A version of this article appeared in the Autumn edition of the Transition Free Press
In March, Happy Mondays, Sustainable Bungay’s monthly community meal, was visited by a journalist from Delicious magazine. She was researching a story about groups like ours who are growing, cooking and eating food together. For those of us usually absorbed in menu planning, dressing the room, cooking and washing-up, stepping back from the fray to answer questions about why these celebrations of local, seasonal food happen was a useful opportunity for reflection.
Happy Mondays is inspired by the shared meals we struggle to find time for these days; based on seasonal food and simple recipes, with all ages involved in cooking and eating – sharing their skills and the effort. They’re the kinds of meals we might have seen and experienced in southern Europe or in the English rural tradition of harvest and celebration – sadly both are now less common than they once were.
Our aim is to use local and seasonal produce from gardens, farms and allotments in and around Bungay and we hope to demonstrate that cooking with great ingredients needn’t be expensive or complicated – and that the results are delicious. We decorate the room with garden and wildflowers and seat all our guests, 50 or 60 every month, round a single table to encourage conversation and a sense of community. We aim to make the meals as accessible as possible, charging £5 for two courses to cover our costs. The money we take, around £6000 so far, is mostly spent locally on ingredients, kitchen hire and equipment.
The meals offer a chance to find out what’s happening locally, either in general conversation or between courses when someone explains how we arrived at the menu; initially we’d feared these talks would seem intrusive, but we’ve discovered that people enjoy hearing about the food they’re eating – whether it’s back-garden hens, gardening in a changing climate or an update from our community beekeepers.
As well as the social and economic benefits there’s an environmental rationale behind our meals; cooking and eating together uses less energy and creates less waste. And our meals are quietly vegetarian; this simplifies the kitchen work and helps us demonstrate how easy it is to eat less meat.
Two years on from our first plans, hatched in the pub after a Sustainable Bungay core group meeting, and Happy Mondays has served almost 1000 plates of local food, has a team of 5 or 6 who plan the menus and source the produce and a pool of 20 or 30 who cook, wash-up, dress the room, greet and lay the table. We’re no longer fazed by the Community Centre’s idiosyncratic cooker and confidently turn out two courses for 50 people every month. Where once we had to advertise and struggled to fill every chair, now we’re always oversubscribed.
As a collective we’ve started calling ourselves Bungay Community Kitchen and see opportunities beyond Happy Mondays – opportunities that could see us creating employment and offering training as well as spending money with local farmers, growers and independent retailers.