drilled into us since you’re little. But there’s no food and there’s no clothes for children, and there’s no prams and there’s no milk bottle, there’s no nothing like, you just don’t have anything. You’re living in a tiny little flat, like not even a flat it’s like a room inside of a dorm in a university on the top floor at Moscow State University. And like that’s how you live.
And then your second most vivid memory is of a doctor coming to see you because you’re so malnourished. And then he says something to your mum and dad and they’re so upset when he leaves. And then years later you ask: “Well, what happened that day? I remember you guys got so upset.” And they say that the doctor took a look at you, took a look at where we were and what was happening. And he said get… he pointed at you and he said “Get her out of here. Get her out of here.”
“Uvizite yeyio ot siuda”, he said. And that’s it. And they did get you out of there. But it doesn’t mean that the problem’s ended. And it didn’t mean that, you know, we didn’t see hunger again. We did. Until I was eight, you know? So when you don’t have those basics… and then you come to a western country where it’s everywhere, and people throw it out.
Like you know, I cooked for my friend once and she threw half the food in the bin, and I just was like….(gasps) cos she was, she said she’s full and I was like “But you Save it!” I was so upset with her, I was so upset, and it’s not like she comes from a hyper-privileged background, she comes from a background of farmers somewhere in West England. She’s not rich, but she threw half the dinner away and I was just like almost… I couldn’t breathe, I was panicking like, “What are you doing?! Stop! Why are you doing that??”
And I can’t forgive her, that’s the mad thing! I can’t forgive Crystal. I was just like “why did you do this, man? Like do you know how much love I put into that?”
Anyway and just it’s like broccoli and rice and sweet potato and… why? And… but then of course you know and then I’m thinking about it and like “Is that a psychotic reaction? Am I just like you know a bit of a psycho? Like maybe I’m just mad, like… other people don’t behave this way. Other people don’t have to like, finish everything on the plate. Other people can like leave half of it and they don’t care. Other people are fine. What’s wrong with me? Why am I like this?”
And then and then you’re like, Oh, well, you know… ancestors, parents, the parents, Soviet Union, nothing, no food on the shelf. Literally like the basics not existing. Grandparents living the war, grandparents being evacuated. There are people hungry now in the UK and everywhere, everywhere, because I also saw that everywhere when I lived in Africa and just like you know, feeling like okay, my grandparents lived in the war. What does that mean?
That means that grandpa only ate potatoes for like a decade. And now, till the end of his life he couldn’t be, he couldn’t look at a potato because it just would remind him so much about what he went through or just like how hard life was. And then how angry I get when I see the waste that’s happening, and the… just complete, like irresponsibility with resources. When first of all the earth is fucked up because of how we treat it and our agricultural methods, just destroying the world. And then also people, supermarkets and organisations that are big, wasting food on a mass scale.
I remember once just walking outside a shop and being like: “Is that all going to be thrown away?” They’re like: “Yeah”.
Me: “Can I please have it?”
Me: “Why not?”
They say: “No, we can’t just give food away, lady. We can’t just give that like how, you know, we wouldn’t have any customers.”
I was like, “Yeah, but this is all good!”
So what me and my friends did when I was in dance education in Germany, where they had the same attitude to that: we went dumpster diving. So I would hold Buí by the back of, you know, where the trousers are, and he would jump into the dumpster. Or I would shine my phone into the dumpster and we’d get food out – We’d get out bananas, we’d get out like fresh vegetables, We’d get packs of rice, like all these things, which there’s no reason why we can’t have them. But they say no, it’s not… It does… “We can’t give it to you”. And it’s just like, no, but you really CAN. And you SHOULD. And like, you actually shouldn’t even give it to us. You should give it to everybody who is living in food poverty. And then remembering how in the lockdown….
Can we change it?
Yes, I remember in the lockdown. I was working at Elizabeth house, which is on Blackstock Road. And we were packing up food boxes for families – all around Highbury Quadrant, all around the Northeast, basically. So anywhere that my legs could take me I would go and deliver those boxes, and just like: you ring the buzzer, you leave the food and you leave the box outside. You try to fill the boxes according to their needs. So if you know it’s a family, you’re also putting diapers and feminine care products and shampoo and you know, just doing your best but knowing that that doesn’t even scratch the surface of people’s needs. And like this just doesn’t cover what people really need.
And – or the experiences that I had working in the soup kitchen when I was younger. So in Spain, what was happening is that, I was surrounded – well, in my opinion, they were really stupid dickheads in my school and I couldn’t deal with how spoiled people were. And on Saturdays, I found a soup kitchen called – it was the Maria Teresa soup kitchen. It was just off the Raval. So it’s like this, you know, it was 2002 – 2006 that I worked there. And – it was like a rough neighbourhood. You know, everyone was like: “You can’t walk there alone as a girl, you get, like, just fucked up there.”
But I would go every Saturday morning, and we would be chopping the vegetables. We’d be putting it into a humungous pot. And then afterwards, we would be feeding the people who had come. And the friends that I had they were amazing. There was a transvestite prostitute called Marlena, who was my friend, who would like go and like – just like, if anyone was ever rude to Marlena, she’d go and give them a kick in the butt with her high heeled shoes, just like the fiercest. And I loved Marlena so and there was also like, but there was a lot of I mean, there was loads of people from the streets, there was loads of people who were passing through who just didn’t have money. So they went to soup kitchen to get the food in the morning… or there was one guy who had a backpack who, he was convinced he was Jesus Christ.
And he kept telling us that he was Jesus.And all these different memories…
And then after the soup kitchen, I would go and use up all the leftover food: I would make sandwiches, so like a cheese sandwich. And then afterwards, all of the, all of the people that I saw around: as many sandwiches as I had, I would go to a homeless person and give it him or to her. And and most of the time they they would be like “no no, no give me money”. But then when you did give them the food, they were actually they were like “thanks. Thank you”.
And that’s how I found my dance place, because the flamenco school that was there, I stumbled into it, it was called Flamenco Barcelona. And it was on the same street and I just stumbled into it one evening. I saw a flamenco class and then, the amazing gitana who was there – Katia Moro – just took me in and she’s like, “okay, right, you’re under-age, and you’re like, rubbish at dance, but – Come”. And she knew my case. She subsidised class, she was so good. And she really kicked my ass. And she always told me off for being too floaty and that I needed a bit more like, like fire, like a bit more… And she really, that was my first ever dance teacher. I was 16. You know, and flamenco. She was from the south. She was just…
And all these different memories. And then, and then what happened is that my history teacher talked to me about it one day, and he said to me: “Oh, so you go every Saturday. Can I come with you?” I said, “Yeah.” And it was the awkward thing, because, you know, I could tell he liked me. So we met for a coffee in the morning on Saturday. And then we went to chop vegetables to put in the soup in the soup kitchen.
And as we were chopping the vegetables, he asks me, he says “so Elina…” wait no Ellie, he used to call me Ellie. “Ellie, what are you gonna, like? do with your life? Like, what is it you… What are you good at? I mean, I can see you’re good at chopping vegetables, but like, what are you actually going to do?” And I thought about and I was like: “that’s a good question but this is pretty great. I don’t mind doing this.”
And then what happened with him one day is just that, like, I was so upset with him, because he decided it was a great idea to make my whole class come to the soup kitchen. He thought it would be a great excursion for the school. And I was like… something in me was like – but if people don’t want it, if people don’t see the point in being here, and in this work: if people don’t want to be here, it’s just not right. I didn’t like it.
And also I knew the dickheads that were my class. Like the boys, who were just the most spoiled… dicks! Sorry, but the most spoiled people you’ll meet. And of course, you know. We all come to the soup kitchen. I know my way around. We’re chopping the veg. And then these two humungous boys – one of them called Joan, and the other one called Andreas. Nothing wrong with them, but just like… they just have no idea. So they’re playing some stupid game near the soup. And they tip it over.
And all the soup just goes on the floor.
– 7th April 2021