It’s hard to know when we’ll be able to look back on this time and judge how we coped, changed and struggled through the coronavirus crisis, as we are still very much in the midst of a global emergency that does not have an end-date.

Many of us have never felt so acutely aware of being part of a global system, or of how much we took for granted in terms of travel, security and human interaction. While we have the existential threat of climate change looming – something which is already having dramatic impacts on many parts of the world, impacts which will continue to escalate – most of us never expected the entire world to change so much, and so quickly, when 2020 began. In Australia, we were only just emerging from the Black Summer of bushfires, when suddenly life as we knew it all changed. And unlike the natural disasters happening around the world, this particular crisis was one shared by the entire globe. Even countries with very low – or no – infections of Covid-19 are affected by the global shut-downs of trade, tourism and movement.

Almost every country in the world is affected by COVID-19

Bendigo – as a member of the global UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) – has never been more connected with the world. As we continue to adjust to life in a worldwide pandemic, we, like so many others around the world, are feeling how interconnected we all are. While the crisis has thrown many inequalities into sharp relief – so many are unable to socially distance, don’t have any financial security or support – it has also made us feel united by a common challenge.

Since the pandemic began to take hold, the UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy have been meeting virtually, and representatives have been sharing their experiences of coronavirus and the measures put in place to help communities cope. Although our countries, languages, cultures and traditions are extremely varied, many of our challenges are the same. The City of Gastronomy (COG) Network is made up of 36 cities in 22 countries, with Bendigo the only city from Australia.

As noted by Dag Hartman in a report put together based on the COG responses to coronavirus, “The measures towards the global COVID-19 pandemic is remarkably similar in policies and actions. This common ground could be a platform for inspiration and cooperation.”

All cities have had to act quickly to put in health and safety measures, make sure people have access to food and water, cancel and change major events, learn to connect online, find ways to support business and economy, and also to support culture, creativity and wellbeing for citizens under stress.

For example, in the City of Parma in Italy, one initiative saw hot meals delivered directly to healthcare workers in their hospital wards. Meals were cooked by the chefs of Parma Quality Restaurants consortium, helping front-line workers while using the city’s gastronomy culture as a tool for solidarity and local community cohesion.

Meanwhile, in Belém (Brazil) and San Antonio (USA) groups are supporting people to cook healthy food at home. Belém’s “Creative Gastronomy at Home” uses social media to teach easy recipes using local ingredients to the city’s residents every Saturday morning, while in San Antonio a “Healthy Eating Tips of Quarantine” television segment provides healthy tips for home cooking. Local chefs provide demonstrations that aim to support local people to make healthy and delicious food.

Here in Bendigo, we’ve seen a huge increase in people needing to access food relief, and a very fast response from agencies and volunteers to make sure everyone has access to what they need.

In the early days of the lockdown, Bendigo FoodShare collaborated with the City of Greater Bendigo to recruit 200 new volunteers and coordinate their training and deployment. Particularly successful was the development of neighbourhood coordinators who could focus on particular areas of need, with administrative support from the City.

Part of Bendigo’s coordinated response to the food crisis involved a particularly innovative initiative developed by Bendigo FoodShare, the City of Greater Bendigo and the local business council, Be.Bendigo. ‘Cafes for COVID’ is a program that pays local businesses (using funds donated by the local community) to cook meals for those struggling to afford food. The initiative will support local food businesses who have lost trade due to lockdown, as well as ensuring community members in need have access to safe, healthy, ready-to-eat meals.

In all of these initiatives, the strength and creativity of communities shines through. Even though many have been locked down, cities have found creative ways to support each other and their communities. Sharing Bendigo stories with creative cities in Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East has been a humbling and eye-opening experience, as we hear of the challenges and tragedies faced by many around the world. Although we will not be able to visit each other’s cities any time soon, the pandemic has brought many of us together to learn, share, and work together to tackle the difficult times ahead.