When I signed up to lead today’s cooking session weeks ago, I’d totally forgotten it’d still be the Breadline Challenge – the one mistake I told myself I wouldn’t make again after last year.
Cooking at FoodCycle during the challenge is always tricky, and today was no exception. Especially with all the cookies and doughnuts we picked up yesterday.
Here’s a glimpse of what I didn’t eat – smoky roast squash, pepper and tomato soup with garlic croutons, Pip’s veggie tagine with swede and potato mash, spinach salad and winter slaw, and to finish St Clement’s pudding with cardamom baked clementines. Not exactly what I’ve been eating all week, nice as most of it’s been.
If I was living on this sort of budget long-term, having the option to come to somewhere like FoodCycle would be even more important. Most weeks I see our guests taking home second helpings in endless margarine tubs, or looking through the leftover bread, fruit and veg, but today’s really brought home to me how much a lot of people on low incomes can rely on it to fill in the gaps in their weekly shop.
What I did eat…
Breakfast was my prized second frittata from yesterday’s lunch swap. I’d though long and hard about sacrificing some of my precious blue cheese, but compromised and added extra large (I’m using that term very loosely) chunks to the one I was saving for myself! I wasn’t feeling that altruistic yesterday ( especially not when it comes to cheese). Lunch was a soup of broccoli stalks, spinach and white beans with the rest of the blue cheese crumbled on top. Really, really tasty and only 38.3p per portion, although it didn’t quite make up for missing out on the tagine.
Dinner was one I’ve been waiting for all week – scone base pizza with that last bit of mozzarella I’ve had to stop myself eating as a snack. I wanted to make it a florentine pizza but I’ve only got one egg left and wanted to treat myself to another baked egg for Sunday breakfast. Still tasted good though, with my last few mushrooms and some spinach and cost just 40.1p. And yes, I did eat the whole thing. If it was earlier in the week and I didn’t know the challenge was finishing tomorrow I’d have probably felt like I had to save some. I’ve been feeling like that all week – what if I run out? Shouldn’t I save that in case I need it?
After going back to buy the forgotten eggs, I’d left myself with a whopping contingency of 37p. For the whole weekend. No going out. Nothing. As I pointed out to Daniel Zeichner at our lunch swap yesterday, that’s the reality for many of his consituents who really are living on the breadline – this continual grind where you can’t afford to do many nice things like go out with your friends (not even for a coffee, let alone the pub or the cinema) or treat your kids. You certainly can’t be spontaneous, not when every last penny is planned and budgeted for. You can’t get up on Saturday morning and think ‘I fancy a trip to London to see the Christmas lights’ or ‘Why don’t we go and see that film that you were telling me about’? It simply not feasible for a lot of people, and that’s just not right. People aren’t greedy, they don’t want hand outs. They just want to be able to live well – and that includes being able to eat good food.
We collected an amazing 263 kg of food this week, an all-time record for us. We had all sorts – a whole tray of lemons, bags upon bags of clementines, two trolleys full of bread (don’t even get me started on the overproduction of bread). Even four boxes of tea pigs and some coconuts (which we hollowed out and played Monty Python and the Holy Grail with).
I know that food waste isn’t the perfect long-term solution to the issue of food waste just the same as I know food waste can’t solve the problems underlying food poverty. But surely it’s just plain wrong not to use surplus food to help out people who need it. I mean, that’s just basic humanity and a good dose of common sense, right?
Of course, the real value of FoodCycle is its social side. As Mary, our CEO said when we launched this year’s social impact report,
“We don’t just hand out or redistribute food. Instead, we’re about volunteers and guests sitting down and eating together – and all the positive interactions that come from that experience. For many vulnerable people who come to us, a FoodCycle meal is the one chance a week they have to share a meal and a conversation with others.”
It’s just as important for volunteers too. I really enjoyed seeing all the familiar faces today, some of whom I hadn’t seen for a while, and catch up over a plate of tagine (well, they had tagine at least). And being in the kitchen was great fun too, with a really lovely atmosphere – not to mention some very interesting chats over the mountain of clementines, about a whole range of topics from double-yolkers to Iranian foreign policy.
Only one day left though, and I can’t say I’m sorry. I’m looking forward to that first cup of coffee!