Kemi Akinola's journey from food poverty campaigner to Labour party Councillor

Kemi Akinola is a food waste pioneer, elected Labour councillor and runs two social enterprises; Brixton People's Kitchen and Be Enriched which have delivered emergency food parcels throughout the Covid crisis. For Black History Month we wanted to profile a local hero who has made an impact, so got in touch with Kemi, who is the only female Councillor of African Caribbean heritage in Wandsworth at the moment and probably one of a handful of black councillors since the beginning of time. “Last summer one of the Tory councillors, after being in chamber with me for a year and a half, asked me who I was at an event”

How did you get into community food projects?

“After initially training as an architect, a road traffic collision resulted in quite a few years of disability and navigating unemployment benefits, during which time I experienced food insecurity and loneliness. Once back on my feet I was given the opportunity to run a regular event bringing people together using the medium of food and it seemed obvious to run a community kitchen.”

I interviewed Kemi as we approached the October half term, and MPs had controversially voted down a bill to extend free school meals. The bill, championed by footballer Marcus Rashford, was defeated by 322 votes to 261, a majority of 61. We were both angry, and embarrassed that MPs we knew had been so heartless.

How do you feel about the End Child Food Poverty movement?

"Food doesn't see gender, age or race - we eat it.

I'm boiling with rage that any adult would deny any child the right to eat.

We know that there is a problem with food in the household precisely because we have a free school meals system yet we deny access to food during a pandemic."

Do you feel that austerity & Covid disproportionately affects women?

"Absolutely, in three key respects:

Women are more likely to be lower paid and stay at home during school holidays & lockdown.

Women are often cleaners, going into people’s homes, offices, hospitals – doing front line jobs and likely to get Covid.

There are more women in charity and food front-facing projects, so there are more women in the food arena who are feeling the strain where the government has rescinded their food distribution responsibilities.

I’m worried about the future - women will be most affected by Brexit as food prices will rise whilst Tory gov are likely to cut benefits despite the UK sliding into a recession."

Finally, two questions that we often ask Legally Feminist interviewees;

If you could change one law, what would it be?

"The law I would change is to include Food as a Right in the Human Rights Act."

Who is your role model or inspiration?

"My female role-model is Tina Turner – that woman is pure resilience."

It was a pleasure speaking to Kemi and hearing about her latest community food initiatives - the woman is a true champion for social justice, and works incredibly hard for causes. Incidentally, food is enshrined as a human right in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It also appears in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, as Kemi pointed out, whilst the UK is part of these international treaties, the right to food is not seen as an inclusive right enshrined in the UK Human Rights Act 1998.

It remains to be seen if food will ever truly be available, accessible and adequate, or if British politics will become more diverse, but it is certainly true that the world needs champions like Kemi Akinola now more than ever.

'The Right to Adequate Food' Fact Sheet No. 34 United Nations Human Rights: Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Human Rights Act 1998

Written by Billy Laser.



Thanks for submitting!