Social exclusion and food

Financial redistribution would seem to be the logical precursor for inclusion, if you view people as consumers of goods in a capitalist system. Having access to money should allow people to participate in market exchanges, but there is still talk about food security and food deserts. Often these concepts are used to discuss how access to food is about more than being able to afford a supermarket shop.

The café meals program is about food, but it also allows people to access food as many other people who need to access food outside of their home kitchens would- through buying a meal in a café.


Some places have very low cost/ by donation sit down meals in either dedicated venues, or utilizing community halls. My guess (based on a little bit of observation and what I have heard from others) is that in these settings socialisation is rather similar to a pub. Some people come in and get what they want, some people come in with friends, some people meet new people and some people are regulars and end up developing friendships.

There are a number of free food vans around Melbourne. While some knock on doors (generally this is by invitation), there is a focus on simply pulling up in a spot so people can come down. Sometimes this follows regular spots and others, such as one youth specific van, change location regularly. My impressions are that while some people come, collect food, and go quickly. Other people treat it as a social experience. In fact, there is even a van that just has hot drinks and friendly volunteers.

Not everybody likes these sorts of free food vans. One I was involved in was told not to park on a certain city street because the manager of a nearby restaurant did not like his customers having to see the van. Another time the van was told instead of parking visibly on streets it should go around a corner near the entrance to the Federation Square car park, which luckily it was not forced to do. Once someone poured wine out a window onto us, although I am not so sure this was deliberate seeing as it came out the window of backpackers’ accommodation.

In some ways charity vans operate with their own exclusive criteria. While nobody is means tested at any van I have ever seen in operation, if you do not look like you need to support some volunteers find it difficult to understand what you are doing there. The unspoken rule is that certain people do not belong there, it is just a different type of person compared to the person who might feel out of place in one of the newer Brunswick Street cafes.

When it comes to the Taco Truck and Beatbox Kitchen in Melbourne, you find positive comments about the social impact. Examples include:

  • “Okay, so City of Melbourne’s first problem is that it disturbs local residents, I would argue that the trucks actually brings the community closer through food.”
  • “A little noise, food and drink (non alcoholic), isn’t that part of what makes a vibrant city and neighbourhood? And all of this before 8pm..?”
  • “Most people I know go every week to North Carlton on Friday night and we see familiar faces, share a drink and have a laugh.”


These vans are businesses, not charity enterprises.  Some negative comments focus on the fact that they do not have to have the same overheads as a traditional food shop and come with externalities that impact negatively on nearby businesses and residents.

I think there is an interesting project in this. What is it about how food is made available that leads to it being spoken about as a community building event? Should we move away from charity food vans to prevent the labelling of people as charity receivers? Do people who access these sorts of charity services have access to a type of socialising that other people want to have too?


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