Seeing through the lens of Chris King

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‘Food Is…’

Chris King is the man behind ‘Food Is…’, a unique photography project that raises awareness about the solutions to food waste.

His background in being involved in grassroots activities on environmental and social justice issues, along with working and travelling in various countries has given him an urge to do something about injustices around the world.

“I feel food waste is a ‘silver bullet’ of sorts for many of the issues of our time. If you impact positively on food waste, you are impacting on climate change, food and water security, deforestation, the power of biotech firms, and various other critical issues.”

Started over a year ago, his subjects have included The Pig Idea, The Dragon Café, and Dinner Exchange East (See our live blog on their Calypso Dinner Exchange event here).

Brigida, founder of Dinner Exchange East carries some of the food they have gathered from local markets - saving it from the bin
Brigida, founder of Dinner Exchange East carries some of the food they have gathered from local markets – saving it from the bin. © Chris King / Food Is…

If you are expecting to see a series of photos of piles of food thrown out in the bin, you will be surprised.

In his quietly spoken Irish accent, Chris tells me that his aim is to focus on the solutions rather than the issue itself, another reason why many of his pictures revolve around people involved in organisations and initiatives working to reduce the amount of food waste generated by our society.

“It’s hard to generate any sort of emotion within people for a rotten apple. So I felt the need to explore the human element of food waste – the stories of those people trying to reduce the amount of edible food going to waste, and so the project has evolved to document people, their activities, and what motivates them to do what they do.”

In his portraits, people look straight into the lens – directly into the viewer’s eyes. It’s difficult to break away from their gaze.

“I made a conscious decision to put my camera on a tripod and take static portraits with a remote control”. Although he prefers taking dynamic photographs with his camera in his hand, he felt that “exposing the viewer to one action shot after another” was getting repetitious. He wanted to give the viewers a breathing space to reflect, and that is how his current approach came to be.

“It was my first time trying static portraits using a tripod. I still find imposing myself on the people and disrupting what they’re doing difficult. I prefer blending into the scene – after a while they don’t even know I’m there. This technique of stopping and putting my camera on the tripod has forced me to really think about how to represent my subjects”.

Martin, Gleaning Co-ordinator at the Gleaning Network at work in an orchard, gathering apples that would otherwise go to waste
Martin, Gleaning Co-ordinator at the Gleaning Network at work in an orchard, gathering apples that would otherwise go to waste. © Chris King / Food Is…

Photo diary

Unlike many other traditional documentary photography projects where the whole package of photos are showcased once the project has been completed, ‘Food Is…’ is in a photo diary format. This means the viewers can access Chris’ portraits and blog posts as soon as they are generated, and be part of the journey along with Chris as he explores this on-going issue.

“I wanted to have a conversation with people throughout the creation of the work and share this experience”.

Bringing the subjects alive as much as possible is at the heart of ‘Food Is…’, and you’ll find much more than beautiful documentary photography on the website. His blog posts are informative yet personal, and his multimedia work is engaging and thought-provoking.

Gleaners form a human train in order to carry as many crates of gleaned cabbages to the van as possible
Gleaners form a human train in order to carry as many crates of gleaned cabbages to the van as possible. © Chris King / Food Is…

Kit

Chris’ favoured lenses on the scene are two prime lenses (50mm f/1.4, 24mm f/2.8), where focal length is fixed. He prefers them because he feels they are better suited to the dynamic environment he is working in.

“I think zoom lenses add a layer of complexity when trying to compose a shot. I think using them would break my flow, and so I prefer to use prime lenses and use my feet instead. Zoom lenses are more suitable for when you have more time to spend on composition. With Food Is… I need to be over people’s shoulders, working in tight spaces, and responding to the scene as it unfolds.”

He shoots on Nikon D800.

Kent Gleaning Co-ordinator stands in a field of cauliflowers that are being left to rot
Kent Gleaning Co-ordinator stands in a field of cauliflowers that are being left to rot. © Chris King / Food Is…

Future plans

The most memorable organisation for Chris so far has been The Gleaning Network – a project working on a national level, that collects fresh fruit and vegetables from farms across the UK for redistribution to organisations such as FareShare.

“I think, seeing what I’ve seen and based on the limited knowledge I have, the greatest amount of change in the shortest amount of time could happen at the farm level. There are thousands of farm in the UK – many producing tonnes of food waste, while there are tens of millions of consumers who function as individuals – with their own tastes, habits and needs and producing relatively little waste. So when it comes to trying to reduce the amount of edible food needlessly going to waste, why not focus more on those few thousand farms, who likely function in a somewhat similar manner, than on the millions of individuals who each function in their own particular way?”

Inspired by the work of The Gleaning Network, Chris is planning to create a web documentary on the topic of food waste generated on farms in the UK.

To view more of Chris’ work, visit http://www.chriskingphotography.com and http://foodis.org.uk.

All photographs and videos in this post are by Chris King

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VIDEO: Camden to give birth to ‘food saving cookery classes’!

When a friend told me about plans in motion to start ‘food saving classes’ in Camden, I went to visit 58 year old Julie Todd’s home. Along with lifelong friend Jo Bloomfield (55), Julie is whipping on her apron and heading back to school in order to show the people just what’s what in their food cupboards! Julie has been hosting ‘food-saving’ dinner parties for more than 2 years, and is currently on the hunt for the premises to start a series of fun but educational food classes for anyone who wishes to learn. They plan to have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to food waste, and hope to instil these values into their teaching.

Back To Basics

‘You read an awful lot online about storage advice and different food saving strategies, it can be very confusing for someone who isn’t particularly knowledgeable about food’ Jo says, ‘and the truth is, sometimes it just takes someone experienced to show you the ropes, offering face to face advice and hands-on experience about how to prepare and cook food in a more efficient way. That’s what we’ve been offering our friends and family for the past couple of years, and that’s exactly what we’d like to bring out and share with the public.’

A Class Act: The Ladies Behind It All:

Where Do I Sign Up?!

The pair hope to start the classes in time for Christmas 2015. Hopefully Santa will find Jo and Julie’s no waste fruit pulp cookies (pictured below) as tasty as I did! Keep checking this page for details or tweet us @finderseaters_ for more information.

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INTERVIEW Jenius Social’s Jennifer Yong talks about creating connections through food

Following Finders Eaters interview with restaurant manager Michelle Brittain, we wanted to get the industry response on whether cookery classes and aesthetically appealing ‘food porn’ can make us ruthless in our efforts to impress, throwing out food which is dubbed ‘ugly.’ Who better to talk to than self-professed foodie and cookery class connoisseur Jennifer Yong!

Credit: Jennifer Yong
Credit: Jennifer Yong

Jen’s business – @jeniussocial – embraces the idea of social eating. The Jenius Social team offer not only cookery classes, but supperclubs, tastings, masterclasses and more…

Jenius Social

But are they sustainable foodies? I popped down to Hornsey Street in Islington and visited their venue at Studio 8 to find out… After a tour of the studio and kitchen facilities, which are spacious enough for about 30 people if it’s a hands-on cookery class – Jen sharing her hopes with me that Jenius Social will continue to be a watering hole for foodies who want to share, create and love food together – even without the huge range of classes the team are offering – she showed me around her delectable on-site deli.

“Creating Connections Through Food”

Despite some Jenius Social events bearing names such as ‘Pimp My Profiteroles’ – promising to ‘pimp your presentation skills like never before’ – Jen says that in her business, love of food is never lost to aesthetics. On the contrary, ‘I started up Jenius Social because I wanted to make connections through food, not tear them up at the roots.’ She acknowledges the need for society in general to be less wasteful, and suggests that any venue serving food or hosting events involving food has a responsibility, not only to its customers and the community but to itself and its staff, to minimise unnecessary waste.

The Challenges

‘Obviously it can be very difficult, when holding a cooking class, to judge how much each person taking part will eat, and how to divide the ingredients, ration and ratio it accurately,’ says Jennifer. Luckily for her, her previous job running digital ventures in the financial sector means she has a lot of transferrable skills which, along with her passion for food and socialising, have become the lifeblood of her business which she says she runs with the right combination of passion, fun, proportion and efficiency. In fact, Jen explained during our interview the waste-saving benefits of her cookery classes, and emphasised that Jenius Social and their customers have a genuine love and respect for their food. And that is why they come. Teaching people skills such as the proper way to fillet flat and round fish, and pinboning can be a very cost-effective way to get the most out of the fish and maximise the amount of flesh you retain when filleting, and that’s just one example, she says.

The Rewards

Guiding people how to source quality food in a cost-effective way is another service Jenius Social prides itself on. Knowing your food inside out, living it, breathing it, knowing how to prepare, cook and store it in the right way, is one of the best things you can teach to reduce food waste, Jen suggests. ‘In building this business I wanted to fuse my two favourite things: food and socialising, I realised there was nowhere in London that quite had that greet, eat and meet community vibe that I craved. But with Jenius Social, I hope I’ve created a place where food, passion, sustainability, and of course – community – collide.’

‘As Kevin Costner knows’, her website boasts, “If you build it, they will come.” Aaand if that’s not enough – as well as being food efficient, Jen tells me she is also space waste savvy to encourage her customers to mingle! ‘That’s the reason I designed my venue’ (Jenius Social has just four preparation tables) ‘people have to sit together, people have to work together, and get to know each other.’

Want to hear more? Listen to Jenius Social’s Head Chef Andrew Clements and Jennifer Yong discussing their venture here:

VIDEO: The Roebuck – the pub with the best food waste strategy

Meet Jareth Mills, Head Chef at The Roebuck, a gastro-pub tucked away on the leafy side of the Borough.

His zero-waste policy earned his pub to be shortlisted for the Best Food Waste Strategy of the Sustainable Restaurant Association Awards in 2015.

In our interview on a sunny afternoon, Jareth shares with us his ethos, how his kitchen makes the most out of their ingredients and challenges he faces.

The Roebuck was also part of the FoodSave pilot scheme in 2014, where its kitchen waste was monitored for 3 months for analysis and review. The result showed that the pub could be saving up to £2,324 a year:

Communication with the customers is also an important part of running of The Roebuck. Even the artwork behind the bar tells you of the story of the pub’s efforts to be environmentally friendly:

And finally, his plans for the pub to sponsor a cherry tree and where his inspiration for zero-waste comes from:

 

Plan Zheroes: tackling hunger with tech

“When we started up we heard about a woman who was living below the breadline. She had three children, and she had to decide which of the children would receive a hot meal in the evening,” says Chris Wilkie, co-founder of Plan Zheroes.

“We knew that a hundred yards away there was a supermarket throwing perfectly good food away. And we thought this is just a crazy situation.”

Set up in 2011 by a small group of London Citizens, planZheroes (pronounced ‘plan zeros’, or ‘plan z heroes’ – they’re not too fussy about this) is a cyber-powered antidote to the gaping disparity between people going hungry, and food going to waste.

Based in Kings Cross, its key function is to digitally link up shops and restaurants with surplus food to charities who distribute it.

A registered charity, it is innovative and fresh – both in its inventive use of an interactive map, and its core values. Almost uniquely, it aims to be apolitical, non-commercial and non-critical.

New platform: the planZheroes map connects businesses, charities and volunteers to make sure surplus food gets to the people who need it.
New platform: the planZheroes map helps connect businesses with surplus food to the charities and people that need it.

“Essentially we put [businesses and charities together], we introduce them, and we help to maintain the relationship,” co-founder Chris Wilkie tells me.

“It’s about collaboration not competition. [The food charities are] all competing for funding, but we’re all working towards the same goal.”

The group launched its new website at the end of January, three years after the first one was born. It comes complete with an updated interactive map that allows businesses to create a profile, and upload information about leftover food as and when it’s available.

Charities also create their own profiles about the kind of food they need. They’re then able to see the food up for grabs, and can claim it on a ‘first come first served’ basis.

This means getting volunteers on the ground to transport the goods, as charities and businesses often don’t have the manpower.

The new platform, created pro bono by technology consultancy Keytree, will also enable the group to automatically track much more accurately how much food is being moved, and the businesses that are most active.

Borough Market: where it all began for planZheroes. Photo: Chris Lumb
Borough Market: where it all began for Plan Zheroes. Photo: Chris Lumb

Plan Zheroes also works with chefs and nutritionists, helping charities to organise cookery classes, which help the people involved tackle the –often-unpredictable – surplus food that is offered to them.

“The problem is that you never really know what you’re going to get. It could be twenty artichokes,” says Chris.

“What do you do with twenty artichokes? If you don’t know then they’ll go to waste. It’s frustrating.”

The group have helped coordinate cookery lessons at charities like The Marylebone Project, which helps vulnerable homeless women.

Plan Zheroes are still keen to expand in London – they currently have around 100 organisations on their books. But the ultimate goal is to establish more networks like the ones growing in the capital, across the country.

“There is more food going to waste than there are people going hungry. We can’t get the stats, but I know it’s true. I just know it.”

Check back next week for the extended audio interview with co-founder Chris Wilkie.

AUDIO: What’s it like to be a dumpster diver in London?

Dumpster diving in London

In a chilly afternoon, I met Ellie, the founder of South London Freegan group, for an interview at a cafe in Brixton.

It was supposed to be the group’s first meet-up session, but only three people turned up and all of us were a complete novice to dumpster diving.

So as it happens, we bombarded her with questions after questions as we shared her homemade thistle tea poured from her flask.

Then she offered, ‘why don’t we go dumpster diving now?’ So we did.

Thrown out foods are often left on the streets in front of stores - free for people to rummage through

We walked along the narrow roads full of fruits and vegetable stores. It was not difficult to find cardboard boxes or plastic crates laying around the streets – each one of them a potential rummaging spot.

Ellie shared her experience in dumpster diving and her life as a freegan as we looked for something edible we can take.

Two university students who were also with us were trying out dumpster diving for the first time:

Tips

 Here are some of Ellie’s best spots to go dumpster diving. Click on the image for an interactive map and the address for the hotspots in London.

Click on the map:

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Where to go dumpster diving in London

LISTEN for some more of Ellie’s tips: