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