The Package Free Larder interior. 76 Elm Grove, Southsea, Portsmouth.
A conversation with Carly Shutes from the FoodCycle charity
by Aimee Rigby/24th-August-2020
So, Carly, thank you for joining us. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about what FoodCycle is and how you operate?
So, FoodCycle is a national charity and we are all about bringing communities together and we do that, -bring communities together- with surplus food. So, we take food that would normally be going to waste, and we normally would cook it into three course meals and bring everybody together to sit down and eat together. So, our volunteers and guests, and our guests will be anybody that is struggling either to afford to buy food or maybe they don’t have the facilities to cook food, or they just want a nutritious meal. So, at the moment, obviously, due to social distancing we can’t bring people together. However, we are still cooking meals in some of our locations and in others we are offering food parcels, still made up of surplus food, all vegetarian as well so it’s suitable for everybody. But it’s all about giving people nutritious meals, and at the moment it’s in whatever way we can do that- whether it’s cooking it or as a food parcel.
Carly Shutes from Foodcycle. Head of Marketing and Communications
Great, so why do you choose to use surplus food for your meals?
So, when we were set up 10 years ago, our founder just kind of realised how much food was going to waste. It was kind of set up as almost like a student volunteer-led charity in the early days. So he had seen an issue with surplus food, all this food going to waste, and students wanted volunteering opportunities so he thought: “well, why don’t we use that surplus food and help support people that are struggling with food poverty and got students to volunteer and kind of cook it up.” So that’s where it all began, and for us there’s an awful amount of food waste out there, so for us, we’re solving one issue with the food poverty but to be able to help tackle another issue by using surplus food just kind of seems like a no-brainer. And a lot of our volunteers are really passionate about food waste as well; and also through the work that we do we’re educating the people that eat with us, as well as some of our volunteers, that how nutritious some of the surplus food that’s going to waste actually is.
So, where do you find all this surplus food, where do you source it?
So, we work with a number of different people all over all over the country. When we’re running our normal operation, we run projects in 42 locations and it really does vary where we receive our surplus food from. So, for instance, in London we work with a lot of other charities, such as FareShare, City Harvest and the Felix Project. We work with FareShare in a few locations actually across the country, but in some of our regions, you know, it’ll be very much local supermarket stores- we’ll work directly with them. Some of the online food delivery services, where you get veg boxes, sometimes they’ll donate to us and then there might be kind of like local shops or local farms, so it really does kind of vary. We have a huge pool of surplus food suppliers all over the country.
How do you then decide what to make with that food?
Well, our volunteers are absolutely incredible when it comes to this, and it completely blows my mind every time I go to visit one of the projects! But it’s the volunteers, they just come up with it! I mean, they’re so creative it’s incredible. So, they will turn up at the project, and they will have no idea what they’ve got that day to cook. And, working together as a team, they will come up with something that is nutritious, and it’s always a three-course meal as well. We do always make sure we have a few store cupboard essentials just in case- you know, kind of things like pasta and rice, just in case we might not get them in our delivery that day. But yeah it’s really down to the volunteers, so, some of them may have backgrounds in cooking or have worked as a chef or they might just be a keen home cook; but we also do provide lots of training around nutrition as well for volunteers just to help with them and we have a kind of a Handbook in the kitchen as well just to give them some ideas if they need to. But I think Google might be used quite a lot to come up with some new ideas if there’s something really unusual in their delivery that day.
You mentioned how social distancing has put a strain on the charity; how exactly has Coronavirus affected the way you operate?
Yeah, it’s affected us massively actually. So, when the outbreak kind of started we initially moved to take away meals because obviously we can’t bring people together and particularly the people that we serve- they’re classed in the more vulnerable category. So it was even more of a high risk- so we offered the take away service to start with and then we had to stop that quite quickly actually because the issue was then with keeping a safe distance with our volunteers; so, having chefs or volunteers in the kitchen, we just couldn’t be confident they were keeping everybody safe. So, we completely adapted our model and started to offer a food parcel delivery service, which is quite a way away from what we normally do. But the number one priority was making sure that our guests could receive food because some of them, coming to a FoodCycle meal was the only meal they were receiving in a week; and the only kind of nutrition that they were receiving as well. So, where we could, we adapted to a delivery service, so they would receive a bag of surplus food; a real mixture of fruit, veg, and store cupboard essentials. We couldn’t do it in all of our locations unfortunately but where we can we have.
And we also launched what we call our “check in and chat” service. So huge part of what we do is all about combating loneliness as well, by bringing people together, and we realised that by delivering food parcels they were missing that kind of human contact and that conversation. And also they might not know what to do with what they receive in their food parcels- so what we now offer is they’ll receive a food parcel and then they will also receive a call from one of our volunteers just to check in on them, see how they are, how their weeks going, and be on hand to answer any questions about any kind of unusual veg that they might have received, or to help them with some ideas on what they might be able to cook with it. Now again- we were changing again, as things kind of lift where we can we are going back to cooking meals at some of our projects, so we’re slowly transitioning to that, because we realised that some people, actually it’s quite shocking, some people don’t have the facilities to cook themselves a meal. For instance, we have one guest, the only electrical equipment they have in their kitchen is a kettle. So, we are going back to cooking our meals. So we’ll cook the meals, and then our guests can come and collect them, obviously keeping and following all government guidelines for social distancing- but they’ll receive a cooked meal plus a bag of surplus food, so they’re getting both and they’ll get a really nice nutritious meal and then as soon as we can we will go back to our community meals because that’s what we’re all about- being together. But unfortunately, at the moment, we just really don’t know when that will be.
Above images; Instagram images from Foodcycle showing several of their activities and offerings
That’s wonderful how you were able to adapt in that way- that’s lovely. So on to the big question, what do you think about the relationship between food waste and food poverty in the UK?
I mean it is really, really sad how much food is going to waste and how many people are hungry and I guess that’s really exactly what we’re all about- is we’re trying to tackle both issues and kind of bring them together, and like I kind of mentioned earlier it’s not always about not being able to buy food. It’s sometimes about the lack of equipment and not knowing what to make as well, which I think is a really important part of what we kind of do. We’re doing a lot of work actually around educating our guests, so when we had the meals before, they would chat with the volunteers about the food that they’ve been cooked and the fact that it was kind of waste food, and I think through that, our volunteers and our guests a lot of them may not have understood how much food was going to waste originally. So yeah, I think that’s what we’re all about where we’re trying to kind of bring those two together a bit more.
So, do you think there’s any way in particular we can all work towards eradicating food waste in the UK or do you think it’ll always be an issue?
I mean it’s really difficult to say, but I think you know as I mentioned before, we strongly feel at FoodCycle that it really is about education, and we think it’s absolutely come a long way especially over the past 10 years that we’ve been around, that more and more people are starting to understand and realise how much food is being wasted and are starting to do something about it. So we know that feedback from our guests for instance, just learning about kind of use-by dates and sell-by dates, a lot of our guests may not have known that before but where we talk to them at our meals they’re starting to understand kind of those things a bit more. Also, you know, we do loads work around nutrition and education for our volunteers and our guests so that we can continue to try and help kind of tackle that issue not only at our meals but when they’re back in their homes and that’s what we think is really really important and that’s something that we’re working on doing a lot more of over the next kind of few months.
Great so that’s all the big questions. So finally, how can our listeners get involved or find you on social media?
So, there’s loads of ways you can get involved. We are always looking for volunteers all over the country so the best way to look at where we’re located is to go to our website which is foodcycle.org.uk, and then also we are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn and they are all FoodCycle, just @foodcycle. Instagram is @foodcycleHQ so you can find out everything that we are up to on there and then you can find out if we’re in your local area and how you can volunteer. We have lots of kind of different roles from cooking to delivering to making phone calls, so yeah, we’d love to hear from anybody who’s interested in helping!
Great! Thank you so much for coming on.
Not a problem at all.