How can making a group meal give young people special access to the collection of the London Transport Museum and help them explore the theme of travel?

By David Thomson, Eat Club Special Projects Lead
In  October 2022 Eat Club hosted a special meal for a group of 10–12-year-olds at the London Transport Museum (LMT), dedicated to the buses, trains, tubes, trams, bikes, cable cars, and all the ways we get around London. We used this to give the young people privileged access to an inspiring cultural setting and get them thinking about the importance of travel in their own lifestyles. Food was our bridge to doing this. This is part of our curated food experiences for young people

The connections between food and travel are many. Food is of course vital to travel in a biological sense as without food we wouldn’t have the energy to move around and get places, but the presence of food can be seen across London’s transport network whether it’s the vehicles used to deliver ingredients, the food adverts on our buses, or the tubes we take to shops and restaurants. We wanted to explore all these different aspects in our activity.

To start our session, we had a bespoke tour of the Museum to get the young people thinking about travel and we pointed out food links in the display rooms that would prompt our discussion later on. The tour highlighted links like feeding the horses who pulled 19th century buses, London Transport’s canteens and the Legacies exhibition exploring Caribbean recruitment into TFL foodservice.

Using food as a lens to interpret travel and the collection made the topic really relatable while highlighting that different peoples’ perspectives and experiences of the relationship of food and travel differ in significant ways. Personal and cultural tastes vary and people have varying degrees of access to foods and food experiences.

As well as using food as a way of analysing our theme, we also wanted to show how food can be a way of expressing it too. Or indeed how the whole meal experience can be used to creatively share an interpretation of a theme with others. Essentially we were co-creating a themed meal.

To do this the group experimented with designing the table setting with LTM stamps for place cards and napkins and passed around bus conductor hats for costume. The dishes we ate were selected from a 1940’s canteen tariff. These included: leek and cheddar tart with pickles, boiled potatoes with tomatoes and rolls with margarine, lime cordial to drink and strawberry jam roly-poly with custard for pudding. The dining was an opportunity to play transport themed games and hold a facilitated discussion about young people experiences of food and travel.

Conversation flowed about how food travels between places, how the food we eat arrives at the supermarket via truck, train, airplane, and the different foods we eat when traveling abroad. We also reflected on the film we’d watched and how the food in the TFL canteens had changed over time as London became more multicultural and how attitudes over who does the kitchen work have changed too.

The event with the London Transport Museum was a really enjoyable experience that gave the young people access to an inspiring institution and a new perspective on a familiar topic through the informal setting of a group meal.

Together we were able to explore how food connects us to the wider world giving us a chance to learn about subjects in new ways and gain deeper insight into other people’s lives. We showed how food takes us on a journey of learning as a passenger but also that by being involved in crafting a group meal food we can become the driver of stories – indeed a chef of stories.

Because food touches every individual, society and culture, curated learning through food is a great vehicle to connect young people to an infinite array of topics and themes. Thanks to food’s universality, making meals with others is a fantastic way of sharing stories and news and views.

Check out more London Transport Museum food related resources here, here and here and watch the excellent canteen film here. Get in touch if you wish to host the Young People’s Dining Club, or run it with your young people.