The right to paternalism-free social food

The right to paternalism-free social food

The Alimenta philosophy goes beyond offering food. It aspires to completely change the paradigm and model of social nutrition in Barcelona

The Alimenta philosophy goes beyond offering food. It aspires to completely change the paradigm and model of social nutrition in Barcelona, counting on the city council’s leadership and the collaboration of organisations and companies. Together, they work to improve the coverage of basic needs. 

“Within this coverage of basic needs that we like to understand as a right, there has always been a concern to avoid excessively, or even exclusively, assistance or paternalistic responses,” explains Sonia Fuertes Ledesma, Social Action Commissioner of the Barcelona city council

“The immediate response given when there is an economic need – you need food, we give you food – in the long term does not add value beyond people having access to food,” adds Josep Antoni Arroyo, director of the project. “It is extremely important. But we do believe that, if we go a little further, we flee from models that stigmatise and put the label of ‘you are even more vulnerable than what is really happening to you at this time’.” 

Beyond food provision 

For the Commissioner, food provisions are very short-term responses that can serve at a particular time to cover a need, but in the medium-long term, they neither give the person tools to improve their precarious situation nor contribute to being the owner of their life project. “In the end, certain responses that are seen very often in the orbit of food, such as the strict provision of food, perpetuate chronic situations.” 

Beyond food provision 

For the Commissioner, food provisions are very short-term responses that can serve at a particular time to cover a need, but in the medium-long term, they neither give the person tools to improve their precarious situation nor contribute to being the owner of their life project. “In the end, certain responses that are seen very often in the orbit of food, such as the strict provision of food, perpetuate chronic situations.” 

Alimenta Barcelona goes beyond, says Josep Antoni. “Through food, we will be able to achieve inclusion of these participants.”

The project seeks inclusion in ordinary circuits such as buying food and others such as studying or working with the community they live in. The project helps to articulate alliances that enrich them as individuals and contribute to better accessing the labour market. 

“We began to redefine a project that should focus on three areas of work. The first part is rethinking the demand for food and the responses we give as social services. Another part is the generation of community ties and innovation and, therefore, spaces that we call ‘Alimenta spaces’. And a third part that introduces the axis of sustainability, fresh food and encouraging a diet that is varied,” says the Commissioner. 

The Alimenta spaces 

“The procedures that currently exist to prescribe or to link people to one resource or another are very weak. They are poorly defined, and with the pandemic, it has become evident that we have to dedicate an important time to reordering and to improving the circuits.” He affirms that an inappropriate resource is often prescribed for reasons such as geographical efficiency or just mere ignorance. 

The Alimenta spaces constitute a more concrete action for society. “These spaces are committed to a different vision than that of providing the social food service. They accompany it by labour inclusion and community inclusion, moving away from stigma, empowering people, making them protagonists of their own process and, ultimately, promoting social nutrition as a right.”

As a pilot project, three physical spaces have been opened in the Catalan capital. Getting a minimum of ten throughout the city can efficiently respond to a need as palpable as social nutrition, explains Josep Antoni.  

Throughout 2022, Alimenta Barcelona intends to provide the possibility of cooking in these spaces, that is, to offer a communal use of the kitchens so that users can work together and at the same time provide themselves with food. 

Users do not participate in the training processes per se defined in a programme, but rather a tailor-made suit for each of their needs 

— Josep Antoni Arroyo

In the Alimenta spaces, a figure called ‘energiser of the Alimenta space’ welcomes them, interviews them, and analyses the situation in which the person finds themselves. This personalised assistance can put the person in contact with existing services on the territory or other activities that the project creates to work on users’ community and labour inclusion. 

In the words of Josep Antoni, users “do not participate in the training processes per se defined in a programme, but rather a tailor-made suit for each of the needs of the participants.” 

Sustainable food chains 

In 2022, two actions will be carried out to evaluate the impact of introducing elements of health and sustainability in food. 

The first will be a food reuse centre in Mercabarna, Barcelona’s wholesale food distribution centre. Instead of disposing of food by throwing it away or taking it to the green dot to be recycled, the market traders will donate the leftovers to this centre, which will manage the distribution of surpluses among the social entities of the city. 

“When this centre starts up, and the distribution of food can be channelled, a considerable increase in food reuse is expected in all social entities. The volume of food thrown away on a surface like Mercabarna is abysmal,” says Josep Antoni. 

The second element is the incorporation of food products provided directly by farmers. They will be seasonal products: what has to be cultivated and the surplus from the field. 

The idea is to provide food to the spaces and accompany the entities towards the transition to a healthier and more sustainable diet, he adds, to introduce this view of health and sustainability of food in the social ambit. “Many times the food supplements that people take home in the distributed lots, are insufficient or do not meet the health needs of these people.” 

In the long term, the director of the project believes in “incorporating vital agents, such as municipal markets, small businesses, local businesses. And that we can make the population see that they are perhaps the best agents to provide to people in need because we make a circular economy.” 

And so, as a result of teamwork, Alimenta Barcelona integrates these new concepts and stakeholders into the bare (but essential) right to food. “Because we always talk about the right to adequate and sustainable food,” reminds the Social Action Commissioner.

The right to paternalism-free social food

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