Maybe it’s because I don’t cook myself, but I have always loved programmes about food. Listening to someone who really knows their way around a kitchen can be deeply soothing – mindfulness for those too impatient for breathing exercises. The more exotic the food and immersive the sounds of chopping and sizzling, the better. So it’s no surprise I’ve found Sharing Plate to be the perfect wind-down podcast. The host, Lara Bishop, is out to explore “food and the role it plays in our sense of self”. Her guests are not gourmet chefs or celebrity restaurateurs, but ordinary people in kitchens around the country, who “serve up recipes and stories” while introducing us to dishes – from rice and beans to aloo bhazzi – that connect them to their homes and histories.
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Billed as “a foodie’s journey that transcends generations and nations”, the twist is that the guests are refugees, who have fled war zones and civil conflict to make their home in the UK. The memories they share all centre on the menu: the emotive power of turmeric, the hours spent cooking Ugandan matoke. Yet talking about food quickly becomes a gateway for discussing more serious themes. Shelly – from east London via Bangladesh – recalls hiding from gunshots as a child, and then opens up about his abusive father. A conversation with a mother Helen (born in South Africa during Apartheid) and her daughter Venita (who describes herself as Kenyan, South African and Ugandan, but most of all “a Londoner”) turns to gun violence and the risk of raising biracial sons in the US.
The news is often dominated by the government’s assault on those crossing the Channel in small boats: Sharing Plate offers a taste of something different, humanising the people who risk everything to come here. It’s a travelogue for gourmands, but it’s something else too: a story about suffering, family, faith, diversity, community and British identity. At the very least, it will teach you where to find the best avocados.
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Available from 28 August
This article appears in the 23 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Britain’s Exclusive Sect