What do you when your primary raw ingredients are spuds and Brussels sprouts? You phone a friend who is, handily, a chef, then it’s ready steady cook! Zoë, of food community project FoodCycle tells me the results of the dilemma were just delightful: potato rosti and cranberry-glazed sprouts. Today I’m helping her and a team of laid-back volunteers prepare a feast from supermarket surplus. It’s the first time I’ve ever managed not to eat more peas than I pod as I sort through a pile of bagged British veg. Mindful of the plan to cater for up to thirty people not one passes my lips as I focus on the squeaky pleasure of popping them out of their shells. “I’ve done all the courgettes in the world”, a volunteer proclaims. “Ok, do you want to shell some peas?”
FoodCycle caters for guests every Saturday at The Centre at St Paul’s on Hills Road in Cambridge, using the facilities for free. “We have a strong tradition here of supporting local people in need, inviting people to sit down and eat four times a week” explains St Paul’s curate Chris as he beckons in some of the Saturday regulars. “I’m here to socialise with the street community”, he says. “I chat and eat with them.” The FoodCycle feast is aimed mainly at people who find themselves in food poverty or nowhere of their own to cook, though anyone is welcome. The Centre at St Paul’s is a thriving community hub hired out for social clubs and arts activities. On the Saturday I volunteered there was a Green Party meeting upstairs, and FoodCycle pitched in to cater for them too.
One of the guiding principles for FoodCycle is decreasing the UK’s mountain of food waste. Eyeing up shiny apples, cellophane wrapped salads and a purple kohlrabi (never seen one of those before!), I ask committee member Zoë where the ingredients come from. “We approached the Sydney Street branch of Sainsbury’s and their response was very positive”, she says. “They have surplus food most Fridays when we do our collection. Other suppliers include The Cambridge Farmers’ Outlet on Lensfield Road. And harvest festivals”, she muses. Church displays of giant marrows and garden windfalls find a home, as do allotment produce and donations from groups such as Transition Cambridge’s Cropshare plus their Fruit Group, a team that maps out and collects fruit from the city’s public spaces. “We put up posters in the University colleges asking for donations at the end of term when students clear out their cupboards. And sometimes we get random things, like the twelve jars of crunchy peanut butter donated by a lady to whom Amazon had misdelivered.”
A key part of the scheme is local courier business Outspoken Delivery who donate their services for free, biking the bounty to the kitchen in carbon-friendly style.
After the collection a menu is put together using imagination, enthusiasm and organisational flair (plus hotlines to helpful chefs). “Our aim is to use as much of the food as possible in a palatable way”, Zoë says. After helping to prepare fruit and veg I sit down to a nutritious meal of vegetable soup, bread and butter, courgette and mushroom pasta bake, mixed salads, fruit salads and banana cake. Eating with me are regular customers Wayne, Jim and Ann-Marie. Wayne has been coming for four years, and helping out for the past one. He’s a stickler for perfection, and was unimpressed with my place-setting technique, but chuffed that the FoodCycle team remembered to prepare his pasta dairy-free.
By: Jo Sinclair
FoodCycle is at The Centre at St Paul’s, 2 Hills Road, Cambridge on Saturdays at 12.30