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Our Table: The Art of Food, Migration and Social Justice

Counterpoints Arts went to Cork, Ireland to moderate a public conversation about Our Table, a project focusing on the political power of food to make social change. Our Table is  specifically aiming to end the ‘direct provision’ system across Ireland.

This conversation, set in the heart of the English Food Market in Cork City, was a prelude to Refugee Week Ireland (which this year takes place in a series of arts-led events at Firestation Artists’ Studios in Dublin).

Our Table is the initiative of activist and passionate cook, Ellie Kisyombe, who has lived in the direct provision system for eight years, and cook, entrepreneur and artist, Michelle Darmody. It’s a hugely ambitious project attempting to bridge arts and culture, civic activism and policy through the practical and creative lens of food.

As Kisyombe and Darmody put it:

In the Direct Provision system, 4,300 people seeking asylum in Ireland are denied  the right to work and the right to cook. Adults in Direct Provision are given an allowance of just €19.10 per week and €15.60 per week per child. This cruel and unnecessary system needs to end, but in the meantime, Our Table is advocating for the rights of people in Direct Provision to cook for themselves and their families. 

People in Direct Provision have no choice but to eat food prepared at set times on an industrial scale by companies profiting from the system. Banned from cooking in their rooms, some people secretly cook in toilets just to prepare something they want to eat. People living in Direct Provision report being hungry at night or being presented with low quality or culturally inappropriate food.

Mothers and fathers pass down skills, traditions, tastes and family recipes to their children through cooking. It’s how families bond and gather. But hundreds of children born into the Direct Provision system have never tasted a meal cooked by their parents. 

Our Table is a non-profit, non-denominational organisation that aims to build an awareness of food in multicultural Ireland and to highlight that the current system of Direct Provision is deeply flawed….We create spaces where information is shared and obtained, and want to open conversations with political leaders.

More on Our Table.

Venue: Farmgate Cafe, as part of the UCC Women’s Voices in Ireland Conference