Cultivating Justice: Episode 3

Cultivating Justice: Episode 3 150 150 Farmerama Radio


Welcome to Cultivating Justice! Our 6-part series in collaboration with Land In Our Names (LION) and Out on the Land (OOTL, part of The Landworker’s Alliance) which weaves together interviews, conversations, music and reflections from Black people, people of colour, trans people, queer people and women, on their relationships with land, growing, and identity.

Episode 3 is hosted by LION’s Sam Siva and Farmerama’s Dora Taylor. In this episode, we dig into the practices and meanings around callaloo, a plant that’s commonly used in Caribbean food, and can also be grown in the UK. 

Glenda Trew is a workshop facilitator, community grower and gardener who lives in London. She talks to us about: teaching callaloo growing to growers from Lewisham’s Ital Garden; her personal history and connection to the plant; and the importance of being able to access culturally appropriate crops.

We also join Sam and Dora in Sam’s kitchen as they cook some callaloo dishes together. As they cook, eat and swap recipes, they chat about the links between food, growing, history and their own identities. 

The Cultivating Justice podcast series is made by Sam Siva, Katie Revell, Hester Russell, Dora Taylor, Abby Rose and Nadia Mehdi. This episode featured conversations with Glenda Trew, Dora Talyor and Sam Siva and banjo music by Bianca Wilson aka Island Girl. Our series music is by Taha Hassan. Our artwork is by @Blkmoodyboi 

Thank you to our funders, Farming the Future and the Roddick Foundation. And a big thank you to everyone who’s contributed in any way!

Visit to find out more.

Full episode transcript:

Cultivating Justice: episode 3
Glenda: It has a taste of its own. It has a mealy taste, a mealy nutty taste. And because one marinates it, it will then have a different twist to it. We can either steam it or lightly fry with whatever you want. We normally have another food called ackee and salt fish. You can have that with callaloo. You can have that with red peppers, yellow peppers to give colour and you salt and pepper it, and then, you know, marinating the way you’d want to marinate it. But we normally have that in the morning with maybe dumplings, green banana. And maybe yam – depending on what you’re going to do that day, because if you’ve got to do a long day in Jamaica on the farm, you’d need that to keep your stomach for at least until say three, four o’clock in the afternoon. Here in the UK, people normally have it as a side complement.
It’s designed to, I suppose, in a sense, give you that memory of being back home, what your parents have cooked, and then you try to continue with that heritage of having your own food.
Welcome to Cultivating Justice!
Dora: I’m Dora Taylor. I’m a food anthropologist, a researcher and an activist. I work for Farmerama, and I’m also a chef.
Sam: And I’m Sam Siva – I’m a grower, writer and organiser with Land In Our Names
Dora: And the person we heard a moment ago was Glenda Trew. She’s a workshop facilitator, a community grower and a gardener who lives in London. We’ll be hearing more from Glenda a bit later on.
In this episode, we’ll be exploring the links between food, growing, history and identity.
Sam: Last year we published a zine called ‘Gourds, Banjos and Callaloo’ by fellow LION babe, Marcus MacDonald. 
You can read it on LION’s website AND you can hear Marcus talk about Gourds and Banjos on episode 5 of this series. But we also thought Callaloo deserves the spotlight too!
Dora: So what IS callaloo? Well in some places it refers to a specific plant – Amaranth. But in other contexts it can refer to lots of different greens and it’s more about the way you prepare them. If you can’t get hold of Amaranth or a similar plant, you can make other greens taste like callaloo if you prepare them in the same kind of way.
Sam: And why does callaloo matter? Why are we dedicating a whole episode to it?!
Dora: Well, I’m Jamaican British, and I was born in Jamaica. For me, cooking Jamaican food is a really important way that I connect with my heritage, my family, my cultural roots. Callaloo is a really special Jamaican food, because it’s quite unassuming – if you saw it on a plate, you’d just think it was some average steamed greens. But it’s actually a very specific dish. It tastes kind of rich, a bit nutty, and you often put scotch bonnet or peppers or tomatoes with it. It’s full of vitamins and iron, and it’s really really delicious.
Sam: And if you’re talking about growing culturally appropriate food, callaloo is one of the few Caribbean crops that actually grows really well in the UK climate, so loads of Caribbean people in this country grow it in their back gardens and allotments. But in the shops here, you can usually only buy it in a tin, imported from Jamaica. We wanted to dedicate a whole episode to callaloo, because for me I think it really reflects the diasporic experience. It’s self-seeding, it flourishes, it adapts. It grows even where it might not be welcome, but it persists and it changes the spaces it’s in… for the better.
Dora: There’s another food that Glenda mentioned – ackee – that we should maybe explain for anyone who doesn’t know about it. So ackee’s a fruit. It grows on a tree and it looks sort of like a pomegranate, with a pinky-yellow, hard skin. But when it’s ripe it opens up, sort of like a flower, and you can see the creamy yellow flesh inside.
Sam: That’s the bit that you eat, and it’s got these huge black shiny seeds.  It was brought to Jamaica from West Africa and like callaloo, it’s a huge part of the Jamaican culture and diet – it’s one of the national dishes.
Dora: It’s got a really smooth, fragrant taste, but it’s also really savoury. In my opinion it’s absolutely one of the most delicious things to eat in the world.
Sam: Another thing to mention is plantains, which are related to bananas but taste better cooked. They’re popular in Caribbean, Central American and African food too. Depending on how ripe it is, the flavour can be more sweet or savoury. They’re one of my favourite things to eat.
Dora: Now we’ve introduced some of the delicious foods that are mentioned, let’s get into the episode.
Sam: A while back, Dora came over to my house to cook up some delicious vegan callaloo recipes. 
Dora: So the first thing I’m going to make is just like a kind of straightforward, plain callaloo. I’m going to fry some onions and garlic and scotch bonnet, and there’s going to be some sweet pepper in there. And then we’re actually going to use chard because fresh callaloo is, not necessarily hard to come by, but it doesn’t grow at this time of the year. And also I had some chard in my garden.
Sam: Perfect.
Dora: And callaloo is sometimes used as just like a word for a way to prepare greens. Like you can basically make the same thing with chard even if it’s not what people traditionally think of as callaloo, which is amaranth. Just waiting for the oil to heat.
Sam: Yeah. And in Trinidad, apparently, according to Wikipedia, they mainly use taro leaves and things like that. And in Jamaica, it’s amaranth. You’re making a vegan callaloo dish.
Dora: Yeah. It’s often made with salt fish. Um, so I’m going to put some, actually not in this one, but in the fritters I’m going to put some seaweed instead of salt fish. Jamaicans cook a lot of things with salt fish. So it’s quite hard sometimes.
Sam: Let’s get the sizzle. No sizzle!
Sam: So Dora’s putting in the onions and the scotch bonnet pepper. And now the garlic.
Dora: So we’ll just like fry that, for a bit.
Sam: So was being vegan connected in any way to like, sort of like a cultural or like a political or like…
Dora: When I decided to become vegan, it was an environmental decision. I’ve been vegan now for about five years. The longer I’ve kind of been vegan, the more I’ve actually understood about the cultural history of meat and dairy free diets, like Ital. It’s the diet that is like the traditional Rastafarian diet. If you are kind of very devout, I guess. You don’t eat anything processed and you also don’t eat meat and dairy, so you traditionally wouldn’t use salt or anything that you can’t grow basically in your garden. It means that you can actually find a lot of vegan Jamaican food. 
Yeah, it’s really amazing actually in Jamaica. When I was last there, I visited, like, they have an indigenous Rasta community, just near Montego Bay. And they held like open days every month where anyone can come and they do cooking demonstrations there and they just grow like everything. It’s just like right there. I think maybe 20 Rastas live there and they just have like an ackee tree and they just had all their greens growing and they cook free food for everyone. Yeah. There’s a lot of really nice Ital food in London, actually. Like you were saying, if you can find it.
Sam: Yeah. And I heard recently that talking about callaloo that Peckham has lots of self-seeded callaloo because so many people grow it. So it’s just like dispersed. And I actually know people in Peckham and who grow it, so I’m not surprised and they don’t even need to plant it because it self seeds so much. So I don’t know, that’s sort of this beautiful thing of like the Caribbean ecological impact on that part of London too, which is really cool. And I feel, yeah, callaloo for me is also like something I really, it’s just a very warming, healthy dish. It’s a more delicious spinach in my mind.
Dora: Yeah. That’s really beautiful. I love that that’s happened in Peckham. Um, and you don’t really think about the kind of ecological impact that communities have actually on an area, I guess maybe one of the few things from the Caribbean that actually grows really well here. Like a lot of traditional Caribbean food you couldn’t really grow it. 
So like no wonder people are just growing in their gardens. That’s really amazing. In my mum’s garden she has loads of this weed called fat hen, which in the first lockdown I went and lived with her. And someone had told her basically that it, that you can cook it. And so we cooked it and we were like, this tastes exactly like callaloo. Obviously we looked at it and it’s quite closely related to amaranth, but it was like suddenly we just started seeing it everywhere. As like a weed. And it was like a really fun thing that we did yeah, in the lockdown to like, discover that that was this like callaloo just growing in the garden.
Sam: Yeah.
Dora: I’m going to add the peppers I think.
Sam: So, what do you like to cook when you work as a chef?
Dora: So I’m vegan, and so all the food is vegan, but it’s also, I try and do seasonal stuff. Yeah, I think that’s a lot of vegan food, which is actually just really processed and or made from like ingredients are not necessarily very environmentally beneficial or they’ve come from miles away.
So I try and cook with ingredients that are growing in the UK at the time. But then I was thinking when I was getting the ingredients for today, I was like, it’s obviously really difficult to make Caribbean foods with stuff that you can grow in the UK. And obviously a lot of food from a lot of cultures, like you actually don’t really have a choice, but to buy food which is flown from and like often, you don’t really know where it’s come from and like, you don’t really know the quality of it. What do you cook with callaloo?
Sam: What do I cook? Um, when I make callaloo, I’ll usually make fried dumplings and ackee. I feel like almost every culture has their own dumpling, in a way, like a dumpling-like thing, but Jamaican dumplings are really simple. And I think they’re called Johnny cakes in other countries. I don’t know, but it’s basically just flour, water, and salt. And then I use self raising flour, so it puffs up a little bit. And so I make that into a dough and then I’ll fry that. And then ackee… you can’t grow ackee in this climate, it also grows on a tree and you have to wait until the fruit has opened to eat it because then it’s poisonous if it’s not naturally opened, so you can only really get it in tins here as well. Yeah, so I’ll just like cook that with like tomatoes and, you know, sweet pepper and onions and garlic and, and thyme and so on.
Yeah. Sometimes I’ll make fritters. Sometimes I’ll make saltfish. Oh, sometimes I do like jerk tofu where like I marinade tofu in jerk seasoning, and with other things like soy sauce or oil and other bits. I feel like my mom, the way she makes Jamaican food is that she puts soy sauce in almost everything. Like soy sauce is actually a really key element of Jamaican food. I don’t know.
Dora: I think, well, there’s like a, there’s a big, like, there’s a lot of Chinese people in Jamaica. Like there’s a massive Chinese community there. So actually I think the food has kind of really influenced each other. Yeah, they really love soy sauce.
Sam: Yeah. And, I think that’s the beautiful thing about Jamaican food and maybe I’m not sure if it’s the same for all over the Caribbean, but what I always think about is Jamaica’s like, you can see in the food, how all these different people have come from different places and combine these different ingredients and flavours to make something that’s really delicious. Like ackee is from West Africa. Like they brought the seeds and I like to imagine that it was like the enslaved workers.
Like they brought the seeds like braided in their hair or something, you know, it was a way of bringing some food there. But then also breadfruit is from Tahiti. And like that was brought over to feed enslaved workers. And the first generation of enslaved workers were like, what is this? I’m not going to eat it.
But then now it’s become such a big part of Jamaican food as well. And then saltfish is actually salted cod that is caught in Canadian waters. And it was this, like, you know, cheap provisional food, but it’s like a key, like part of Jamaican cuisine. 
Again, it’s like these cheap provisions, but then are really wholesome heartwarming food, rice and kidney beans. But like, we call it peas, like everything, like all beans are peas in Jamaica. All chillies are peppers and allspice is pimento and there’s curries, there’s all these different elements.
And I feel like something you were saying before about if you’re from like a migrant community and maybe some of the ingredients that you need for making your traditional food, aren’t able to grow in Britain. And then I don’t think trade is bad. I feel like the current systems of trade, because they were built upon this very extractive exploitative system, and also systems are just geared towards profit and cumulative growth. That’s what’s damaging the planet. It’s not about the fact that, getting some plantains from another country, or getting some vegetables or plants or spices that you can’t grow here. Like that’s not a bad thing. That’s been happening for as long as humans have been dispersed, we’ve always been trading with each other.
It’s just how we trade is the issue. And like, that’s something I always wanted to bring back when we start thinking about trying to be hyper-local because I think sometimes that can mean that we feel like we have to close ourselves off from so many other foods and flavours, and I just don’t want to be eating turnips all through the winter.
Um, yeah, that was just something I wanted to say, but I think it is important to keep in mind. How does it look?


Dora: It’s looking pretty good. Everything’s looking really charred in a nice way. Um,
Sam: Brown and shiny.
Dora: Yeah. And it’s smelling really nice. Um, like the peppers have started to really soften and the onions as well. So I think it might be time to add the greens. We also added some of the Caribbean all-purpose seasoning, which is something that I also use a lot. Uh, it’s really, really delicious. 
Sam: It’s a staple.
Dora: It’s a staple. It’s a staple. Yeah. Okay. So we’ve just put in the chard, gonna have a nice wilt down. Can’t forget the thyme. Thyme is also a really key ingredient for Jamaican cooking.
Sam: It’s like the main herb.
Dora: Yeah. It’s like, it’s in absolutely everything. I love it. It’s so versatile.
Sam: So the last time you were in Jamaica was 2019.
Dora: Yes. Yeah. I went to visit my dad for Christmas and I was there for about three weeks, but I’d love to go for a longer amount of time.
You were saying that you might be going for like a good few months. I’d love to do that at some point. Cause I’ve never done that in my life since I left. I think it’d be really amazing to go for like three or six months and actually live there properly.
Sam: Yeah. I think it’s sort of like a part of the diaspora journey is to also like reconnect to your heritage in whatever ways and whether that’s through food or visiting or other ways of engaging with the culture.
I think it’s something that so many of us are trying to do in our own ways while also like similar to like how Jamaican food is like this fusion of all these different cultures, where I think coming to like Britain and also being able to interact, especially in London and places like that you’re constantly interacting with like lots of different types of people and how that informs your culture as well.
Dora: Yeah, I totally get that. Okay. I’ve just added a load of thyme. I think it’s probably ready.
Sam: Yeah. So we’re gonna eat.
Dora: You go ahead, Sam.
Sam: Yeah. Cool. Yeah, it looks really beautiful. It’s very colourful. Like the dark greens and the bright reds of the sweet pepper contrasting.
Dora: Yeah, I think I love how colourful, I think that the sweet pepper, like half of the reason you use it is because it makes it look really colourful.
Dora: How spicy is it?
Sam: Not spicy at all!
Dora: Really?
Sam: Yeah, we could add more.
Dora: Yeah, we’ve got a lot. We’ve got four bottles of hot sauce sitting in front of us. I actually am going to have some of this Walkerswood.
Sam: Yeah, it’s a classic.
Dora: It’s a classic and I don’t have any in my fridge at the moment.
Sam: Just treat yourself… The Roti Stop one is really spicy. So I have to be really like controlled. It’s like this really beautiful yellow color. And it’s very fruity.
Dora: That one is made in Jamaica, I think. Yeah.
Sam: Walkerswood is actually a farmer’s co-op as well.
Dora: Is it? I did not know that. That’s really cool.
Sam: And it has the best packaging. It’s like this Rasta man kneeling over a drum breathing fire, in like a starry night sky. It’s art.
Dora: So yeah, I think the chard is 
Sam: It works.
Dora: Yeah, it does work, doesn’t it?
Sam: Yeah. Definitely. I feel like callaloo has like, almost a bit more of a bitter taste than chard in a way. Yeah. It’s a little bit more delicate, but, you know, it gets like that little more like silky wilted-ness.
Dora: Yes.
Sam: Chard is more chewy. But it’s still delicious. Yeah. A good way to cook chard. There was one point where I just had so much chard that I was like running out of recipes.
Dora: That’s really nice.
Glenda: You always yearn and try to find your food. And obviously it’s very difficult to grow it here, but people are always seeking to grow food from home, whether it be green bananas or a banana. We got okra, callaloo, chow chow, which is another one and many, many things. We always try to seek to develop the growing of that food.
Sweet potato. I tried last year and I got four very large sweet potatoes. And from that, I’m growing the slips, and I’ve now spoken to a few people within the sort of community group and they’ve got slips and we said, oh, you’ve got, what have you got? You’ve got this and that. How does that one grow? It grows like this. And then you then start to partake in handing around those seeds or slips or plants. I’m open to showing anyone what to grow and how to grow.
First time I grew callaloo would have been about five years ago, five years ago. My first experience, I threw too many seeds out and they did come in bunches. I was able to weed some but not many. And obviously the following year when they seeded, wow, it’s even worse. There was a cluster of them. And I got to them when they were very, very healthy, some were fat, some were very thin. Obviously the thin ones where they were competing with each other, but I did get a good crop out of that.
Buying callaloo, it is expensive and people will try to find callaloo wherever they can. People love it. People hunt it down. We have to grow because it becomes like a delicacy. It becomes expensive.
I very rarely see it in the market. Very, very rarely. I think people individually hand it around to their households, to friends and family, rather than sell it because it’s a rare commodity in that sense. So we don’t abuse it by trying to sell it.
Seeds are available, you can purchase them, but they’re very expensive. Make sure that you do save your seeds and hand them around. You can give a thousand seeds or more to your neighbour on the allotment.
You can start off it in April, you sprinkle, you broadcast. Don’t broadcast too many seeds, because if you do, you’ll, obviously the seeds would compete with each other. And it will, as I say, will bunch up in clusters. And so you’d have to sort of weed, a few of them out. May, June, say about July, August, you’d be able to start reaping the, the benefits. Or harvesting, as I say, the callaloo. It’s cut and come again in effect. After a while towards the end of September, October, it’ll start getting very woody.
So towards the end of say September, October, the flower heads would be coming out. When you do get your harvest, you’d get millions, literally millions on their heads. When they do bolt, they come into a fluffy head. Light, light fluffy head. Try to pick them off on a dry day.
Out of just one head, you get a thousand. So you’ve got a whole lot. Let’s say 30 or 40 plants. You could imagine how many seed heads you can get from them. And so you tap them out, let them dry as well. They are very, very prolific.
You’d never, ever, ever have to find another packet of seed again. I would advise anyone to – if they want callaloo you know, grow it.
Dora: So I’ve made the mix for the fritters, which is gram flour, which is chickpea flour, some water and some onions, and some all-purpose seasoning. And for this I’ve used like a tin of callaloo that you get in the shop, um which is usually how I get callaloo here. Often these fritters will be made with salt fish, but I’ve added some seaweed to give a similar flavor.
Sam: I saw a recipe for dumplings once where they put like butter and like loads of other stuff in it. And I was like, wait, wait, wait. No, this is wrong! Don’t claim this is Jamaican or something. This is offensive.
Dora: I feel like the point of dumplings is that they’re like quite simple to make.
Sam: Yeah.
Dora: You don’t need that many ingredients.
Sam: They were like saying knead, leave it to rise… I was like, this is not, no, this isn’t, it’s not bread, it’s literally like fried dough! OK, I think. Yeah. Give it a go.
Dora: I’m gonna get a spoon. Amazing. Okay. I’m just dropping like a spoonful of the batter into, we’ve got like quite a lot of oil. We’re kind of deep frying them. It’s making a really nice sound. Let’s wait a bit.
Sam: Okay. So Dora has made the fritters.
Dora: They’re looking really nice and crispy, um…
Sam: Green.
Dora: Yeah, really green from the callaloo. And probably the seaweed as well. They also smell really fishy. Yeah, which is good.
Sam: Yeah. So we’re going to eat some of them with the charred callaloo dish.
Dora: Maybe some hot sauce.
Sam: Definitely. I was just thinking about that. So good. Like really crispy and on the outside, but like soft and…
Dora: yeah. They’ve turned out well, actually. Yeah, really good flavour. I love gram flour. I feel like it just gives a really nice, like, stickiness to things. They go well together.
Sam: Yeah. Really good.
Dora: Glenda told us that she got into growing pretty much by accident, in her late thirties.
She’d chucked out some vegetable scraps in her garden, including some tomatoes, and she’d dug them into the soil.
After a while of course they started sprouting, and so Glenda picked them out and transplanted them – and that’s how it all started! She’s also massively into composting – she calls it “a beautiful science”.
Sam: Glenda’s now involved with Ital Garden, that’s how Dora heard about her. It’s an Afro Diaspora-Led Community Garden in Lewisham, South-East London which was set up by a group called Coco Collective.
They grow culturally-diverse foods and healing herbs, and they run workshops on arts and crafts, mental and physical health and food growing. It’s an inter-generational space, and it’s open to everyone.
Glenda: So Ital is, um, a group of African and Caribbean people who want to learn how to grow I say our food, say tropical food. I was invited: would you like to assist us in doing a few workshops? The first workshop was just potting up seeds and they were quite excited.
They’re very young. They’re only, I think, a year old and they’re doing quite a lot for the community. I think they’re there every Wednesday and Sunday, weeding, turning the compost. They’re germinating their seeds for the very first time. It’s a good feeling on the one hand, but then I feel quite sad that this should have been done many, many years ago.
Growing your culture-specific food is a warm feeling. The Ital group is bringing younger people to the allotment and sharing the information. Many of them would not be living in, say, houses. They’ll be living in large estates and so forth and not have gardens per se. So it’s our duty to show them how to start with growing food and having small gardens as they would have back home.
And many of them are bringing seeds to us. A lady from Zimbabwe would have very unusual seeds, but you’d need like a greenhouse, warm heaters and so forth, very large extensive resources to, to bring forth what you really wanted to bring forth.
There’s only a few things you can grow, but one of them is callaloo, which is doing quite well, I think, in this country, it would be one of the plants that would be on every African and Caribbean allotment. It is their first year. So I’m hoping that they will see this year in its plenty.
You can find out more about Ital Garden on Instagram at cococollective_org, and search “Ital community garden” on Eventbrite to sign up for their gardening sessions and open days.
You can also read the Gourds, Banjos and callaloo zine on LION’s website –
The Cultivating Justice podcast series is made by… Sam Siva, Hester Russell, Abby Rose, Katie Revell, Nadia Mehdi, and Dora Taylor This episode featured Sam Siva, Dora Taylor, and Glenda Trew.
We heard music from Bianca Wilson, a.k.a. Island Girl… And our series music is by Taha Hassan. Thank you to our funders, Farming the Future and the Roddick Foundation. And a big thank you to everyone who’s contributed in any way!