babushkas chernobyl

The “farm girls” from Chernobyl

The former inhabitants of Chernobyl have returned home: A group of grandmas decided to occupy the land around Chernobyl, grow their own food and live in a like-minded community. The most striking thing I take away from this story is that these ladies fear hunger more than anything else.

Before I write about the pro and cons of industrial food production and tell you why I dislike supermarkets, I want to talk about some crazy ideas first.

Have you ever feared hunger?

Most of us living in the industrialised world never experienced war or any kind of crisis that involved going without food. People like me who were born in communism are quite lucky they don’t remember any kind of food shortages, government controlled supplies to supermarkets and food stamps. The only form of hunger I and many other “lucky” people from western Europe have come across is dieting (which is stupid in itself). The closest I came to real hunger when I was living in Madrid was when I watched a documentary of “not so lucky” people in the south of Spain who didn’t have jobs and money to buy enough food. One of those moments when I ask myself what went wrong and how do we fix it.

Hunger is not something abstract anymore when we look out of our industrialised bubble to the 1.1 billion people living in poverty. Every sixth person doesn’t have enough food every day while people in the U.S. and U.K. are sending up to 40% of their food every year to landfills. Hunger is not a treat of the future and result of climate change in 100 years time but an every day struggle people face all over the world.

The Babushkas in Ukraine have found a way to ensure their food security. They took over radioactive land that originally belonged to them, grow their own food and don’t worry about the consequences. You might call these grandmas crazy old women who don’t understand the dangers of radiation and you would be right. Exposing yourself to such high radiation is harmful and irresponsible. I don’t think occupying land is a solution but it is a good picture showing to which length people are willing to go to escape hunger.

A solution I can imagine would work is to protect our farm lands from radioactive contamination, fracking and oil-based fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides, support local and organic farms and reconnect with food in a healthy way. Stop wasting food and packing it in plastic to keep it fresh longer than necessary and treat it with the respect it deserves.

The Babushkas of Chernobyl is an award wining documentary by Holly Morris portraying the grandmas from Ukraine who returned to their homes even though the area is radioactively contaminated. It’s a story about community, solidarity and how even the most vulnerable of society are creating a space for themselves to live and belong.

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