Craig Sams celebrates the role of the natural food industry in helping to nourish refugees in Calais camps
In 1911 Karim Aboud Saba faced a dilemma – stay at home in his Christian hillside village in Syria or go to an uncertain future in America? He had a wife and 2 kids. The Turks were in the throes of the run up to World War 1 and were rounding up men up to the age of 55 to be cannon fodder for their Ottoman Army. The French and the British were already squabbling about who’d get which parts of Syria and Palestine after the coming war. It was most definitely not his fight. So Aboud left his home behind and took his family to America. At Immigration they took one look at his name, written unintelligibly in Arabic, and handed him a piece of paper marked ‘SAM.’ ‘That’s your American name, buddy.’ If you had asked him for an opinion about organic food or the stuff called chocolate his grandson would be marketing he wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. If you would have told him that his great-great grandson Mars Aboud Sams 100 years later would be in a place called Calais in France working 12 hours a day feeding Syrian and Kurdish refugees he would have smiled ruefully – it was the vision of such endless chaos that had driven him to emigrate.
The refugees in Calais and Dunkerque are just a small fraction of the millions that have died or been displaced by the manipulation and exploitation that started in the 1900s with the British, French, Turks, Russians and Germans manoeuvring over who would control the lucrative oil wells of Iraq. Now these lucky survivors are just across the water and living in dreadful conditions in the hope of finding a new life in Britain or joining their relatives here. Many are starving, having spent all their money to pay smugglers to get them this far.
Mars Aboud Sams, my 18-year old grandson, is on his way back to the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais after a stint in December. He’s now experienced in field kitchen catering and able to supervise the many volunteers who come over with vans and cars laden with food, willing to work for a few days or weeks cooking, cleaning, serving and washing dishes to keep the canteen going.
“The role of the natural food industry in supporting this field kitchen is admirable”
The role of the natural food industry in supporting this field kitchen is admirable. Wholesalers willingly act as aggregation and distribution hubs for food. Riverford Farms have sent several van loads of fresh organic vegetables to be prepped and cooked by the chefs there. Abel & Cole are offering milk and ongoing support. Infinity Foods have sent over quinoa, Brazil nuts, rice and other dry goods. Suma have supplied a pallet of washing up liquid, rice, oats and catering tins of tomatoes. Gusto have sent over a pallet of Gusto Cola. Organic Lea have come up with a palletload of kale, cabbages, leeks, rocket and other green vegetables. Zaytoun, the distributors of Fairtrade organic food from Palestine, have sent medjool dates. This is just a snapshot of what’s going on.
Most of the volunteers are the kind of people who are committed to eating organic food, to eating less meat and emitting less carbon dioxide. They understand the deep humane connection between the food they choose and the kind of world they’d like to live in. That’s a world where our shared humanity is more important than the opportunistic manouevring that is the most we can expect from politicians. The destruction of stable communities of Christians, Muslims, Jews and other minorities that had lived together in peace for a thousand or more years drove my grandfather to America 100 years ago. It is still going on. The only difference is that America is now part of the problem where, after WW1, people idealistically hoped it would be part of the solution.
We are all people with a shared interest in prosperity, good health and well-being.
The words of Marianne Satrap sum it up perfectly and explain the deep instinct of common humanity, sharing and caring that drives so many people from the organic movement to try to help relieve the suffering of their fellow human beings:
The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other but we talk and understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same.
Marianne Satrap, author of Iranian graphic novel Persepolis, now a film.
By Craig Sams
Organic food pioneer and polemicist Craig Sams is Britain’s best known natural food pioneer. He is the founder of Green & Blacks, a former Soil Association chairman and the author of The Little Food Book.