First welcoming us in August 2016, Ostara Cafe has become a frequent venue for TRJFP’s communal dinners and one of our warmest and most enthusiastic supporters. It seemed fitting to chat with David, who runs the cafe with his partner Carey, for the first of a series of features on the people that make TRJFP Edinburgh happen.
You can read the full interview here.
Why did you open Ostara?
I spent 16 years working around food but not really thinking about it too much. I managed bars and restaurants and travelled all around the world to do it. In Melbourne, people were happy about working in a restaurant or a bar. There was an appreciation of the craft of service. That respect doesn’t exist here, I don’t think it ever has.
I wanted to do something different but it still had to be food. I came back and studied for the MSc in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University. We saw a lot of things and heard a lot of things on the course that you can’t unsee. The reason we opened a cafe was because of our experience in hospitality but opening this kind of cafe was because of what I learned in that year. When you know the politics of free range you can’t put free range on the menu and celebrate that – ‘free range’, all 30,000 of them in a cage.
People can leave with a little more understanding – and maybe they’ll pass those stories on to somebody else. It wasn’t some grand plan, we’re still developing it and we will be for a while still. Carey cares about the same things I do. We wanted to be a community cafe – we’ve had a school photography group in, we’re working with you guys at TRJFP.
What led you to work with us?
We’re working in such a way that there is very little waste, we’re very conscious of that. It’s ingrained in us to waste, we’ve always done it. Since always. In times of abundance, we’d leave it and move on.
We’re in a crisis, but the crisis is masked. We don’t see the crisis, because of how food is being communicated. You can buy a 2kg bag of chicken wings from Farmfoods for £2 – I’d never shop at Farmfoods but if I only had £2 and needed to get the most calories for my family… I’d get the 2kg bag of chicken wings from Farmfoods.
If you’ve £1 in your pocket, and someone offers you a bag of flour for £1.20, you’ve only got £1. They can say here’s another bag and it’s still £1.20 but you’ve still only got £1. It doesn’t matter how much food we produce if it’s not getting to the right people.
I could get all righteous and say what’s wrong with that chicken. What matters is calories for your kids. I guarantee that anyone who’s in a position where they’ve got to do that, or using food banks or whatever, it’s just about having some food. It’s not about being healthy – they’d like it to be, no doubt about it.
We wanted a certain type of food to be accessible to everyone more or less. If you go to the supermarket, which is what most people do, they’ve put this expense on “organics”. That kind of food is never going to be accessible to everybody. We wanted to do a really simple menu that was going to be accessible. We’re not seeing it as our niche – that’s just how it should be. I don’t want to say too much about organics, I just want people to have them. Very little on the menu advertises it but about 70% is.
It’s access that we have to solve.
And what’s the solution?
There isn’t one. The first step has got to be at a community level. The ones most affected by food poverty are the ones that have got to be encouraged. You can’t go to a community like Granton and then go to another and say look I’ve got the solution, I’ve seen this, here’s some tools here’s some seeds, off you go. It has to grow organically. There’ll be people in these communities – could be a few, could be one guy – who will want to help, who will want to do something. But if all you have are fish and chip shops and budget supermarkets it’s only going to get worse.
Tom [Kirby, at Granton Community Gardeners] says community gardening is 60% chat. I think the community aspects, community development aspects are a big thing. Maybe not the main thing. I think it is all rooted in growing food. As soon as you start growing food, the issues take care of themselves.
I think it has to come bottom up, it has to grow. Then it’ll become so big you can’t ignore it. But how do you encourage people to step forward to start using empty land? Especially if they’ve no skills. Or confidence. A lot of communities around where I grew up people would leave their doors open. People don’t do that anymore. People are scared of their neighbours now more than anything. Some community gardens develop a community but not the community.
What do you see community as?
In my dissertation community was geographical but… the internet that could be a community. You can’t really define community as one thing. I tried.
The one that I want through the cafe… I don’t even want to force any issues on anyone. I just put the books in the window and let them do their own thing. If someone says that bread tastes delicious I’ll tell them why. I don’t want to attract a specific type of people either. It’s really hard.
Finally, one more impossible definition: TRJFP wants to encourage people to value food as a resource differently – how do you value food as a resource?
(Long pause) As a way to bring people together, as a way to communicate. It can be used for anything. Look at your sort of communal dining. How wonderful is it to get 30 people most of whom have never met one another to come together and the food becomes the resource for their communication? Then it kind of transcends the meal itself into something more. It’s hard – it can do so much, it can do everything if we can somehow reconnect to it, it opens up everything for us. It makes people happy as well. It can heal us. It can bring us together. I just think it’s everything.