Pie in the Sky cafe

Earlier this week, I headed to London to have lunch with a friend at FoodCycle’s Pie in the Sky café. Like all FoodCycle venues, meals are made from surplus food, but whereas other FoodCycle hubs are aimed at specific members of the local community, such as the elderly or people on low incomes, Pie in the Sky is open to the general public. The volunteer run café is inside the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, a community space with pretty grounds (even in the middle of Winter!).

Cafe

Monday to Friday, Pie in the Sky offers a soup of the day, a light lunch and a main meal, as well as standard lunch time fare like jacket potatoes, alongside cakes and hot drinks. I plumped for the main meal, which was a feta and pea frittata served with giant couscous (so much better than regular couscous!) and some utterly delicious roasted vegetables. This was followed by tea and a generously sized, light and fluffy slice of apple and cinnamon cake. All in all, an excellent lunch.

Although the café itself was smaller than I had imagined, I was impressed with the size of the main meal, especially as it cost just over £3. With affordable, healthy food made from ingredients that would otherwise have ended up in landfill, Pie in the Sky is surely one of the most ethical, environmentally friendly and best value for money cafes in London.

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A visit to FoodCycle Salisbury

This week I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time at FoodCycle’s Salisbury hub. In essence, FoodCycle is an organisation that

runs volunteer-powered community projects across the UK – working to reduce food poverty and social isolation by serving tasty, nutritious meals to vulnerable groups

While I’d read about FoodCycle and other cafes that use food waste as the basis of the meals they serve, I was curious to find out more and see first hand how a hub is run.

Salisbury FoodCycle provides a three course sit down lunch, made by volunteers, to around twenty people. On the menu this week was:

  • Vegetable soup
  • Savoury bread & butter pudding (made with cheese and pickle!) with salad
  • Fruit salad and/or Christmas pudding with custard

It just so happened that I’d shown up on a day when the hub was short of volunteers, and I was more than happy to get stuck in. My first task was to lay the table, which – thanks to flowers donated by Waitrose – looked quite welcoming. Once guests began to arrive, I signed them in and was able to chat to a few of them.

Equipped with a fetching hairnet, I was also able help out a bit in the kitchen and I was impressed by the meal only a handful of volunteers managed to conjure up in a limited space (you can see the size of the kitchen here). It actually really brought home the stupidity of our current food system, where tonnes of perfectly edible food is sent to landfill, when it could so easily be used to make a nutritious meal. The guests seemed like they were enjoying themselves and there was plenty of talking and laughter throughout the afternoon, which reminded me of how important the social aspect of food and eating can be, particularly for those who live alone.

It was great to see a FoodCycle hub in action, and I went away feeling that more of them, or projects that are similar, are very much needed as a means of supporting vulnerable people, whilst also reducing the vast amount of food waste the UK currently generates.

The Breadline Challenge: day 7

Having given myself a ‘cheat day’ on Sunday as it was my mum’s birthday (and there was birthday lunch and birthday cake to be eaten!), I did my final day of the Breadline Challenge today. Here’s what I ate:

Breakfast: Cup of tea (I didn’t leave enough time for breakfast this morning)

Lunch: Tuna & sweetcorn pitta and half a packet of instant noodles

Dinner: Cauliflower soup with some added soup mix

Snacks: Free (out of date!) crisps and a few Quality Street while at the food bank

I actually have food leftover from what I bought with my £14.70; obviously porridge and rice, which last ages, but also a tin of tomatoes, some potatoes and some carrots. I have to say I’m relieved that the challenge is over and that I can go back to enjoying my usual variety of fresh vegetables. And fruit other than apples. I won’t miss having to put so much thought into dinner time, feeling hungry between meals or worrying whether my food will see me through the week.

So is it possible to live off around £15 worth of food per week? Yes – particularly if you know how to make your ingredients go further, you eat small portions, and you’re able to cook from scratch and are open to a certain amount of experimentation in the kitchen. Is it enjoyable or easy to live on a low food budget? No. Is it possible to get enough fruit and veg in your diet? I don’t think so.

Although it’s been a long and not particularly fun week, I’m glad I did the Breadline Challenge. Working in countries with standards of living far lower than that of the UK has taught me to be grateful for what I have. But this week I realised that food – plentiful and varied food – is something I’ve been guilty of taking for granted. I’d like to give myself a small food budget one week every year from now on, to remind myself of how incredibly difficult food poverty must be for people. While I’ve only had a tiny glimpse into the reality of not being able to feed yourself adequately, I hope it’s an experience that stays with me.

The Breadline Challenge: day 6

Today went much better than Friday, thanks to the fact that I was volunteering at the Trussell Trust, helping to put together Christmas boxes (more about that in another post), so the time absolutely whizzed by. In fact, I didn’t even get round to eating my lunch until about 5.30! Although I’m fairly sure that was partly because I had a couple of tea and biscuit breaks in between packing boxes for 5 hours which kept me going. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say biscuit and tea breaks, as the tea was just an excuse to eat free digestives! (And my word, did they taste good!).

I’ve had a discussion with several people over the course of this week about whether eating food that’s given to you is ‘cheating’ and I don’t see why it should be. If I was genuinely living on a low food budget all the time, rather than just doing the Breadline Challenge for this week, why would I refuse food simply because I hadn’t bought it myself?

My very uninspiring array of food for day 6 was:

Breakfast: Porridge with grated apple

Lunch: What I’m calling, er, ‘rice salad’: rice, a diced carrot, sweetcorn, a mushroom and a 2 tbs of baked beans. Sounds a bit odd, but tasted fine and filled me up.

Dinner: Instant noodles… A nutritionally atrocious meal, I know. After all those biscuits and a very late lunch, it was all I needed.

Snacks: DIGESTIVE BISCUITS!

Tomorrow is my mum’s birthday and as we’re taking her out for lunch, I’ve decided to do my final day of the challenge on Monday instead. I feel uncomfortable knowing that one main course in a restaurant in London is going to cost approximately what I’ve had to spend on food for the whole of this week, but in a way, it’s not a bad thing for me to feel like that. It just serves to highlight how incredibly lucky I am that I can afford to eat out with friends and family, usually without a second thought.

The Breadline Challenge: day 5

I have absolutely no idea how people manage to live on the breadline. It doesn’t seem so much like living to me as surviving; paddling furiously to stay afloat when you’d really rather just give up as it’s easier and requires less energy. I’ve been at the mercy of my stomach all week: lethargic, hungry between meals, frustrated, annoyed, irritable. I’ve had moments when the Breadline Challenge has felt like a game – a bit like the round on Masterchef when the chefs are given scraps to cook with. I’ve quite enjoyed that need to be creative and to figure out how to make the best out of what I’ve got to hand. But that’s about where the enjoyment of this week has stopped.

Here’s what was on the menu for day 5:

Breakfast: Porridge with grated apple

Lunch: Hummus, carrot sticks and a pitta bread. Raw carrots are surprisingly filling; I think it’s all the crunching you have to do! My 1kg bag for 57p has gone really far, as even after my soup that lasted 3 meals and today’s lunch, there are still plenty left… But I’m pretty bored of them!

Dinner: Spanish omelette (3 eggs, 4 small potatoes, quarter of an onion & a couple of tablespoons of sweetcorn) and sofrito (half a red pepper, half a tin of tomatoes & a chilli). I felt a bit reckless using 3 eggs in one go, but I wanted to make something I would enjoy eating – and I did! I’d never actually made a Spanish omelette before today.

IMG_0287

Snacks: Half a packet of instant noodles

I guess with just the weekend to get through now I should feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but somehow I don’t… I totally underestimated the mental strain of the living on such a small food budget.