To kick off our Black History Month blog series, we speak to Natasha and Jamila from The Good Store. The Good Store is located in Edinburgh, more specifically 13 Montagu Terrace, where you can’t miss the organic food shop with its stripped back atmosphere and dazzling white exterior. The sisters who own the minimalistic brick-and-mortar shop have committed themselves to creating a better future for their community, and wider, through teaching sustainable practices and encouraging environmentally friendly choices in food. Intercultural Youth Scotland speak to them about the relationship between sustainability and Black communities and how to begin connecting with your health.
Can you share the experience of being two sisters opening a sustainable food store till today? What was the scene like when you entered – has anything since changed?
The idea/decision to open the shop was an easy one as we were both on the same path of trying the find ways to live sustainably, there was nothing like The Good Store around and we knew there was a market for it. The reality of opening an actual brick-and-mortar shop was a little trickier in terms of funding, location and time. We truly believe that being sisters and our love of food made the whole process more fluid. We know each other so well; we grew up with the same values of sustainability in the same foodie-fuelled home. However, we each bring something different professionally to the business and feel comfortable enough to share our vision and ideas.
The zero-waste market was non-existent in Scotland let alone Edinburgh when we planned to open, there were lots of convenience stores but very few grocers and no zero-waste stores, however, by the time we had opened the shop in December 2019 there were another three shops already! So much has changed since then with one of those shops having to close. Despite being a black-owned business and dealing with societal barriers, the Pandemic, Brexit, The BLM movement and now the ‘Cost of living Crisis’ The Good Store continues on.
What is the importance of having black communities engage with sustainability?
Black and Brown communities around the world especially Indigenous people have been protecting the environment and living sustainably for as long as we can all remember; sustainability is ingrained in Black and Brown communities it just shows up differently, it's inherent. Protecting our environment is everyone’s responsibility which means we must listen to all communities. Consumption isn’t race-specific therefore we all need to think and act better; to actively engage in living more sustainably. The job of TGS is to facilitate and create a space where Black and Brown communities can feel comfortable, be seen in and voice our ideas on how to live sustainability today.
When the BLM movement was brought back to the forefront due to the death of George Floyd in 2020, it started an environmental movement in terms of racial justice and encouraged everyone to look at areas where Black and Brown people were invisible; areas that were predominantly seen as being ‘White’. One of those areas was Sustainability and the lack of representation of Black and Brown People.
Are there any common views or misconceptions about organic shopping that crop up in Black communities?
The issue with regard to organic food is that it’s considered expensive and only for the elite. However, in most hot climate countries organic produce is more common and readily available without the false impression of being only for the affluent. Organic food is also closely linked to plant-based diets, which are currently fast-growing within the Black and Brown community, and despite the success of many African vegan cookbooks such as ‘Afro-Vegan’ it still has a very large meat-based diet community.
The UK’s current focus in the food industry is on cheaper, less nutritious, convenient and processed foods. However, the organic market is growing, and Black and Brown communities are engaging; tending to use fresh ingredients when ‘cooking from scratch and adding our own twists to recipes to keep it fresh and exciting! We hope to bridge that gap and show that nutritious organic food is for everyone, the more people choose organic the higher the demand the lower the price.
Is there any advice you would give for Black communities newly looking into their health and how they should approach it?
Most Black and Brown communities have strong ties with food in their culture and we value the importance of nutrition, we value our health, and of course, we need it to taste good too! African communities are known to have high meat-based diets which tend to be linked to high fat, high cholesterol, and high sodium consumption. We would suggest that anyone looking to improve their health, especially a person with a high meat diet may wish to look at reducing their meat consumption and substituting for a more plant-based diet. Or even just substituting one or two meals a week that may have originally been meat-based to plant-based. The switch could make a huge difference to your health and your carbon footprint.
It’s important to have balance in your diet when you are looking into your own health and to know where your food has come from, so ask questions and shop local where you can. It is also just so great to see so many black plant-based chefs being promoted and supported such as Rachel Ama, Tomi Makanjuola and the UK’s youngest vegan chef Omari McQueen. They support the message of sustainability when it comes to food production and consumption.
What advice would you give any young Black people looking to start their own business, especially if local and wanting to engage with their community?
Know your audience/community. Having a great idea, putting it into action and being relevant is all important but if you don’t know who you are talking to then it will be difficult. Start with a business plan and do your research; questionnaires, surveys and scope out communities you want to be involved in. If online, then find out your audiences’ habits, who they communicate with and is there an existing community you can be part of. We would also say prepare to be changeable, this is where an entrepreneurial spirit comes in handy, things don’t always go to plan, and you must be able to either pivot or change your model to adapt. Stay authentic; be yourself because it will come across in everything you do. Finally, focus on the positives and have fun! We are aware that there are people who don’t shop with us because we are a Black-owned business however, we focus on those that do and ensure we provide a great service that in the long term will help people become more sustainable.