THIS WAS AN EXPERIMENT: Options FoodLab was born out of necessity. After a series of meetings with Babel, a day center for refugees and migrants, the idea to start doing food based events in Athens was formed. Of course, the most attractive part for the beneficiaries was to earn some extra money while inadvertently going through the “integration” process along the way, but most people realised the value was much more than just money. So, Options FoodLab started out as a mental health and wellbeing project, and grew from there. What we didn’t expect was that before long, it was difficult to understand who were the beneficiaries, since everyone’s general outlook was transformed, and so we decided to start documenting this change ethnographically, which gave us insight into the multiple layers this project works on. We have made many discoveries and learned new things, but there are some ideals that we try to stick to throughout our journey.
- Neighborhood: We are not just working together to sell food, we are also caring for one another in times of need and ultimately, becoming friends. However it must be said that this is not charity, and this is at the request of the beneficiaries themselves. What we do is create the opportunity to earn money, improve lives, expand horizons, learn new skills, build a network, and appreciate one another. But this is not top-down, nor is it bottom-up; it’s done in a P2P way that can better be appreciated through examining our case studies.
- Learning: We all come from different places and may be going in different directions, but for the time (sometimes very brief) that we have together, we try to improve each other’s skill sets, and this goes both ways. One of the skills that Options FoodLab offers is getting acquainted with new technologies that can lead to greater employability further down the road. Though we’d prefer people coming through our program to stay with us, we know that there are other opportunities for people that have come to Europe, and Greece has difficulty satisfying these desires. In addition, we also need to allow for mobility of participants, so new people can join the program. Other learning that takes place is: culinary skills, management training, language skills, budgeting, and basic accounting.
- Communication: On any given day in the kitchen, there are up to five languages being spoken. For this reason, we need staff that are multilingual. Everyone we work with speaks at least two languages already and many of us are learning Greek along the way. In order to facilitate information sharing, online bulletin boards are used so all the information is available to all participants in one place. These boards are maintained in English so the majority of people accessing them can disperse the information so we are all on the same page.
- People: There is a wide mix of participants working on this project, we don’t discriminate. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and has different goals in minds, but the purpose of this text is to come to an agreement about our shared goals, and how we are willing to work together to achieve them. That includes outlining level of commitment and amounts of remuneration.
- Vision: Our vision is to use working methods to achieve what we think will improve the lives of people we come into contact with. We don’t claim to know what is best for other people, conversely, in our experience, people know quite well what’s best for them, what they lack is the means to achieve those goals. Options FoodLab acts as a facilitator for people trying to achieve their goals. We use all the means at our disposal to pave the way for people to shine as individuals. This collaboration is therapeutic and people appreciate this more than any remuneration they receive. This is one of our key values and this will also be elaborated upon further on in this document.
- Visibility: The problems we are all facing need to be appreciated by a wider audience than the people whose attention we already have, so we aim to display our work at high profile events and mainstream venues. Just as we don’t discriminate among participants, we also don’t discriminate among partners; working with political groups, religious groups, basically anyone who can help us to achieve our fundamental goals.
- Space: Creating a space to nurture and to resist the unpredictable vicissitudes of life in a place where the context is changing on a daily basis. Our space, both figurative and actual, allows the foundation for people to grow, and, if they choose, to grow roots.