The author, activist, and Eater London contributor Riaz Phillips has launched a new digital recipe collection, with entries from over 100 cooks and writers from diasporic communities across the country. Community Comfort, which is available to download now for a minimum donation of £10, will donate all proceeds to the Majonzi COVID-19 Bereavement Fund in collaboration with the Ubele Initiative, which was set up by social commentator, Windrush campaigner, and cultural historian Patrick Vernon to support the communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis. Since the collection was made available for purchase yesterday, 9 July, it has been downloaded over 600 times, generating nearly £10,000 in under 24 hours.
Phillips told Eater that the idea for the project began in the last week of May, when statistics showing that BAME communities in the U.K. are more likely to die from COVID-19 were published in a delayed government report. It concluded, as the Office for National Statistics had done weeks earlier, that for example, Black people are four times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their white counterparts. From conception to publication, Phillips has created something that one contributor said will still be talked about in 50 years, in a little under six weeks. While he has designed the digital collection himself, and photographed half of the recipes, it was his network that brought in so many submissions — from the likes of pastry chef Ravneet Gill, 12:51 chef James Cochran, the writer and author Ruby Tandoh, and vegan chef and musician Denai Moore. The project has been illustrated by the artist and activist Javie Huxley, a prominent member of the campaign group battling against the redevelopment of the Latin Village in Seven Sisters.
After the fast start, Phillips hopes to be able to match the £50,000 fundraising target set by the Majonzi fund with Community Comfort. The fund itself was set up to provide resources for friends and families of BAME coronavirus victims, Philips said: “Memorial services, funeral services, access to therapy, and mental health training.” Although Phillips had personally not lost any family members to the virus, he said, “I have friends have lost relatives. And my mum works for the NHS so she’s going through this — [the government] not providing PPE and making people go to work, all of that is quite traumatic.”
As well as the devastating reality offered by those published statistics, Phillips’ own knowledge of the day-to-day effects of the pandemic on BAME communities and key workers is shaped in part by his mother’s experience: The need for support was urgent — he said he “wanted to get the project done to help them.” He also explained that while the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota in May had raised “interest in the Black voice” in the U.K., “this project would have happened if the Black Lives Matter protests hadn’t taken place.”
Phillips recognises that the downloads will naturally slow down over time, which is why he hopes the project will be able to match the £50,000 target, feeling that £10 is a fair and “accessible price” for over 100 recipes, since over “100 people had taken their time to create something new.” Donations to the fund will be made monthly until the end of this year and in future on a quarterly basis. He wants to ensure that the fund is “in a position to help people down the line” when he believes the need for community support could be even greater. “People still in the middle of this, going through trauma [...] It will be useful to have [more] funds later when people require therapy or help,” because the after-effects of the pandemic are likely to be so significant, and because those communities are only at the beginning of a prolonged period of financial hardship. It is not lost on Phillips that initiatives such as this are necessary because of a deficit of government-led support and decades of community neglect. He noted that during the pandemic, his own mum had been redirecting funds received from lottery grants to deliver shopping to elderly people in the local area every fortnight.
What’s more, even though lockdown restrictions have now been lifted and customers can return to restaurants across the country, Phillips said that the nature of the public heath crisis and the ongoing risk of transmission, especially for the vulnerable groups this project wants to support, led him to maintain that it was “really not the time to be encouraging people to recklessly and carelessly go out.” Instead, he hopes to encourage people to continue to cook from home.
Phillips is the founder of Tezeta Press, a publishing house dedicated to under-represented ideas and cultures, and author of Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK, which documents what he refers to as “Britain’s hidden Caribbean history.” Joe Pilgrim, co-founder of Island Social Club, a “contemporary social space that shares modern British Caribbean culture through food and drink,” told Eater that he contributed to the project in part because Phillips “has form in creating important, pervasive cultural objects” — that Phillips was “able to bypass the traditional institutions and build work that the community can be proud of. We will be proud of Community Comfort in 50 years,” he said.
Elsewhere, Missy Flynn, co-creator of Rita’s Dining and Bodega Rita’s in King’s Cross said she was moved to contribute after being reminded “that whilst we were all experiencing a shared moment of discomfort, we live in a society that has systemically left these groups vulnerable to the things I think lots us take for granted.”
“These funds raised are absolutely vital to supporting and sending a message to those affected — one that says we care and we will not tolerate this any longer,” Flynn added. “In this time it has been hard to know what to say and how to say it, the Internet has been flooded with calls for activism, learning and mobilisation and it was amazing that Riaz responded to this quickly and with the same integrity and determination he does with everything.”
She said that the collection showcases a variety of foods, ingredients, and cooks, representing the real breadth and generosity of the food community that really exists in the U.K. “I hope some of these recipes force people into their local shops and start thinking about what communities they might live on the fringes of,” Flynn concluded.
Download the recipe collection here.