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Why I created OOM: the Jamaican plant-based dining experience

19 May 2018

Up until January this year, it had been 12 years and some months since I’d been to Jamaica. I’d always held onto the memories I had created as a child, from attending Berwick Primary School to riding around with my sister in my Grandad’s brothers bicycle cart; we were known to the local area as “Mr. Thompson’s granddaughters from foreign”.

With my Grandad approaching 80 and his brother, 90, the reality of life’s cycle was weighing on me. I had a yearning to bond with the last members of a generation that could share stories about the history of my culture, to re-create those childhood memories and to immerse myself in the community. I needed to reconnect with my roots, with myself. Those first few days back on the Island, I remember sitting on the Veranda with my Grandad, listening to the orchestra of crickets and roosters and thinking to myself, “this feels familiar, this feels like home”.

My Grandad lives in a little place called Crawl, Riversdale, a settlement in the parish of St. Catherine. Not much has changed in the 12 years since I last walked these roads but what I didn’t know was that not far from here is home to The Natural Bridge. The bridge runs over a river connecting Riversdale to nearby communities, which would have otherwise been inaccessible. I had been fascinated by the concept that something so cool could have naturally formed so close by. Residents of the community have coined it as an Eighth Wonder of the World and in a conversation between Robert Lalah, editor and columnist at the Jamaica Gleaner and a local resident, the story goes: “What happen is that one day back in slavery times, somebody from a community across the river was looking after some cows and the cow dem get away and end up in Riversdale. Everybody frighten for dem don’t know how di cow dem reach down here. Is that time dem discover the Natural Bridge.”

“I wanted to learn all I could about the global effects of plastic waste pollution and understand the impact it’s having on beautiful places like Jamaica”

The entrance to Natural Bridge is slotted in between a bar and a family property. Just opposite is what has the potential to be an amazing piece of architecture, but rather an abandoned building on concrete stilts, half hung over a ditch covered in greenery. You can hear the current of the river echoing through the trees and as I followed the sound through the narrow walkway, I was firmly warned to be careful of the eroding steps. But my adventure was cut short, as I got further and further in, I found myself having to step over piles and piles of plastic. That’s when I realised that this plastic issue I’d been hearing of wasn’t restricted to far out ocean gyres, it had found its way here too.

I came back to London, heavy. This was my home surrounded by remnants of one of the worlds greatest design flaws and its misuse was ruining it. I wanted to learn all I could about the global effects of plastic waste pollution and understand the impact it’s having on beautiful places like Jamaica. I dug deep to find out about the grassroots projects on the Island and what exactly was being done to tackle the plastic issue. I came across the Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica public education campaign, which launched in February 2015 and is one component of the Clean Coasts Project, led by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) with the support of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the Wisynco Group.

Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica aims to improve citizens’ knowledge about the impact of poorly handled waste on public health and the environment, while encouraging personal responsibility for the generation and disposal of waste. I reached out to the Chief Executive Office of the Jamaica Environment Trust, Suzanne Stanley, after reading an article that the campaign recently lost a major source of its funding and she confirmed they needed the support.

I came up with a million and one ideas until I created OOM Supper Club, an immersive plant-based dining experience that seeks to connect people through food and dialogue”

I felt a need to do something and thought to myself how, nine hours away via plane, I could effectively help tackle the issue. Having had a strange relationship with food growing up, to now spending most of my time creating recipes and indulging in food series like MasterChef and Chef’s Table, I knew that was where I was being drawn to. I came up with a million and one ideas until I created OOM Supper Club, an immersive plant-based dining experience that seeks to connect people through food and dialogue. OOM expresses the significance of food as a symbol of connecting to yourself, to others and to the world around you. For me, it’s about bringing stories to the table through food, supporting communities and protecting the planet.

I wanted to create an inclusive approach to encouraging a decrease in plastic consumption and consideration of a healthier lifestyle. I believe in the cultivation of a society where our decisions lead to positive changes. And, for those of you who believe in the law of attraction, hear this: I was scrolling through Instagram a few weeks after the inception of the idea to do a plant-based, Jamaican Supper Club and came across Dee’s Table by musician Denai Moore, who cooks up modern vegan Jamaican food. I reached out, we met and a menu collaboration for OOM Supper Club was birthed out of a shared love of food, Jamaica and childhood memories.

There are many sayings that have stuck with me since childhood e.g. “who can’t hear, must feel”, but the Jamaican motto “Out Of Many One People”, where OOM draws influence for its name, has stuck with me the most and is fitting for all aspects of life. Ultimately, we are all one and as more of us begin to see ourselves this way, we can live a little more harmoniously and eat some good food while doing so.