As the clock ticks down to the 458th anniversary of Sao Paulo, im fully expecting to wake up to newspapers full of the annual think-pieces on the future of the South American megalopolis. The conquests and the battles ahead for this city of 13 million residents. As one of them im counter to the daily complaints about the cities lack of charm and community spirit and all round culture of fear and inhumanity in perhaps the most cordial society on the planet. One of the most striking features of the city for anyone crazy, foreign or poor enough to be a regular pedestrian in the city is just how little we as its residents seem to interact with our physical surroundings and prefer to allow them to confine and control us. In it against such a backdrop that any ideas for possible change, however small seems mighty attractive. There are a couple of other additional components to the backdrop of this birthday post for São Paulo. One being two or three articles I have recently read about the growing problem of obescity in Brazil. My wife informed me earlier this evening that she had heard a radio report in which the Brazilian army reported that soldiers reporting for their national service have DOUBLE the average body weight of their father’s generation. The second factor is that of food security. It is possible that today was the first time I had seen the issue raised in the Brazilian media but flicking through a recent copy of the ESPM magazine I stumbled upon a quote from an eminent Brazilian diplomat who saw this as one of the two most pressing issues for Brazil in the next two decades. And then of course there is the much bigger cultural frame of reference which must be considered.
Here in Brazil with our current economic climate, we are subject to a ongoing stream of media images and stories about the ongoing rise of our emerging consumer classes who are for the most part portrayed as PASSIVE, status fuelled, undereducated, materialists. While outside of Brazil there are ever increasing signs of a new consumer dynamic which fuelled by social media technologies and a desire to reconnect is creating a host of more collaborative consumption models as the idealism and hunger for action of Millenials is evident not only in the Occupy movement but also in the countless social business enterprises springing up around the world which seek to promote a more ACTIVE consumer model. Just as optimistic Brazilians seek to claim their moment in the sun as yet another international magazine discovers the Brazilian success story one has to ask if Brazil hasn’t missed the train once again. Isolationist Brazil once again it seems might be doomed to be left behind again as societies and economic models elsewhere move on, much as happened post slavery and again pre-BRIC.
So, it is against this backdrop that I wish to give to the city of São Paulo a small gift – a simple internet link to a site for a community food programme small village on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The Todmorden ‘Incredible Edible’ scheme started out with a very simple premise and one which the simple thought of introducing to São Paulo makes me question my sanity. It is one of a number of new food related consumer models featured in the BBC Radio Food Programme which you can listen to here. In simple terms my fellow Paulistanos we need to reclaim the city by planting food. Everywhere. Reclaiming all those dirty, urine stained underpasses and scruffy cracked pavements to plant food. Simple as that. Plant the food and let it grow and then somebody, potentially your neighbour will come along and eat it. The scheme has seen a wide range of social effects not only in terms of training and educating people but also create a sense of community both via the schemes online and offline activities. The scheme has also started to gain international recognition as a possible model for urban planning on a human scale.
By the way I have already closed my ears to all those screams of “Gringo…that could never happen here… you don’t understand how this country works”. Believe me I have been to Todmorden and if it can work there it can work here. Im not saying we can reduce obescity or reclaim cracolandia but what if? What if people actually started to take a little notice of their neighbourhood and planted something which they and their neighbours could eat. What if they actually spoke to their neighbours. So the next time you are wondering through Bom Retiro and come across a small patch of Basilico or some tomatoes on the vine – help yourself!