Liam Arthur explains how the Dunedin food truck he’s launched with his partner Jackie is part of a broader vision to make our food systems work in our favour.
Starting an affordable food truck is an idea that’s been close to our hearts for a long time, and it’s now a reality. Dunedin Bowling Club is based at the South Dunedin Community Network from 3.30pm-8pm, Mondays and Fridays, and we sell one kind of meal a day for $4 (if you BYO bowl), along with dessert for $3 and bread and butter for $1.50. The tea is always free.
We call our style of food “wholesome comfort food” – we take basic wholefoods and transform them into something special. We mill our own flour. We serve dishes such as cornbread with chilli beans and nacho cheese. We make a southeast Asian curry with a spicy-sweet peanut topping, Moroccan food, and even a cheeky pizza.
To us, making food is to share and extend, and this is what the project is all about. I have spent hours reflecting on our food systems and how they could start working in our favour, and I’d like to share my thoughts with you. There’s a lot of chatter about confronting the food crisis by regulating supermarkets so they become more affordable, but I think we’re wasting our time (and money) by basing our food system off supermarkets.
We could solve the problem collectively by coming together to eat as a community. Think about it – when we shop at supermarkets we have to spend the time and gas to buy groceries. We have to take them home, organise our ingredients, and cook them ourselves. The food we buy is overpriced, and we often don’t have the time to cook. We resort to consuming processed foods that are both more expensive and less healthy. We usually eat alone, or with our nuclear family at best, which leads to greater isolation.
We hope to offer an alternate solution at our food truck. Let us cook good, wholesome food for you and do it at a price often cheaper than what you could buy at the supermarket. What’s more, it’s tasty and nutritious, and you don’t have to bother with cooking. Our food truck is based at a community centre, so people can come and eat together, too. Jackie and I believe this community-focused structure is more efficient, more connective and less wasteful than the individualised solution we see in the form of supermarkets. We hope to use our food truck as an example of what could be.
One common theme in the discussion about food cost is the lack of choice. Prices are climbing in supermarkets and restaurants, and we consumers feel as if we can do nothing but grit our teeth and pay the higher price, or go without. I think if I had to choose how people get their food, I wouldn’t choose my own lived experience. I wouldn’t choose the fact that our food supply in New Zealand is dominated by two companies, and I wouldn’t choose to live in a society where many people are far too stressed or poor to put good food on the table.
We have decided we don’t have to accept what is put in front of us. Instead, we’ll do something about it. We also think that every community in New Zealand has the agency to change their communities and their potential opportunities if they want to. Let’s say a neighbourhood of 400 chose to delegate all their meal prep to one team of five people. This team could spend eight hours a day cooking dinner, and let’s say they can make dinner for everyone for only $2 a meal.
If you paid the chefs a salary of $60,000 a year, it would cost $1,500 per person to eat a year (including food costs), meaning everyone can eat well for just over $4 a day. No one has to waste time at the supermarket, no one has to use up precious time and energy cooking, and everyone can relax and eat good food.
Why do we think this is possible? Because at our food truck, we cook for people at less than $2 a portion, and it only takes two of us to cook 400 portions. The truth is, if we come together and act collectively, none of us have to accept the choices that are put in front of us.
We see this “stronger together” solution time and time again with other giant issues of our time such as climate change. If we decide to act and live more communally, we will never have to look at the price of cheese in despair again. Although what I’m writing about sounds idealistic, it’s also not unrealistic. We’re not asking people to unite as a community and to reduce the country’s carbon emissions to zero. We’re asking people to bring their circles together and to change how they answer a banal question of everyday life: what’s for dinner?
The difficult thing here is that we’re so used to living individualistically that answering what’s for dinner as a community feels foreign, overwhelming, perhaps unthinkable. Riddle me this. Do we simply go on and continue complaining about the supermarkets and lobbying them to change their behaviour? What is more of a pipedream: agitating to make change in our communities, or waiting for our corporate overlords to start acting in the public interest?
We think it’s time to stop waiting around for things to change. We hope you can join us for a meal. If you’d like to learn more about our affordable food truck project, follow us on Facebook or Instagram (@dunedinbowlingclub), check out our website, or feel free to support us and sponsor free meals for those in need via our Patreon account.