From sur­plus, to re­quire­ments

Help with Food iden­ti­fies places that pro­vide sus­te­nance to those in need. Pa­trick Freyne meets some of the or­gan­i­sa­tions ben­e­fit­ting from pro­vi­sions that would other­wise be thrown out

The Irish Times Magazine - - COVER STORY -

At the cosy kitchen of the sup­ported hous­ing agency Sophia Hous­ing, break­fast is over and an English res­i­dent named Rob­bie is sit­ting with a cup of tea. Rob­bie has an ar­ti­fi­cial leg and some health prob­lems. When he got mar­ried a few years ago the head chef here, Trevor Kearns, catered for him. “I was telling him you made the food for my wed­ding,” Rob­bie says when Kearns emerges from the kitchen.

“I did,” says Kearns.

“Now, I didn’t say it was any good,” says Rob­bie and every­one laughs.

“Rob­bie’s a char­ac­ter,” says Kearns, be­fore adding loudly, “Shame he’ll have to go back to Eng­land af­ter Brexit.”

Rob­bie laughs. I am here be­cause the peo­ple at Food­cloud, who spe­cialise in re­dis­tribut­ing sur­plus food that would other­wise be thrown away, are in the process of putting to­gether a dig­i­tal map, called Help with Food, of all the places that pro­vide food to those in need.

“We get emails reg­u­larly that say things like ‘ I’m starv­ing and my daugh­ter had no food yes­ter­day and I won’t go to Br Kevin [ of the Ca­puchin Day Cen­tre for Home­less Peo­ple] be­cause I live lo­cally,’ ” says Dar­ragh Doyle, Food­cloud’s com­mu­nity man- ager. “Help With Food will al­low peo­ple to find the char­i­ties … who can pro­vide help. It will also cel­e­brate the great work the char­i­ties do, of­ten on very lim­ited bud­gets.”

So to­day they’re tak­ing me to visit some of the places they work with. Trevor Kearns, a very ex­pe­ri­enced chef, is the sort of culi­nary wizard that makes Food­cloud’s of­fer­ing par­tic­u­larly po­tent for a char­ity.

When he came to work for Sophia Hous­ing 10 years ago, the lovely kitchen area wasn’t built and the 150- year- old con­vent across the yard “smelled of over­cooked cab­bage”. They had banned salt for sea­son­ing, he says, but had a freezer full of salty pro­cessed food. He laughs. He’s changed all that. “Ev­ery­thing is home­made here now … Breads, soups, sauces, scones. Noth­ing’s re­ally bought in.”

Iseult Ward, co- founder of Food­cloud, shows me Kearns’s Intsta­gram page. It fea­tures items such as rasp­berry meringue kisses, whole­meal scones and braised feather blade of beef and chorizo all made with sur­plus food from Food­cloud.

Here he cre­ates meals for res­i­dents, staff, the chil­dren at the creche and many lo­cal par­ents. There’s a bud­get of 30 cent to feed the chil­dren in the creche each day, says Kearns. “With Food­cloud you can cook a whole meal on that. Some days they get fil­let steak ... You can see in their faces: ‘ Is this for me?’ Some of them live on take­aways … Some kids don’t recog­nise green veg­eta­bles be­cause all their food is or­ange.”

Kearns es­ti­mates that he’s sav­ing 70 per cent of his food bud­get work­ing this way and he re­cently bought a big freezer to store food that ar­rives in ex­ces­sive quan­ti­ties. The na­ture of sur­pluses can be, Ward says, “un­pre­dictable and bizarre”.

“We have a glut of cran­ber­ries at the mo­ment,” says Kearns. “We do Christ­mas pud­dings ev­ery year, so this year we’ll use cran­ber­ries in­stead of raisins.”

Kearns gets lists of what food is avail­able once a week and, as a vis­ually minded chef, he also drops in to the ware­house spo­rad­i­cally. “It’s bizarre to see there’s three months on t his prod­uct and [ s ome com­pany] was go­ing to put it in the skip.”

So he sees what’s avail­able, he says, “and then we plan the week around that.”

“It’s like Ready, Steady Cook,” Ward.

Ward is amazed by the va­ri­ety of in­sti­tu­tions that re­dis­tribute the sur­plus food Food­cloud col­lects. In 2012, when she and O’Brien es­tab­lished the ini­tia­tive in Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, it hadn’t oc­curred to her quite how many char­i­ties feed peo­ple in the course of their work – some pro­duc­ing hot meals, oth­ers of­fer­ing food parcels, some do­ing both.

She fo­cussed on stop­ping food waste and “prob­a­bly naively at the time [ we] thought, ‘ We can just get the food over here and says

bizarre‘ to‘

It’s see there’s three months left on this prod­uct and some com­pany was go­ing to put it in the skip

Novem­ber is Food Month in The Irish Times. You will find food- re­lated con­tent in all of our sec­tions, plus reader events, com­pe­ti­tions and lots of ex­clu­sive con­tent at: irish­times. com/ food

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