Volunteering with FoodCycle across the Capital

Volunteering with FoodCycle across the Capital

By Libby Brown – Fundraising and Communications Officer at FoodCycle HQ) You hate waste? We hate waste! You hate food poverty? We hate food poverty! And we both agree that it’s ridiculous for food waste and food poverty to exist within the same communities? We’re a match made in heaven – you’re a FoodCycler! We work with over 1,200 volunteers across the UK at our 20 projects, and, without their amazing work, FoodCycle simply wouldn’t be possible. So much of our success is down to our incredibleand, best of all, you can join them! Whether you’re a Masterchef winner in the making or a cooking novice, everyone is welcome to volunteer with FoodCycle. From collecting surplus food to chopping, serving, local outreach or fundraising, anyone can get involved and have fun whilst making a positive difference in the community! Our London Hubs (as of May 2015) Bloomsbury: Sunday mornings FoodCycle Bloomsbury serves a variety of people in the community, including older people, those struggling to get by and people experiencing social isolation. If you’ve got some free time on a Sunday morning, sign up to volunteer and help reach out to more people in the community! “I’m the youngest of ten kids and we didn’t have two pennies to rub together, so it’s in my ethos not to throw away food. Because I’m in the lower end of the market, you know, pensioner, don’t have a lot of money, I notice these things more than the average person does. Prices have gone up so much in the past year. There’s a lot of people round here that would benefit from something like this. The block across from us is full of pensioners. Most of them will live on their own and won’t have facilities to cook in.” * Terry, Guest at FoodCycle Bloomsbury For more information, come visit us at 1pm for Sunday lunch at Somers Town Community Centre on Ossulton Street, or email bloomsbury@foodcycle.org.uk. Hackney: Thursday mornings FoodCycle Hackney opened its doors in January 2015. We’ve welcomed all sorts of volunteers and cooked up some incredible dishes in just a few months! As one of our youngest projects, there are lots of volunteer roles available with Hackney Hub and you would only need to be available between 10am and 3pm on a Thursday. Our community partners Outward are interested in expanding further across the borough – if you would like to get involved with FoodCycle this could be the perfect opportunity to make a real difference! Just email hackney@foodcycle.org.uk for more information on how to become a Hackney Hub Leader, or come and share a meal with us on Thursdays at 12.30pm at the New Kingshold Community Centre, 49 Ainsworth Road (Just off Well Street). Islington: Wednesday mornings Our Islington Hub works in partnership with Islington Mind, a fantastic mental health charity. We serve people including mental health service users and those experiencing homelessness and/or long-term unemployment, providing a tasty, nutritious meal in a safe and welcoming environment. We serve a healthy lunch every Wednesday at 1pm – if you’ve got some spare time, come down to visit or sign up to volunteer today! “I live locally in Islington, and I found out about FoodCycle. I used to work for Bank of America and I was pensioned off due to ill health… with this problem I was having suicidal thoughts. I was in a crisis home for a few weeks and then I came here [Islington Mind] and I come here daily, and I come to the FoodCycle every Wednesday. I think the food is very good – you lot do a superb job. I would describe it as a little café, a nice little café, you know, like a café by a river or something where you would go for walks and have a nice little meal, that’s how I would describe it. I’ve met new people. There are people with various problems here, but when you get here your problems go away, so to speak. We can sit down and have a nice meal, which you lot do a superb job in doing. You know I would like to help out one day.” – Rebecca, FoodCycle Islington Guest LSE: Sunday afternoons Contrary to its name, FoodCycle’s longest-running Hub is not just for students – anyone can volunteer with us! FoodCycle LSE cooks and serves a meal for those living with HIV/AIDs and their families every Sunday at 5pm. We work with The Food Chain to help offer nutritional support to vulnerable people across the capital. We have opportunities to volunteer in the kitchen from 1.30 – 5pm every Sunday or to host our guests and serve the food from 4 – 7pm. If you’d like to join FoodCycle LSE, sign up to volunteer or email lse@foodcycle.org.uk for more information. Peckham: Saturday afternoons FoodCycle Peckham is one of our newest Hubs and is based in All Saints Church Hall, on Blenheim Grove. Our community meals are open to all and brought to you with the help of many friendly, enthusiastic local volunteers. The meal is served at 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon. Plenty of volunteering opportunities are available and we welcome a wide variety of local and London-wide people every week. For more information on how you can get involved, email peckham@foodcycle.org.uk or come down to visit us this weekend! Wandsworth: Friday mornings Our Wandsworth Hub serves a range of local people, including asylum seekers and refugees, people living on low incomes and those experiencing social isolation in the community. We cook from 10.30am on Friday mornings and serve a three-course lunch at 1pm at the United Reformed Church on Rookstone Road. Check out the feature on ITV!

For more information, email wandsworth@foodcycle.org.uk or sign up to volunteer and get stuck in! Pie in the Sky Community Cafe FoodCycle also runs a community café at the Bromley by Bow Centre in Tower Hamlets. We serve tasty, affordable meals from 8.30 to 3.30 every Monday to Friday. If you’d like to develop your skills in the catering industry, gain vital work experience, or just learn to cook tasty food, then volunteering at Pie in the Sky could be perfect for you! Find out more about our volunteering and training opportunities or email sian@foodcycle.org.uk for more information.

 

GUEST POST: Supermarkets – The price we pay for cosmetic standards

Photography by Cyril Caton

We in the UK have become quite dislocated from how our food is produced and where it comes from – the vast majority of us having no relationship with or knowledge of the people who produce the food we rely on.

With over 80% of the UK’s population living in an urban environment, and 7 of the biggest supermarket chains having an 87% market share of the food we buy, it’s not surprising that that’s the case.

When it comes to the food we eat, we have relinquished much of the decision-making process to corporations whose actions are motivated by profit, and not by the interests of consumer wellbeing or that of the planet. We may be the ones who decide what to buy in the supermarket, but the choice we have is dictated to us by what they stock on their shelves – everything is pre-packed and preselected.

In the name of convenience we have put our trust in supermarkets to do right by us, and so tend to put little thought into the consequences of consuming what we do – rarely questioning how it was produced or where it came from. We don’t tend to concern ourselves with the true cost of buying almonds from California, where a severe drought has been on-going for 4 years; or prawns from Thailand where slave labour is used in the fishing and processing of prawns supplied to European supermarkets.

What is true of imported food is also true of British produce – there are hidden costs associated with buying our fruit and vegetables from supermarkets. They do their best to hide the consequences of their business practices – ensuring we are oblivious to the true cost of having perfectly straight carrots, or apples that are free from blemishes and just the right size. They hide the impact of a system they have engineered, and that we ultimately endorse through our support for them.

The cost of supermarket-imposed cosmetic standards on farmers is huge, and is one of the main reasons for around 30% of food grown on UK farms not making it off the trees or out of the ground.

This in turn means that 30% of all the water, pesticides, transport and other inputs used in farming this food is also wasted. According to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, at a global level approximately 550 billion cubic metres of water is wasted each year in growing crops that never actually reach the consumer.

Wasting food and all that has gone into producing the food is impacting on the major issues of our time – from food security to climate change, not to mention putting the survival of smaller farms at risk, and the health and livelihood of the farmers themselves.

Supermarkets claim that it is we, the consumers, who demand cosmetically perfect fruit and veg. But in a system created and sustained by the supermarkets, to great benefit to themselves, I think it’s more reasonable to assume the practice is driven by a desire to cut costs and maximise profits, rather than a desire to pander to consumer demand.

That said we have been complicit in the creation of this deeply flawed system – by not concerning ourselves with the impact of how our food is being produced. Relinquishing the decision-making process when it comes to the food we eat has come at a great cost to our society and the environment – both nationally and globally, and we must start holding the supermarkets to account – we can ill afford to let things continue on as they are, and despite an awareness within the industry as to the destructive impact wasting food has, things won’t change without us demanding it.

So while we may feel powerless in the face of large, multinational corporations, they are ultimately dependent on us consumers – without us they are nothing.

Collectively we need to push for change in their business practices – to end the imposition of absurd cosmetic standards and demand they sell ‘wonky’ fruit and veg. We need to push them to take all the necessary steps they can towards creating a fairer and more sustainable food system – a system that ultimately doesn’t result in millions of tonnes of edible food being needlessly left to rot every year.

This article was written by Chris King, the founder of ‘Food Is…‘ project.  

Read more about Chris and his project here.

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

DATA London – Does it Spell Green Failure?

Every week thousands of us across London go through the same routine, emptying rubbish into different bins. But what is the point, do we really know where all this rubbish is going?

The Rubbish Problem

In 2008, the EU set about getting to the nitty gritty and tackling excess waste with a ‘Waste Framework Directive.’ In layman’s terms, this is a long term strategy which for the UK, means achieving a 50% Household Recycling Rate by 2020! That’s a whole lotta junk…

Is it working?

According to research from food waste reduction and resource management charity WRAP – yes! WRAP (@WRAP_UK) stats show that avoidable household food waste was cut by a substantial 21% over 5 years from 2007 to 2012 – saving UK consumers a whopping £13 million.

How?

Some would argue that in the current economic climate, folk are tightening their purse strings in the supermarkets, spending less on excess luxury and cutting back on wasting food at home that could be eaten up. Jack Zou, a finance student living in Willen House, Islington, certainly seems to think this is the case:

“If I’m honest, I can’t even remember the last time I threw out any food item other than a banana skin! I’m very economical when it comes to food shopping – if I think there’s a chance I won’t eat it – I don’t buy it. There are so many other necessities that money could be spent on…and I know a lot of my friends feel the same.”

Recycling may also be on the rise. The data below charts Household Waste Recycling Rates in England and London Boroughs between 2009 and 2014, and it’s clear that there has been a rise in household recycling across England generally.

However, while household recycling rates appear to be going up in England generally, rates for some London boroughs are getting worse.

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Credit: Statistics from London.gov.uk

 According to a BBC article published in 2014, the fall may be because of the pressure on collection and recycling services in certain boroughs where residents live in flats and other shared houses – making recycling more challenging.

So are the Councils doing enough?

There have been complaints across middle England about Council recycling, amongst concern from some individuals that waste put out for collection for composting or renewable usage has actually – been sent for landfill disposal.

Neil Randall from Dorset, sent a Freedom of Information request to Dorset County Council about this issue, and in the response the Council admitted that a maximum of 50kg of food intended for recycling is estimated to be collected for landfill.

It could be argued that the cuts by the coalition are putting a squeeze on recycling and green policies in local government.

But in reality, this shocking recycling trend can be seen across all of London, from Newham – which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the city – all the way up to the well-heeled streets of Hammersmith and Fulham.

I spoke to Green Party Assembly Member – Jenny Jones – and she thinks enough still isn’t being done:

“Boris Johnson must wake up to flat-lining and falling recycling rates during his mayorality, and his abject failure to get new facilities built to reach his own targets…there is great potential to convert food waste into green energy and compost through anaerobic digestion, but this has hardly begun.”

Have an opinion on this issue? Email us at finderseaters@outlook.com or tweet us: @finderseaters_

FEATURE Cookery Classes: Do They Spell an Abundance or Abandonment of Food?

Despite what Dr. Seuss might think, we foodies at Finders Eaters know that nobody wants green and eggs and ham for brekkie, but has a culture of increasingly glamorized food, or ‘food porn’ – served up beautifully on the TV by Michelin star chefs – and the prevalence of cocktail and cooking classes offering the skills to ‘wow’ friends at dinner parties – turned us into a bunch of rotten tomatoes where our attitude to food waste is concerned?

Interview with a convert: “The food wasn’t pretty enough”

I spoke to restauranteur and self-professed ‘savvy-saver’ Michelle Brittain, a previous London resident who now runs a successful bar and foodery ‘The Coach House’ (@thecoachy1) in Humberston: Before our interview, Michelle had told me how cookery classes she attended with her partner while living in London had ‘brought them closer to food and each other’ and that she’d always wanted to work in the food industry. “We had an amazing time in the classes at the London Underground Cookery School, as well as L’atelier des Chefs in Oxford Circus” she says, admitting that she herself has considered offering classes a the new establishment.

“I used to hold dinner parties all the time, using family recipes, and fancy skills and techniques I’d learned at the various classes – My friends used to say I was getting so good it was as if I’d been going to food finishing school!’

Michelle: On “discovering my food-friendly”

Explaining when and how her attitude to food began to change: ‘the real turn-around for me’, she says, ‘was when a close friend of mine was looking for a new job in central London, and started volunteering at FoodCycle events around the city to build her skills while she was searching. She asked me to go along one day.’

Having her eyes opened for the first time to a real food waste poverty problem, Michelle said the experience made her feel embarrassed:

“There were people in the City starving and there I was worrying about how wonky my macaroons were! It was…humbling, an eye-opener to say the least.”

Michelle admitted that if she’d made a starter or dessert for a friend that didn’t look right, she’d throw it away and make a new one if it wasn’t ‘pretty enough.’ And in this she’s not alone…

Food Frenzy!

Social media platforms such as Twitter have been inundated with tweets from anti-food waste organisations and communities about the billions of tons of food that is thrown away unnecessarily:

LoveFoodHateWaste (@LFHW_UK) have also been rallying support and raising awareness about the environmental and economic detriment that food waste can cause, providing tips to combat the unnecessary throwing away of food, while saving money:

But just how wasteful is this culture?

Cookery classes boast of teaching an abundance of culinary and presentational skills…but do they really stigmatise and encourage neglect of ‘ugly’ food that is otherwise still ‘fit for purpose’? Michelle says that she previously ‘didn’t think twice’ about throwing away aesthetically inferior foodstuffs if replacing them with fresh ingredients would make for better presentation; and she suggests that in some of the cookery classes she attended that culture of thinking was shared. However, Jennifer Yong, founder of Jenius Social (@JeniusSocial), a vibrant ‘social food hub’ in Islington, disagrees.

You can read (and listen) to Finders Eaters ‘Industry Response’ interview with Jennifer here on our website!

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.