Limp leek? Floppy fennel? What to do?

By Mark Breen,  21 March 2013.

What do you do when your fennels gone a bit floppy, your bananas are a bit too bendy, your onions overripe or the leek you bought last week is now a bit limp?I’m asking what you do when your veg has gone to the wrong side of ripe. Do you chuck it away, or do you salvage it and turn it into something tasty.

According to Love Food Hate Waste about 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year in the UK. Almost 50% of this comes from our homes. And according to FoodCycle an estimated 400,000 tonnes of surplus food can be reclaimed each year from the food retailer industry to be made into healthy and nutritious meals.

And it is FoodCycle that I wanted to highlight to you. I have recently spent some time volunteering as a chef at Somers Town community kitchen near Kings Cross in London.

There are 4 million people affected by food poverty in the UK. BAPEN estimates that malnutrition costs the NHS £13 billion each and every year. And to me it is clear that the Government’s austerity measures are disproportionately affecting the poorest in society. With the latest in a long line of poorly thought out policies being the bedroom tax, which according to the National Housing Federation will affect 670,000 households already struggling to pay bills and rent while feeding themselves or their children, leaving them £14 a week, and up to £80 a month worse off.  This is a lot when you are already living on not enough.

FoodCycle provides the opportunity for volunteer chefs to cook up a storm for people who value both a good meal and the chance to get together with their neighbours. Whilst of course also rescuing food before it reaches a supermarket bin.

While I have been volunteering at FoodCycle we have had the pleasure of picking up veg and bread which is getting a bit close to its sell by date from Sainsbury’s and Planet Organic.

I love working with FoodCycle because as an avid cook I am keen to learn and it gives me the chance to test my creativity. As chefs we challenge ourselves to make something that tastes great, with some often daunting looking ingredients.

In the first week I cooked with FoodCycle we were given potatoes, onions, cream, bananas and cabbage. We are allowed to spend under a fiver in addition and we managed to pick up some cheese, eggs, flour and butter. We then made a beautiful potato gratin followed by banana bread with cream mmm

Lucy with french onion soup
Lucy with french onion soup

Whilst cheffing there last Sunday, we again got a lot of onions, potatoes and cream. We also got some stale biscotti, rice and creamed coconut. And there are always a few herbs and spices either brough in by those cooking or in our store in the kitchen.

Jake (a professional chef for a day job) made the most delicious french onion soup that wouldn’t have been out of place in any restaurant. I had had a few beers the night before and was craving something spicy so decided to make an aloo (potato) and cocnut curry with lentils (from leftover bean and lentil stew from Planet Organic).

aloo and lentil curry

While this was all going on the rest of the team soaked the biscotti’s in coffee, whipped some cream, grated some chocolate and made a tiramisu.

Then the best part of the day we sat down and enjoyed the food we had made with the people from the local area who came to eat with us.

All the FoodCycle chefs turn up to cook for different reasons. Professional chefs like Jake enjoy a slightly more relaxed kitchen, I am primarily there to improve my skills and test my creativity and others are there to do something good for their community. I suspect most people are there for a mixture of all of these reasons though.

And what’s in it for the people who turn up to eat with us, well a tasty meal of course! But also a bit of a chat and I guess to see what we have managed to come up with for them with some pretty random ingredients.

Already looking forward to next time.